Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mae West: Graham Avenue

By the late 1890s, MAE WEST's family had moved to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
• • Since John West often found work as a "special policeman" and a bouncer — — jobs that kept him on his feet until very late at night and early in the morning — — he gravitated towards neighborhoods where an efficient mass transit system was already in place. And the long expected operation of trolley cars across the Brooklyn Bridge began in January 1898 with the Graham Avenue line of the Brooklyn Heights Railroad. [The Graham Avenue Line was selected because it carried the largest number of passengers to the bridge in 1898.]
• • Supporting his growing family [which included little Mary Jane/ "Mae" born in August 1893 and baby Mildred born in December 1898] forced John West into odd employment situations — — for instance, as a watchman who was hired in 1899 to patrol Grand Avenue. One of the burglars he apprehended was stealing from the Belvidere Bicycle Company on Grand Avenue; John West ran to the corner of Grand and Graham Avenue where he got assistance from Officer Golden at the Stagg Street Precinct to help arrest the brazen 24-year-old thief.
• • But one of her father's jobs gave flight to Mae's career aspirations.
• • In November 1901 the superb Folly Theatre opened on Debevoise Street and Graham Avenue within walking distance of the West household. John West was hired as a bouncer and he soon got on speaking terms with the vaudevillians who performed there. And his loved ones enjoyed a free pass to many features. Matilda took young Mae to shows at this flagship of Hyde and Behman's Brooklyn houses. Measuring 36' by 80', the stage could accommodate the most elaborate scenery. The main floor of the auditorium had 850 seats and the balcony held an additional 600 chairs. Three ceiling paintings, floral artwork, and other decorations added to the splendor and luxuriousness of this playhouse. When the crowd applauded an actress, Matilda told Mae that she could be important like that. A star was born on Graham Avenue.
• • Graham Avenue was named for John and James Lorimer Graham who were land-jobbers in Williamsburg during the first part of the nineteenth century. Jobbers sought to purchase lots for the sole purpose of making a profit. Look who we New Yorkers have named our streets after: profiteers who drive up our real estate prices. Just once though I'd like to see a local street named for Mae West, wouldn't you?
• • Come up and see Mae every day online:


• • Photo:
• • Mae West • • in Mae's footsteps • •
Mae West.

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