Whatever Happened to Paddy the Hawk?


 By Patrick Fenton



The ravages of time.



The Brooklyn Public Library/Brooklyn Collection

Windsor Terrace in its glory.


Brooklyn Eagle/The Brooklyn Public Library/Brooklyn Collection

The doomed Windsor Terrace Methodist Church, which stood for 61 years at Prospect and Greenwood Avenues, devoured by Robert Moses' Prospect Expressway, 1954.






The Brooklyn Public Library/Brooklyn Collection

The historic Public School 10, located at Seventh Avenue and 17th Street, Windsor Terrace.


By Patrick Fenton

One frigid March night in 1945, as a strong wind blew across the school yard, several hundred people made their way into the auditorium of Public School 10 on Prospect Avenue in  Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. They were people who drove trolley cars for a living, people who worked shoveling coal at the Con Ed plant in downtown, Brooklyn.  Among them were a few bar owners, a few candy store owners, a fruit store owner. Over in one section of the auditorium a large group of Italians from 18th Street sat together. Many of them didn’t speak English.

Up on a stage someone had set up an easel with a large map of Windsor Terrace that showed the part of it that ran from 15th Street up to the gates of Greenwood Cemetery. At the top of it were the words “Report #3334,” and then under that in big, black letters, the words, “MODIFICATION OF THE MASTER PLAN OF EXPRESSWAY HIGHWAYS AND MAJOR STREETS. City of New York, City Planning Commission.” 

They were meeting here tonight because a man called Robert Moses had this plan to run a depressed highway right through their neighborhood. He wasn’t here tonight, they were told, but a representative from his office would give them a detailed account of his plan. It would run for more than six blocks through Windsor Terrace, and it would take with it several factories along with some stores. If approved, it  would bulldoze down 400 houses in their neighborhood described on the plan up on the stage as “400 frame and brick dwellings.” The plan called for the removal of 1,252 families to make way for a six-lane highway that would run from 4th Avenue down to Ocean Parkway.

Hard to say what was going through their minds that night down in Public School 10, the very school that many of them attended when they were young, the school that many of their children now attended. The hardest hit would be the part of 18th Street which was made up mostly of Italian Immigrants. Moses said he had to run it right down one side of 18th Street where they lived and also down one side of 19th Street. He needed six entire city blocks to make his plan work. It would be called the Prospect Expressway and it would hook up the Gowanus Parkway with Ocean Parkway. He said it would “provide much needed traffic relief and an important link between the Gowanus Parkway and Ocean Parkway.” And “of course,” his representative said, “the City Planning Commission would do its best to relocate the families whose houses would be razed.”

The records show that a lot of crying went on at that meeting that night, a lot of anger too. Somebody screamed out, as two police officers from the 72nd Precinct pulled him out of the auditorium, that Moses was building “a Chinese Wall” that would “divide Windsor Terrace forever.” Originally, they were going to run it down part of 17th Street, but after the parish  Church, Holy Name of Jesus, complained that they would lose more than 800 families with 2,000 church members, along with more than 800 pupils, they moved it a block over to 18th Street.


Ten years later in the fall of 1954, after the last holdout was forced out of his house on 18th Street, an old Italian man who spent decades delivering ice and coal in the neighborhood, after all the condemnation proceedings were completed in court, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Borough President’s office said of the project, “we believe it is money well spent, and we express thanks to the 1,252 tenants on the expressway right-of-way who had accepted the hardship of finding new living quarters.” What was left was row after row of empty, ghost houses that ran for miles through Windsor Terrace. 

Billy Coffey remembered how he would go over to 18th Street and wander through the empty rooms. He remembered going down to the basements that were flooded with water as pipes froze and burst. He remembered seeing old steamer trunks floating by, and in them were letters and black and white pictures of children making their first communion, children being baptized up at Holy Name Church, the very items that once gave witness that these families existed. And he never understood why they were left behind, as if they didn’t mean anything anymore. 

He remembered waking up one hot summer, morning and hearing this loud sound of wood cracking, of glass breaking. Later, when he walked around the corner to 18th Street he watched as men hosed down the streets to keep the dust down as bulldozers started to rip down house after house. And then he watched them tear into the entranceway to the Lucky Penny Candy Store, and after that, Frank’s Pizza Parlor, and the American Barber shop, and soon an entire neighborhood, an entire small town was gone, buried as if it was lost in some sort of ancient Egyptian sand storm, never to be heard from again.      

Every few years Billy Coffey would drive back to his old neighborhood in Windsor Terrace, and visit the part of it that existed in his mind as a ghost town. He always went alone. Few, if any of the new people who live in Windsor Terrace now, know that it once existed. He would always come back in the dead of winter when 9th Avenue was empty, and all the side streets leading up to it were quiet except for the occasional scrape of a lone, snow shovel somewhere. And he would open up a can of beer and stare down onto the canyon that is the Prospect Expressway as the wind whistled and snow swirled up its sides. And all the while there was the constant noise of out of town trailers and cars whizzing by.

And he would imagine for a moment the small town that once thrived here, a vital part of Windsor Terrace that was bulldozed into the ground by master builder Robert Moses in the early 50's to make way for an expressway that would hook up with Ocean Parkway that ran all the way to Coney Island. It would displace 1,252 families, many of them Italian. As if he was in a dream, he would remember again walking through this part of his neighborhood so long ago when he was a kid. It was like a small Italian village that ran for several blocks. He remembered the Italian grocery stores with all their crates of fresh fruit and greens outside, and stacks of Bacala, the dried salty cod fish stacked in wooden boxes, and inside on the counter, large stacks of Italian bread and vats of olives, and the strong, smell of fresh blocks of cheese, and huge cans filled with anchovies.  


As he stood on the corner of 18th Street and 9th Avenue, ghost like whispers of what existed here once would drift up to him, distant voices of young people laughing as they ran through long ago, gray winter afternoons, ran past the old stores, ran down quiet, empty streets on the way home from Holy Name parochial school as winter snow muffled their laughter, past the red bricked factories with their cobbled stoned court yards and huge, black iron shutters on their
windows that made you think that they would last forever. On long ago Saturday afternoons he drove a huge heavy bicycle loaded down with meat that he delivered for a store called, Joe the Butcher, and inside the homes he brought the meat to there would be early morning sauces cooking and a hurriedness that suggested the importance of every single day of life.

Like other small towns, this section of Windsor Terrace  had a barber shop, a candy store, a florist, a local diner, a pizza parlor, an Italian grocery store, a factory, a saloon, and a rooming house which was two blocks away on 20th Street. Up the block from the rooming house were the gates to Greenwood Cemetery, and across the street on 9th Avenue was a huge trolley car depot, the end of the line for a nine mile run that went all the way to Coney Island and back every day. And right across from the trolley car barns was McGovern’s Florist, a long row of green houses with a small store front as you entered. All these places were part of the neighborhood until they got separated by the highway that ran right down the middle of it. The trolley car barns were torn down shortly after the expressway came through, and it wasn’t much longer before the rooming house went.

He walked over to the corner of 19th Street and stood in front of the spot where Gus’ Diner once was. He remembered in the early 50's watching this man nicknamed “Paddy the Hawk”as he came rushing out of the doorway of the diner to reset a trolley car line back up on
the overhead wire after it bounced loose and lost power. He would stare for hours out the front window of the diner as the McDonald Avenue trolleys made the sharp turn at the corner of 9th Avenue, eventually one of their lines would bounce off of the overhead power line, particularly in the winter, and “Paddy the Hawk” would be out there hooking it back up as sparks rained down on him and bounced off the stubble of his beard. And all the while he would be gritting his teeth and staring straight up at the power line until he hooked it back up. Then with a wave to the trolley driver to drive on he would straighten out his pea cap and head back to the diner for a cup of black coffee. Billy Coffey used to think that he wouldn’t mind doing that for the rest of his life.


He wouldn’t mind having everything stay just the way it was forever, and his job would be to run out of Gus’ Diner to hook up the trolley car line whenever  it bounced off of the power line. Like scenes from an Edward Hopper painting, this part of Windsor Terrace always seemed lonely in some way to him, always seemed empty of crowds. Looking in the window of Frank’s Pizza parlor you would always see only about three people at the tables. A lone figure is getting a hair cut in the American Barber Shop, and always in his memory as a young boy, there was this incredible sense of time standing still.

Next to  Gus’ Diner there was a three-story building with a loft where they made ladies’ house coats. When he was 14, his friend Bobby Reese lived above the loft with his family. An empty lot separated it from a small factory that always had huge bails of bundled up cloth outside. His older brother Andrew worked there for a while when he was 16.

He lived around the corner on 17th Street, and this  part of Windsor Terrace, cut off  from the rest of it like a severed leg now, was once part of his neighborhood. He ate pizza and drank bottles of Coca Cola at Frank’s Pizza parlor, and he  had his hair cut in the “American Barber Shop.” He bought bags of candy at the Lucky Penny. On cold wintry Saturday afternoons when the streets outside were lined with thick ribbed ice, the windows all steamed up from the rows of coffee urns, he sat inside Gus’ Diner eating french fries which Gus served up in brown paper bags.

This he remembered about Gus’ Diner: it was a long narrow, shadowy place, old black and white tile floors, thick rimmed water glasses that were as heavy as the white porcelain mugs the coffee was served in. It was always crowded with trolley car drivers, mail men, sanitation men who would bring their brooms and snow shovels in with them, all hunched over the long counter reading the New York Daily News, the Daily Mirror, and eating large plates of fried eggs and  
home fries, and washing it down with mugs of steaming coffee.  And now walking around the ghost neighborhood, Billy could imagine that it still existed.

He remembered when he was 14 watching a bulldozer drive straight into Gus’ Diner and the first thing that it lifted up and tore out was the wide front window that Paddy the Hawk used to spend hours looking out. It made an awful noise. And he could picture him again, this man that looked older than he was,  just staring out that window in the dead, gray of winter, waiting, waiting as if his whole life depended on it, for one of the trolley car lines to bounce off of the overhead power wire as they made the sharp turn onto 9th Avenue so that he could hook it back up. He remembered watching the bulldozer with the entire front window in the teeth of its bucket, the large black and gold lettering of “Gus’ Diner” still visible as the bulldozer raised its bucket high and sent the whole thing crashing into a dump truck. He remembered standing there watching the dump truck drive off. Now on this cold January day with no evidence that this part of Windsor Terrace ever existed, he wondered whatever happened to Paddy the Hawk.”      

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