Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Kensington Beginning

Sure, the General Carton Company at 360 Furman Streetnear Atlantic Avenue and the East River wasn’t exactly a dream job for my grandfather Paco. But it sure beat the dark and deadly coal mines of West Virginia and Pennsylvania where he worked years before. And Miami, well, Paco’s specialty was plaster arches, and I am sure they still exist there in many of the Art Deco hotels he worked on while he labored there too. But as they say, only hard work fuels desire, and my grandfather Paco was an example for all of us t ofollow. And landing a job at General Carton was his dream come true. Now my Grandfather always had these wonderful stories to tell me when I was a kid. There was the one about the two crooked young trees and how a man tied a smallpiece of wood to one of them so it grew up straight. The other tree grew up crooked because no one used astick on it. I usually heard this story when I did something wrong…I guess I was one of the trees.

Then there was the story about the man who saved a penny a day and one day had enough money to buy a house for his family. Well, when it came to saving money my grandfather truly harvested the seeds that he sewed. The story goes that friends of my grandfather on East2nd knew a man that had to sell his house on East 4th. Apparently the man was a gambler who owed a lot of money to some local loan sharks. If he didn’t come up with some serious money very quickly, he would soon beat the bottom of the ocean getting to know the clamsat Coney Island real well. As I said, “the storygoes.”

In 1948, Kensington was a wonderful area where diversity lived. The diversity of Kensington protected those who were different, even back then. Including an immigrant from Spain who may have been the first Spaniard in the area to own a house. Well, my grandfather’s dream of buying a house for his family came true and before you knew it the entire clan was living in the house. Marriages were made and babies were born. Aunts and uncles became moms and dads and cousins became brothers and sisters. I don’t think we even knew what a babysitter was. All I knew was that there was always someone around to watch me if my mom had to go to the store. Imagine a time in Brooklyn when an immigrant from Spain who passed through Ellis Island as a mere teenager and worked as a laborer his entire life would be able to save enough money to someday buy a house in Kensington to call his own. Imagine the dream of homeownership in Brooklyn being within reach of both a bank president and the man who painted the walls there at night. This was the Brooklyn that my grandfather knew.
So what would my Grandfathers Brooklyn be today? Well, the parks sure are pretty. The people of Kensington and Windsor Terrace are as wonderful as before and those new kiddie playgrounds won’t find you picking a splinter out of your child’s leg at night—they’re made of plastic now. And The General Carton Company? Well, it closed its doors years ago and the building was recently sold to a developer. They are calling it “One Brooklyn Bridge Park” and I heard it's going Condo. So if you're ever on the BQE headed towards the city, check out the old factory on the left by Atlantic Avenue, remember General Carton and remember Paco. Because a long time ago cardboard box companies and minimum wages bought houses in Brooklyn, and really made dreams come true.

Above picture shows my entire family before I was born, and Paco with a child on his shoulders. The new development “1 Brooklyn Bridge Park” formerly housed the General Carton Company at 360 Furman Street, Brooklyn Heights.

Ron Lopez