By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A group steeped in history has its eye on the future.
The Bay Ridge Historical Society will hold its final meeting of 2013 on Wednesday, Dec. 18, at Shore Hill, 9000 Shore Road, at 7:30 p.m. as members gear up for an exciting year in 2014 that will be filled with big changes.
Andrew Gounardes, who has been the society’s president since September, said the group has re-structured its leadership and is making other changes in an effort to excite Bay Ridge residents about the history of their community.
“We’ll be doing a number of projects that don’t just focus on holding a monthly public meeting with a lecture and refreshments afterwards,” Gounardes told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Monday.
The group, which was founded 37 years ago, is starting a new chapter. Gounardes and his members are discussing organizing a walking tour of historic Bay Ridge houses to take place in the spring when the weather gets warmer.
The society is also working with local teachers to develop a Bay Ridge-centered curriculum that could be taught in public schools. Once the curriculum is developed, Gounardes will approach officials at School District 20 to try and get their permission to bring the lessons into classrooms.
“It’s important for people to know the history of the community,” Gounardes, a lawyer, said. Gounardes said he has long had a fascination with history, particularly Bay Ridge history. “I grew up here. My whole life has been in this neighborhood,” he said.
One of the historic facts about Bay Ridge that Gounardes finds interesting: the community’s status as a resort area for millionaires in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. “This used to be a luxury getaway for the wealthy. There were other places they could go, but they chose to come here for their vacations,” he said.
The society has a new board of trustees whose members, Ted General, Larry Stelter, Susan Pulaski, Ralph Perfetto and David Farley, will work with Gounardes and the officers to try to bring more young people into the organization. In addition to Gounardes, the officers are First Vice President Jerome Hoffmann, Second Vice President Matthew Scarpa, Treasurer Peter Scarpa and Secretary Charles Calaioa.
General, a longtime member of the society, said the combination of older, experienced hands and young blood coming on board will make the group stronger. “One of the things we’re trying to do is re-invigorate the society. That’s why it’s important to have young people join. One of the goals is to keep alive the legacy of the community,” he told the Eagle.
“One thing we’d like to do is to find a way highlight the buildings in Bay Ridge that are not necessarily designated by the city as landmarks,” General said. “They’re important landmarks to us. We’d like to put up plaques to recognize them,” he said.
Bay Ridge does have its share of city-designated historic landmarks, such as the famous Gingerbread House, a private house near Shore Road that looks like it came straight out of the pages of a Grimm’s fairy tale. Another city landmark is the Farrell House, an 18th Century Greek-Revival house on 95th Street. OldhHouseOnline.com called the Farrell House a “miracle of old New York” in a 2009 post.
But General said there are plenty of other buildings worthy of recognition.
Monday marked an anniversary day in Bay Ridge. It was the 160th anniversary of the naming of the community. On Dec. 16, 1853, the community, which was originally known as Yellow Hook, officially changed its name to Bay Ridge. At that time, the community was part of the township of New Utrecht. Civic leaders assembled at the district school house (District School No. 2) and voted to rename their village from Yellow Hook, which had been established in 1675, to Bay Ridge.
“They did it as a reaction to a yellow fever outbreak that was going on at the time,” Gounardes said. “They knew that with the outbreak, people were not going to want to come to a place called Yellow Hook,” he said.
The name Bay Ridge was suggested by James Weir, a local florist, who thought the name was a more appropriate description of the area. The community sits on the ridge of the bay. “It is more geographically fitting,” Gounardes said.
The meeting to change the name was chaired by surveyor Teunis G. Bergen. Henry C. Murphy, Jacques Van Brunt and Joseph A. Perry, all of whom were residents in the area at the time, voted to approve the name change.
Flash forward to the present: the Dec. 18 meeting will also focus on history outside of Bay Ridge. Members will discuss Robert F. Wagner, the city’s 102nd mayor, who served from 1954 to 1965. Dr. Richard Flanagan, who has written a book about Wagner, will offer an analysis of the Wagner years at City Hall. “He was responsible for ushering in Shea Stadium, among other things,” Gounardes said.
The Bay Ridge Historical Society welcomes new members. The one-year membership fee is $10. A lifetime membership is $100. For more information, email Andrew@bayridgehistory.org.