54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 2)


This posting is a continuation of 54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 1) where we shared a studio portrait of Emily taken in 1935.  The name of the studio on the picture frame prompted us to learn more about the photographer, Joseph Weise.  We followed the growth of his business from 1930 to 1940.  We now continue with our review of the findings which showed that Mr. Weise had studios in two different neighbhorhoods where the mix of immigrants and American citizens created the opportunities for expanding his client base.

Joseph Weise Photography Studios in Bensonhurst and Borough Park

The Weise Studio located at 4723 13th Avenue was situated in the part of Brooklyn formerly known as Blythebourne in the late 19th century.  In the early 20th centuries Jewish immigrants settled in the area becoming the majority population.  Italian and Irish immigrants also lived in this neighborhood.  By the 1930s a shift began to take place as Hasidic Jews moved in.  Today, the Hasidim dominate the community outnumbering the Orthodox Jews who were the dominant Jewish group at the time Joseph Weise opened his studio on 13th Avenue sometime after 1933 and before 1935.

The studios at 6408 18th Avenue (in 1933) and 6411 18th Avenue (in 1935) were situated in Bensonhurst.  Up until the end of WWII, Bensonhurst had almost equal percentages of Jewish and Italian immigrants living in the community.  With the development of middle class housing in the suburbs after WWII many of the Jewish residents moved out leaving the Italian-American community as the dominant ethnic group in the area.  Today Bensonhurst is home to a much smaller Italian-American population.  The up-and-coming immigrant groups are Chinese and Russian.

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, February 21, 2016  11-11:50 a.m.

We found an early 1930s New York City Subway and Trolley Car map to use as a starting point for this week’s discussion.  Since Sam put in a long work day we think Josie and Emily made this trip to the Weise Studio on their own or in the company of a relative.

The following questions arose when we thought about getting from the area where the Serrapede family lived to the Weise Studio.

• Which studio would they have gone to, 6411 18th Avenue or 4723 13th Avenue?
• Which bus or trolley line would take Josie and Emily from 1075 66th Street to the studio?
• Was the subway preferable?

We compared the period maps to see whether travel by subway was more efficient than the trolley and bus lines that are the source of many nostalgic memories of the Old Brooklyn of the 1920s through the early 1950s.
54c-Close-up of 1930s bus and trolley map

1930s Brooklyn Bus and Trolley Car map.
Trolley routes are shown by solid lines, bus routes by broken lines.

 Josie lived nearest to bus and trolley stops on Forth Hamilton Parkway.  The studio in Bensonhurst is marked in yellow.

54c-1930s brooklyn subway close-up

Close-up of the Sea Beach elevated line, from the 1931 subway and elevated lines map.

We think Josie and Emily travelled to Joseph Weise’s studio at 6411 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst by the elevated Sea Beach Line.  The bus and trolley car lines did not go directly to Bensonhurst from Dyker Heights where they lived.  Since no trolley car lines (solid lines in the map) were conveniently located near the Serrapede’s apartment building Josie and Emily would have to travel by bus (broken lines in the map). Their trip by bus might have been scenic but would be long and might run a double fare:

1. Get on the bus running along Fort Hamilton Avenue near 66th Street and ride until 60th Street.

2.   At 60th Street and Fort Hamilton Avenue get off the bus and wait for the bus line going down 60th Street to 18th Avenue.  We don’t know if this incurred another fare or was done by transfer.

3.   Get off at 18th Avenue and walk about 4 blocks to the studio.

The Sea Beach subway line offered a shorter ride and was more convenient:

1.  Walk 4-5 blocks to the station at 62nd Street and Fort Hamilton Avenue.

2.  Take the Sea Beach line 3 stops.

3.  Get off at the third stop, 18th Avenue.  Walk about 1 block to the studio.

The challenges Josie and Emily would have to travelling within and between different areas in Brooklyn by trolley and bus are still with us today.  The bus lines are good to use in pleasant weather if your destination is along the route or one or two blocks away.  To get deeper into a particular neighborhood, though, is difficult by bus since the routes run around the outsides and not up and down every side street.  This preserves a residential quality in many communities like Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights but it also results in more walking to reach some destinations after getting off.  The same would be the case with the trolley car lines in 1930s Brooklyn.  The subway then, as now, is still a good way to get around the borough.

The success Joseph Weise enjoyed in the standard of living he achieved is, we think, due to his ability to provide services to the ethnically diverse communities of Bensonhurst and Borough Park.  By having studios in both he was able to expand his business outreach to a greater population.

In putting together this posting Uncle Sammy and I realized that this episode in the family history is a good example of how immigrants experienced life in America.  Each group came into contact with people from other countries and members of each group shared the goal of improving their lives in their new country.  The willingness to do business with each other promoted the growth of neighborhood businesses.   As business profited the amount of goods and services available increased to meet the demands of the growing communities.

This brief study of how an Italian immigrant family chose a Russian-Jewish photographer to take a studio portrait of their American-born daughter portrays a scene from the daily life of 1930s Brooklyn and America at a time when the immigrants began to expand their interactions beyond the confines of their own ethnic and religious groups.  These interactions occurred in ways that could not have been considered and envisioned by their ancestors back in the Old World even one generation earlier.


Joseph Weise

1933 Brooklyn City Directory

1930 United States Federal Census
Census Place: Brooklyn, Kings, New York;
Roll: 1523; Page: 44A; Enumeration District: 1380;
Image: 427.0; FHL microfilm: 2341258

1940 United States Federal Census
Census Place: New York, Kings, New York;
Roll: T627_2570; Page: 8B; Enumeration District: 24-957

Borough Park

Forgotten New York-Boro Park

The New York Times
Real Estate
Borough Park, Brooklyn
Living In
by Gregory Beyer, October 8, 2010

Borough Park, Brooklyn


“The Big Apple Greeter Guide to Bensonhurst”

Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Forgotten New York
18th Avenue
“18 and I Like It”

Trolley Car Map

Trolley Map from the 1930s Shows How Easy It Was to Get Around Brooklyn
Posted On Wed, June 10, 2015
By Diane Pham In Brooklyn, History, maps, Transportation
6sqft blog

Brooklyn Subway Map
1931 Subway Map
Brooklyn Elevated Lines
NYC Subway Maps.org



22 thoughts on “54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 2)

  1. This is so interesting to me, especially now that I have two grandsons growing up in Brooklyn just as their great-grandmother did back in the 1930s. How do you think Josie would have known about the photographer? Was there no one closer to their neighborhood?

    I googled the 13th Avenue address, and today that neighborhood is called Boro Park (and yes, still very Hasidic). My daughter and her family live four miles north in Park Slope. And my mother grew up five miles to east on Rutland Road in what is now called Brownsville. Brooklyn is such a big place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Josie may have gone on the recommendation of family or friends. That is how much business was promoted in the neighborhoods. Weise may have had ads in which case that may have been the reason. But if a personal recommendation was added that increased the likelihood my Grandmother would go.

      Brooklyn is getting so crowded but it is conveniently located and offers so much. It will always be a place people want to live in. My hope is that there will still be room for the middle and working families.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am not sure how anyone affords to live there. My son-in-law and daughter both work, and he is a partner in a big law firm, but they can’t afford to buy anything and are paying an exorbitant amount in rent. But they love it there.


      2. I’m sorry to hear about their difficulties. This is eye-opening for me. In a way it sounds like Brooklyn is entering hyper-gentrification. From what I’ve read this is when over development starts and only the uber wealthy can live in the area. What happens is that despite the trendy shops and modern buildings the area is sterile and very little worthwhile activity and creativity is taking place.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. They love being able to walk to almost anything and having the diversity of the city. But it is a stressful life in many ways—in my suburbanite eyes.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I can see both points of view, Amy. It is indeed stressful. Here in Bay Ridge, the increasing number of bicyclists is creating hazards while at the same time reducing carbon emissions! Young adults ride their bikes on the sidewalk. They go in and out from the streets, as well. I hear of elderly people fearful to go out for a walk. We also have grown-ups–yes in their 30s when it’s not cute–riding skate boards on the sidewalk or roller blading into stores. This might be considered something special but you have to wonder how these people were raised. This is the hidden side of gentrification that is not a plus for any area. That plus the proliferation of bars and night spots takes away from the residential quality of Bay Ridge. It’s now called Bar Ridge.

        On the flip side there is indeed a wonderful diversity. I’ve learned so much about my Middle Eastern neighbors and grown to enjoy their cuisine.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. There truly is nothing like NYC. And it is sad to see it becoming just another mall with skyscrapers—walking on Fifth Avenue or Broadway in Manhattan is like walking through suburbia in terms of stores and restaurants. It would be a shame if the whole city becomes all chain stores, chain restaurants, bars, and Starbucks.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Amy, that is so true. It is already beyond stopping. I just got news today that the Angel Guardian Home, a former orphanage during the 1900s to circa 1970 was sold by the Sisters of Mercy for big bucks. The building is loated on an entire block that has been kept pristine. Trees, greenery, birds and squirrels galore jump to and from the walled in grounds. The plans for the entire block consist of high rise condos, affordable housing (yeah, right, more likely friends of the politicians get in), a senior center and maybe a school of some kind.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I agree. In the same parish a large basilica sold their mother church (the loation where they started back in the 1920s-1930s). The building is being demolished and secrecy surrounds who will buy the land. I’m disappointed that they did not try harder to save the building. The church and its outreach served many, many members of the Asian community. But since actual church membership is declining in many parishes and there is a shortage of priests, they may have decided it’s no longer economically feasible to keep up. Still, what results will be more crowding should a high rise condo go up.

        Liked by 1 person

      8. We’ve seen this also in Park Slope and its surrounding communities as well as downtown Brooklyn. When we first started visiting our daughter in Brooklyn back in 2008, there were almost no hotels nearby. Now with the whole Atlantic Yards development and more high rises, there are so many new hotels. Fortunately, we can now stay with them because they have a spare bedroom/office!

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Well, not really since we don’t stay in hotels there any more. On the other hand, those neighborhoods were really rundown with boarded up buildings and crack houses, so I guess the faceless hotels are an improvement for those who live around there.

        Liked by 1 person

      10. Maybe they are or aren’t. I’m not so sure. It’s too early to tell. I know that tourist buses now go to my childhood neighborhood in Dyker Heights. Every year there are too many people crowding the streets to see the Christmas lights. It’s created a terribly cheap and carnival like quality to the event. There are now food trucks, news cameras, amateur photographers, gawkers along with those who behave well in a crowd.

        There is litter the next morning. Many residents have put up gates in front of their stoops to deter people from walking or posing on the front steps. I’ve even heard that tourtists ring the doorbells of the houses to ask if they can use the bathroom in the house.

        I realize tourism provides jobs and it’s what New York City has been known for but coming into a residential area makes it all so surreal. I don’t like it.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. I can totally relate to that—on a smaller scale. In our small town, we used to live on a street where one neighbor did an over the top job of Halloween decorating—over a hundred jack o lanterns, all carved differently and lit up. The local newspapers covered it each year, and our street soon became trick or treat heaven. We’d have close to 1000 trick or treaters.

        I hated it! Constant doorbell ringing from 5 until 10, garbage on the street the next day, loud teenagers throwing things, cars blocking driveways. Parents would drive their kids from neighboring towns just to trick or treat on our street.

        Bah, humbug, I say! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Oh my Amy, that is awful. I think the money spent and energy expended on these kinds of displays is an example of vanity and self-indulgrence. I even view the Dyker Christmas Lights the same way. Both what you experienced and what I experienced are universes away from the real meaning of the holidays. I now think it would be better to donate the money and time to something worthwhile, like City Harvest.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Norma!! Good to hear from you. There were many Irish living in Bay Ridge in the 1930s. Now the dominant group is Middle Eastern. It is interesting to see how often they use the term “Mediterranean” to describe the cuisine and other parts of the culture. I do not know if that is done to be more acceptable because of what is going on now.


      1. Interesting euphemism!
        I will look up where the family lived. Gary took a photo of the building a few years ago. It looked very attractive but who knows what it was like back in the day

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’d love to see it, Norma. The New York City Archives has many photos of old buildings now available online. Who knows, maybe photos of that part of Brooklyn can be retrieved to compare with your photo.

        Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.