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History of Sunset Park, Then and Now

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Sunset Park, with its streets of historic brownstones, fabulous Manhattan views, and eclectic cultural neighborhood, is today one of Brooklyn's most interesting neighborhoods. Its rich history also opens a window onto Brooklyn's history, both past and evolving.

Learn about Sunset Park today.

Where it is Sunset Park is bounded by 65th Street to the south, Prospect Expressway to the North, Eighth Avenue and Green-wood Cemetery on the east, and New York Bay on the west.

How it Got its Name Sunset Park took its name in the 1960s from a local park, which sits high above surrounding streets and commands a view of New York Bay. This area was previously known as part of Bay Ridge (the southern side) or simply called “South Brooklyn."

A Melting Pot History of Sunset Park

Sunset Park's history reflects the waves of immigrants who helped create Brooklyn's still ethnically authentic neighborhoods. It has long been home to people from many different lands.

Sunset Park in the 1800s to 1900s

Irish Catholics fleeing the potato famines first helped settle this part of Brooklyn.

Polish immigrants followed in the 1880s. They formed a community near the Czestochowa Church on 25th Street, and found jobs nearby in Green-Wood Cemetery and Park Slope’s Ansonia Clock Factory.

Scandinavians found employment as shipbuilders in the late nineteenth century. A “Little Norway,” from 45th to 60th Streets, has largely disappeared. However, there’s an important trace of Sunset Park’s early Finnish immigrants, who were the first in the nation to create cooperative housing. In 1916 they joined together to build themselves affordable apartments, which, although unremarkable architecturally, are still in use today (though not as cooperatives).

Sunset Park in the 1900s

Many of this area's Irish and Scandinavians moved a mile or two away, into Bay Ridge by the 1920s. However, their vacated homes were taken up by the huge Italian immigration that populated so much of Brooklyn and first settled in this waterfront area around the turn of the twentieth century. Saint Rocco’s Chapel, still on 27th Street, was a focal point of Italian life in Sunset Park.

The neighborhood declined during and after the Great Depression. As in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, Sunset Park’s economic base suffered when the Gowanus Expressway was built, dividing the neighborhood. It suffered again in the 1950s, when containerization shipping rendered Brooklyn's once-thriving waterfront facilities obsolete.

Contemporary History

Sunset Park’s recent revival, starting in the 1970s and through today, has been led by immigration, community activists, and the local Lutheran Medical Center. Sunset Park today remains a first stop for many newcomers to the United States.

About half of Sunset Park’s one hundred thousand residents are Hispanic. They include a large number of Dominicans, as well as Ecuadorians, Nicaraguans, and Puerto Ricans, and, recently, many Mexicans from the province of Puebla. Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park is the commercial center for this community, with many restaurants, food shops and record stores reflecting their countries of origin.

Asians, including many from Canton, China and Hong Kong, as well as Malaysia and other nations, represent over two-fifths of Sunset Park's community. A thriving "Chinatown," with several excellent restaurants, is located on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park.

In addition, immigrants from Poland, India, Jordan, Yemen, and other Muslim nations, as well as a tiny contingent of fourth- and fifth-generation Norwegian-Americans—descendants of Sunset Park’s earliest nonnative settlers—round out an almost global cast. A number of young American-born professionals have also moved into the area, seeking affordable brownstones.

Explore Places to See in Sunset Park

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