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It is known for its high population of Russian-speaking immigrants, and as a summer destination for New York City residents due to its beaches along the Atlantic Ocean and its proximity to the amusement parks in Coney Island.
Brighton Beach is included in an area from Sheepshead Bay to Sea Gate that was purchased from the Native Americans in 1645 for a gun, a blanket and a kettle.
Brighton Beach was located on sandy terrain, and before development in the 1860s, had mostly farms. The area was part of the "Middle Division" of the town of Gravesend, which was the sole English settlement out of the original six towns in Kings County. By the mid-18th century, thirty-nine lots in the division had been distributed to the descendants of English colonists.
In 1868, William A. Engeman built a resort in the area. The resort was given the name "Brighton Beach" in 1878 by Henry C. Murphy and a group of businessmen, who chose to name as an allusion to the English resort town of Brighton. With the help of Gravesend's surveyor William Stillwell, Engeman acquired all 39 lots for the relatively low cost of $20,000.:38 This 460-by-210-foot (140 by 64 m) hotel, with rooms for up to 5,000 people nightly and meals for up to 20,000 people daily, was close to the then-rundown western Coney Island, so it was mostly the upper middle class that went to this hotel. The 400-foot (120 m), double-decker Brighton Beach Bathing Pavilion was also built nearby and opened in 1878, with the capacity for 1,200 bathers.:38 "Hotel Brighton", also known as the "Brighton Beach Hotel", was situated on the beach at what is now the foot of Coney Island Avenue. The Brooklyn, Flatbush, and Coney Island Railway, the predecessor to the New York City Subway's present-day Brighton Line, opened on July 2, 1878, and provided access to the hotel.:38
After that extremely high tide, and a decade of beach erosion, the Brighton Beach Hotel, by then owned by the Railway, faced the possibility of being "undermined and carried away." A plan termed "highly ingenious and novel" was initiated by the superintendent of the Railway, J.L. Morrow, and its Secretary, E.L. Langford, to elevate and move the building as a whole, 495 feet further inland. This was accomplished by lifting the estimated 5000 ton, 460 by 150 feet (140 m × 46 m) building, using 13 hydraulic jacks, after which 24 lines of railroad track – a mile and a half length in total – were laid under it, and 112 railroad "platform cars" (flat cars) pulled by six steam locomotives were used to pull the hotel away from the sea. This careful engineering (by B.C. Miller) made the move successful; it began on April 2, 1888, and continued for the next nine days, and was the largest building move of the 19th century.
Anton Seidl and the Metropolitan Opera brought their popular interpretations of Wagner to the Brighton Beach Music Hall, where John Philip Sousa was in residence, and the New Brighton Theater was a hotspot for vaudeville. Visitors for tea at Reisenweber's Brighton Beach Casino would be served by Japanese waitresses in full costume. At an enormous private club, the Brighton Beach Baths, members could swim, access a private beach, and play handball, mah-jongg, and cards.
The village, along with the rest of Gravesend, was annexed into the 31st Ward of the City of Brooklyn in 1894.
Early 20th century
In 1905, Brighton Beach Park opened its own area of amusements, calling it Brighton Pike. Brighton Pike offered a boardwalk, games, live entertainment (including the Miller Brothers' wild-west show (101 Ranch), and a huge steel roller coaster. The park was shut down in 1919 after it burned down. The actual beach remained popular, though.
Brighton Beach was re-developed as a fairly dense residential community with the final rebuilding of the Brighton Beach railway to rapid transit standards, becoming the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation (BMT)'s Brighton Line, which opened c. 1920 (the line is now served by the New York City Subway's and services). The subway line within the neighborhood is above ground on an elevated structure. The opening of the BMT Brighton Line had conflicting consequences: although it made Brighton Beach viable as a year-round community, it was now much more feasible for visitors to return home in the evening rather than spend the night. This led to the closure of the Brighton Beach Hotel in 1924.
The years just before and following the Great Depression brought with them a neighborhood consisting mostly of first- and second-generation Jewish-Americans and, later, Holocaustconcentration camp survivors. Of the estimated 55,000 Holocaust survivors living in New York City as of 2011, most live in Brighton Beach. To meet the bursting cultural demands, the New Brighton Theater converted itself to the States' first Yiddish theater in 1919.
Late 20th century and Soviet immigration
The "Millennium Theater", now the "Master Theater"
After World War II, the quality of life in Brighton Beach decreased significantly as the poverty rate and the ratio of older residents to younger residents increased. Due to the 1970s fiscal crisis, government workers and the middle class had moved to suburban areas, while people subdivided houses into single room occupancy residences for the poor, the elderly, and the mentally ill. Brighton Beach suffered from arson as much as it did from constant drug trades. During the summer, however, people from all around the city went to Brighton Beach's beach next to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the mid-1970s, Brighton Beach became a popular place to settle for the Soviet immigrants, mostly Jews from Russia and Ukraine. So many ex-Soviets immigrated to Brighton Beach that the area became known as "Little Odessa" (after the Ukrainian city on the Black Sea).
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent significant changes in the social and economic circumstances of post-Soviet states led thousands of former Soviet citizens to immigrate to the United States. Many more of the Soviet and post-Soviet immigrants, who primarily spoke Russian, chose Brighton Beach as a place to settle.
A large number of Russian-speaking, immigrant-oriented firms, shops, restaurants, clubs, offices, banks, schools, and children's play centers opened in the area. The value of real estate in Brighton Beach started to rise again, even though drugs remained a social issue in the area through the early 1990s.
In the early 2000s, a high-income ocean-front condominium complex, the "Oceana", was constructed. This address has become the destination of wealthy businessmen, entertainers, and senior officials from the former Soviet Union, and with their purchase of units at the Oceana, area housing prices have risen.
Since the early 2010s, a significant number of Central Asian immigrants have also chosen Brighton Beach as a place to settle.
The proximity of Brighton Beach to the city's beaches, Brighton Beach Avenue runs parallel to the Coney Island beach and boardwalk, and that the neighborhood is directly served by a subway station makes it a popular summer weekend destination for New York City residents.
Brighton Beach's culture
Russian stores in Brighton Beach
Backgammon players at Second Street Park in 2012
A Russian-language bookstore under the New York City Subway tracks on Coney Island Avenue in Brighton Beach
Crowded Brighton Beach on a summer afternoon
Water sports on Brighton Beach
Brighton Beach housing
The Oceana luxury condominiums on Brighton Beach, built in the early 2000s
Juxtaposition of apartments and private homes
Brighton 15th Street
A Brighton Beach storefront's sign, which contains both its English and its Russian names.
As apartment buildings started to be built in large numbers in the 1930s, many of those who moved into the neighborhood were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, often by way of the Lower East Side. They came from many countries, but also set the stage for a later wave of immigration from the Soviet Union that started in the 1970s, when Brighton Beach became known as "Little Odessa," and "Little Russia". An annual festival, the Brighton Jubilee, celebrates the area's Russian-speaking heritage. The area has also been called "the land of pelmeni, matryoshkas, tracksuits, and...vodka" due to its large population of Soviet immigrants.
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Brighton Beach was 35,547, an increase of 303 (0.9%) from the 35,244 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 393.32 acres (159.17 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 90.4 inhabitants per acre (57,900/sq mi; 22,300/km2). The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 69.7% (24,774) White, 1.0% (352) African American, 0.2% (61) Native American, 12.9% (4,580) Asian, 0.0% (10) Pacific Islander, 0.4% (139) from other races, and 1.2% (442) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14.6% (5,189) of the population.
As of 1983[update], Brighton Beach had a middle class, mostly Jewish, older population. 27% of Brighton Beach was of age 62 or older, while the national average of persons aged 62 or older was 13.9%. Since the 1990s, however, the neighborhood's ethnic demographics have been changing, with a large influx of mainly Muslim immigrants from Central Asia, such as Uzbeks. In subsequent years, the proportion of whites leveled out, the proportion of the black population decreased significantly, and the proportion of the Asian population increased to 14% as of 2014. As of 2010[update], increasing numbers of Muslim Central Asians were moving into Brighton Beach, and based on the historic Soviet influence over these area, these immigrants also speak Russian.
According to the United States Census report of 2010, Brighton Beach and Coney Island, combined, had 111,063 residents as of 2009. In that year, the median age of residents of Brooklyn was 34.2 and in New York City as a whole, it was 36.0 years, while in the combined Brighton Beach and Coney Island area it was 47.9 years. hence, the area is distinguished by a higher median age of its population. As DiNapoli and Bleiwas note in a city report, "the number of residents aged 65 years and older in [this area] rose by 4.1 percent, so that senior citizens accounted for more than one-quarter of the area's population" at that date. According to the census, the population density in Brighton Beach, per se (52,109 people per square mile), was almost twice the average population density of New York City (27,012 people per square mile), though the average household size was 2.1 people, lower than the city average of 2.6 people. The average income of households in the area was $36,574, while the average income in the whole city was $55,217, according to the 2010 census. In Brighton Beach, 21% of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to only 15.4% citywide.
Most of the population of Brighton Beach are immigrants. Less than a quarter (23.3%) of Brighton Beach residents were born in the United States, and nearly three-quarters were born abroad (72.9%). Because of this, English language proficiency in Brighton Beach is lower than the city average. More than a third (36.1%) of the population of Brighton Beach does not speak or understand English, while citywide, only one in fourteen people (7.2%) cannot speak or understand English.
The Brighton Ballet Theater, established in 1987, is one of the most famous Russian ballet schools in the United States. More than 3,000 children have trained in ballet, modern and character dances, and folk dances here.
A Russian-speaking theater near the waterfront, Master Theater [ru], features performances by actors from the U.S., Russia, and other countries.
Police and crime
Brighton Beach is patrolled by the NYPD's 60th Precinct, located at 2950 West Eighth Street. The 60th Precinct ranked 34th safest out of 69 patrol areas for per-capita crime in 2010. Between 1993 and 2010, major crimes decreased by 72%, including a 76% decrease in robberies, 71% decrease in felony assaults, and 67% decrease in shootings.
The 60th Precinct has a lower crime rate than in the 1990s, with crimes across all categories having decreased by 84.6% between 1990 and 2017. The precinct saw 0 murders, 20 rapes, 1138 robberies, 232 felony assaults, 89 burglaries, 422 grand larcenies, and 46 grand larcenies auto in 2017.
Brighton Beach is considered a hot spot for the "Russian Mafia", though public perception has been that organized crime "has largely gone away." In the 1970s, the most notorious leg of the mafia was the Potato Bag Gang, which served as a robbery gang for larger Russian crime syndicates in New York City. Marat Balagula was a crime boss from Brighton Beach who denies having any connection to the American Mafia or the Russian-speaking Mafia.The major Russian criminal element in Brighton Beach was the international Russian mafia group, known as vor v zakone or "vory," and the first vory crime boss in Brighton Beach was Evsei Agron, who controlled the area's crime during the 70s and 80s until his death in 1985. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 90s, many ethnic Russian criminals illegally entered the United States, coming especially to Brighton Beach. The infamous vor Vyacheslav Ivankov, who dominated the Brighton Beach underworld until his arrest in 1995, arrived during this wave.
The Coney Island Boardwalk and Beach run along the coastline south of Brighton Beach. Brighton Beach Playground, located on the Boardwalk at Brighton 2nd Street and Brightwater Court, was built in 1950 and renovated in the late 1990s. Century Playground, located on the site of former summer bungalows near PS 370, was built in the late 1960s and renovated in 2012.
A traffic island at Brighton 14th Street, Corbin Place, and Ocean View Avenue was dedicated as Babi Yar Triangle in 1981, in honor of the victims of the Babi Yar massacre, and renovated in 1988.
P.S. 253 Ezra Jack Keats International School/The Magnet School of Multicultural Humanities
P.S. 225 The Eileen E. Zaglin School
Brighton Beach is served by the New York City Department of Education. Primary and middle schools within Brighton Beach include P.S. 225 The Eileen E. Zaglin School for grades K-8, and P.S. 253 the Ezra Jack Keats International School. In 1983, the Community School District 21 operated PS 225, PS 253, and Junior High School 302. During that year, over 62% of its students read at or above their grade level, far above the national average. PS 100, The Coney Island School for grades K-5 and 303 Herbert S. Eisenberg are both located nearby in Coney Island.
The Brooklyn Public Library's Brighton Beach branch is located at 16 Brighton First Road, near Brighton Beach Avenue. The branch contains a large collection of media in Russian. The branch opened in December 1949, but due to high patronage, moved to its current location in 1964. The branch was renovated in the early 1990s.
In popular culture
The neighborhood has been mentioned or appears many times in popular culture:
A Lifetime reality TV show called Russian Dolls, documenting the lives of young Russian-Americans and a group of Brighton Beach housewives spending time in a popular Russian nightclub, Rasputin Restaurant, premiered August 11, 2011.
A fictionalized version of Brighton Beach, known as Hove Beach, is a neighborhood in the 2008 video game Grand Theft Auto IV.
Notable current and former residents of Brighton Beach include:
^"High Tides". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. December 10, 1887. Retrieved 2012.
^ ab"Moving the Brighton Beach Hotel". Scientific American. New York: Scientificamerican.com. April 14, 1888. Retrieved 2015. Reprinted as "A Hotel on Wheels," in The Engineer (London, ENG), April 27, 1888(subscription required)
^"Map of Brighton Beach environs"(JPG). Graphics8.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2015. Coney Island, which has a residential population of about 53,000, is bounded by the Belt Parkway to the north, Ocean Parkway to the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south.
^Fairbanks, Amanda M. "Brighton Beach, N.J.", The New York Times, February 27, 2009. Accessed February 26, 2017. "IN scene after scene in Two Lovers, the new movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joaquin Phoenix as a star-crossed couple, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brighton Beach is on lush display."
^"Vector by Robin Cook", Kirkus Reviews. Accessed February 26, 2017. "An anti-Semite, Yuri feels dismissed as a human being by American Zionists and has set up a bioweapons lab in his basement in Brighton Beach, undertaking what he calls Operation Revenge."
^Hicks, Jonathan P. "Two Comptroller Candidates Try to Make No. 3 Job Visible", The New York Times, March 14, 2001. Accessed September 3, 2019. "Over three recent days, Councilman Herbert E. Berman took his quest to a civic association dinner in Queens, a church organization dinner in Brooklyn, appearances before political clubs and an interview by the Working Families Party.... Mr. Berman, 67, grew up in Brighton Beach and Coney Island."
^Rondeaux, Candace. "The Murder of a Russian Boxer", The Village Voice, February 19, 2002. Accessed September 3, 2019. "There definitely was more to Sergei Kobozev than his violent end. He first earned his rep fighting for the Soviet national boxing team at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. When he moved to Brighton Beach in 1991 he was part of a wave of Soviet bloc boxers recruited by Gallagher to go pro in the States."
^Haberman, Clyde. "For Voice of Straphangers, a Journey Without Stops", The New York Times, August 25, 2013. Accessed September 3, 2019. "Gene Russianoff, who has spent most of his adult life reflecting upon and fretting about New York City's subways, remembers the first time he rode a train alone.... 'We lived in Brighton Beach, exactly where the el is -- now the B, then the D,' he said over breakfast at a diner near his office in Lower Manhattan."
^Serrin, William. "A Leader For The Little Guy", The New York Times, September 12, 1982. Accessed September 3, 2019. "Jerry Wurf was one of the most remarkable union men of this century. Born in New York City in 1919 to immigrant parents from Austria and Hungary, he was stricken with polio when he was 4 years old, spent much of his youth in a wheelchair and always walked with a limp. The family settled in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn where the bookish boy came into early contact with the politically militant left-wing groups of the Depression Era, including the Young People's Socialist League, in which he was active before the war."