Crown Heights, Brooklyn (History)

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(Neighborhoods In Brooklyn)

neighborhoods_brooklyn_crown_heightsCrown Heights is a neighborhood in the central portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The main thoroughfare through this neighborhood is Eastern Parkway, a tree-lined boulevard designed by Frederick Law Olmsted extending two miles (3 km) east-west.
Typical Crown Heights row houses

Originally, the area was known as Crow Hill. It was a succession of hills running east and west from Utica Avenue to Classon Avenue, and south to Empire Boulevard and New York Avenue. The name was changed when Crown Street was cut through in 1916.

Crown Heights today is bounded by Washington Avenue (to the west), Atlantic Avenue (to the north), East New York Ave (to the east) and Empire Blvd (to the south). It is about two miles (3 km) long and two miles (3 km) deep. These neighborhoods border Crown Heights: Prospect Heights (to the west); Flatbush(to the south); Brownsville (to the southeast); and Bedford-Stuyvesant (to the north).

This neighborhood extends through much of Brooklyn Community Board 8 and 9. It is under the jurisdiction of two precincts of the New York City Police Department. The 77th precinct is part of Brooklyn North, which covers Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Weeksville. The 71st precinct is part of Brooklyn South and covers the southern end of Crown Heights.



Although no known evidence remains in the Crown Heights vicinity, prior to the European colonization of the Americas large portions of what is now called Long Island including present-day Brooklyn were occupied by the Lenape, (later renamed Delaware Indians by the European colonizers). The Lenape lived in communities of bark- or grass-covered wigwams, and in their larger settlements—typically located on high ground adjacent to fresh water, and occupied in the fall, winter, and spring – they fished, harvested shellfish, trapped animals, gathered wild fruits and vegetables, and cultivated corn, tobacco, beans, and other crops.

The first recorded contact between the indigenous people of the New York City region and Europeans was with the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 when he anchored at the approximate location where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge touches down in Brooklyn today. There he was visited by a canoe party of Lenape. The next contact was in 1609 when the explorerer Henry Hudson arrived in what is now New York Harbor aboard a Dutch East India Company ship the Halve Maen (Half Moon) commissioned by the Dutch Republic.

European habitation in the New York City area began in earnest with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement, later called “Nieuw Amsterdam” (New Amsterdam), on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614.

By 1630, Dutch and English colonists started moving into the western end of Long Island. In 1637, Joris Jansen de Rapalje purchased about 335 acres (1.36 km2) around Wallabout Bay and over the following two years, Director Kieft of the Dutch West India Company purchased title to nearly all the land in what is now Kings County and Queens County from the indigenous inhabitants.

Finally, the areas around present-day Crown Heights saw its first European settlements starting in about 1661/1662 when several men each received, from Governor Pieter Stuyvesant and the Directors of the Dutch West India Company what was described as “a parcel of free (unoccupied) woodland there” on the condition that they situate their houses “within one of the other concentration, which would suit them best, but not to make a hamlet.”

Crown Heights had begun as a posh residential neighborhood, a “bedroom” for Manhattan’s growing bourgeois class. The area benefited by having its rapid transit in a subway configuration (the IRT line underneath Eastern Parkway), in contrast to many other Brooklyn neighborhoods that had elevated lines. Beginning in the early 1900s, many upper-class residences, including characteristic brownstone buildings, were erected along Eastern Parkway. Away from the parkway were a mixture of lower middle-class residences. This development peaked in the 1920s. Before World War II Crown Heights was among New York City’s premier neighborhoods, with tree-lined streets, an array of cultural institutions and parks, and numerous fraternal, social and community organizations.

Population changes began in the 1920s with newcomers from Jamaica and the West Indies, as well as African Americans from the South.

During the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, many middle class Jews lived in Crown Heights. In 1950, the neighborhood was 89 percent white, with a small but growing black population. Some 50- 60 percent of the white population, about 75,000 people, were Jewish. By 1957, there were about 25,000 blacks in Crown Heights, about one fourth of the population. There were thirty-four large synagogues in the neighborhood, including the Bobov, Chovevei Torah, and 770 Eastern Parkway, home of the worldwide Lubavitch movement. There were also three prominent Yeshiva elementary schools in the neighborhood, Crown Heights Yeshiva on Crown Street, the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway, on Eastern Parkway, and the Reines Talmud Torah.

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of turbulent race relations. With increasing poverty in the city, racial conflicts plagued some New York neighborhoods. With its racially and culturally mixed populations, Crown Heights was mired in this strife. The neighborhood’s relatively large population of Lubavitch Hasidim, at the request of their leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn stayed in the community after other whites left.

During the Johnson administration, Crown Heights was declared a primary poverty area due to a high unemployment rate, high juvenile and adult crime rate, poor nutrition for lack of family income, relative absence of job skills and readiness to work, and a relatively high concentration of elderly residents.

Violence has erupted in the neighborhood on more than one occasion, including during the New York City blackout of 1977. More that 75 stores were robbed in the area. Thieves used cars to pull down gates protecting stores. In 1991 there was an outbreak known as the Crown Heights Riot.
Through the 1990s, crime, racial conflict, and violence decreased in New York. Urban renewal and gentrification began to take effect in NYC including Crown Heights.



The Crown Heights Riot was a three-day disturbance that occurred in August 1991 in the Crown Heights neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The community was and is majority West Indian and African American and has a large minority of Jews.

The riots began on August 19, 1991 after the child of two Guyanese immigrants was accidentally struck and killed by an automobile in the motorcade of a prominent Hasidic rabbi. A Jewish ambulance known as Hatzolah came to the scene and the police ordered the ambulance away, fearing the tension that was beig expressed by Black bystanders. During the riot an Orthodox Jew,Yankel Rosenbaum, who was visiting Crown Heights from Australia, was murdered. The riot unveiled long simmering tensions between Crown Heights’ black and Jewish communities, had an impact on the 1993 mayoral race and ultimately led to a successful outreach program between black and Jewish leaders that somewhat helped improve race relations in the city.



Crown Heights today has extreme contrasts between lovely architecture and vacant, run-down buildings, and variety of peoples and shops, ranging from a mix of bearded, dark-suit wearing Hasidim to vividly and brightly dressed Afro-Caribbean residents. Rising real estate values and gentrification have also recently become part of this mix.

In the spring of 2008 some racial tension flared up in a few blocks; however, it never reached to the level of tension that occurred during the Crown Heights Riot of the early 1990s. However, the Crown Heights neighborhood is an ethnic and social melange where a wide variety of people from older residents to college students and new immigrants continue to reside. In some areas the majority Caribbean population is increasingly displaced as many landlords will not rent to them anymore or outright evict long-time residents.

NYC.GOV statistics for 2007 reveal that the 77th precinct, which includes a significant part of Crown Heights, has experienced a year-to-date decline of 40% in the number of murders (a total of 9, down from 15), significantly impacted by local volunteer police patrols, and of 20% in the number of rapes (12, down from 15). However, felonious assaults and burglaries have increased significantly (16.8 and 24.8%, respectively).



As of 1994, of the approximately 150,000 residents in Crown Heights, 90 percent were of African descent (70 percent from the Caribbean and 20 percent of American birth), 9 percent were Hasidic Jews, and less than 1 percent were Latino, Asian and other ethnic groups.

Reflecting the most varied population of Caribbean immigrants outside the West Indies, Crown Heights is known for its annual West Indian Carnival. The boisterous and colorful event is the West Indian Carnival Parade, also known as “The Labor Day Parade.” The vivid ostentation goes along Eastern Parkway, from Utica Avenue to Grand Army Plaza. According to the West Indian-American Day Carnival Association, over 3.5 million people participate in the colorful parade each year.

It is also the location of the Worldwide Headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish movement, at 770 Eastern Parkway. A thriving Orthodox Jewish community has grown up around that location.

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