What Life was Like at Broome and Allen During the 1930s [PHOTOS]

Posted on: May 19th, 2016 at 9:29 am by
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Widening Allen Street in 1931, Photo: KJJWith wheels in motion to co-name the corner of Broome and Allen Streets “Hy Genee Way,” and the advent of the second annual Greek Jewish Festival this Sunday, it’s time for an appreciation. An appreciation of the block through the eyes of the Kehila Kedosha Janina – for which Genee was longtime president and local advocate. For the purposes of this piece, we elect to discuss the eleven Depression years spanning 1931 through 1942.


The congregation itself was founded in 1919 by Jews from the town of Janina, and the composition of the block reflected that. Indeed, this abbreviated area between Allen and Eldridge was a veritable “Little Greece.”

“Broome and Allen Street was epicenter of the Greek Jewish community (including Sephardic and Romaniote Jews from Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans),” Greek Jewish Festival Director Andrew Marcus tells us. “The block was like one small town – everyone knew everyone and entire families from Greece populated different floors in different buildings.”

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KJJ in 1940, Photo: Municipal ArchivesThis small town eventually saw the construction of a permanent sanctuary at 280 Broome in 1927. That’s the same tenement synagogue you see today. It was designated a landmark in 2004, and underwent a substantial renovation two years later.

Four years after the house of worship was erected (on behalf of Romaniote Jews from Janina, Greece), the city sought fit to widen Allen Street to accommodate the traffic. More breathing room was needed. In 1931, a slum clearance project took hold, and tenements on the east side of the street from East Houston to Division were leveled. A median was planted; the Second Avenue El ran down the western roadway.

Here is another photo of children playing in the rubble of that life. The city sure took its sweet time in the cleanup.

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Kids playing in rubble of Allen Street, Photo: KJJThen, another scare. Robert Moses and the Lower Manhattan Expressway (LOMEX). This was the plan to bisect the neighborhood with a ten-lane highway to connect the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges with the Holland Tunnel. More than a dozen blocks would’ve been leveled to realize the vision, including the synagogue itself. The proposal went through various revisions and reincarnations, but was eventually knocked down in 1962 thanks to community opposition led by Jane Jacobs.

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LOMEX map, Photo: Library of CongressTo discuss such neighborhood gossip as LOMEX or slum clearance, one might have darkened the doors of the Kosher steakhouse called Greenbergs. This restauarant operated at 286 Broome, a few doors down from KKJ.

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Greenberg’s of Broome Street, Photo: Municipal Archives“Members of our synagogue recall movie stars, including Edward G. Robinson, and local Jewish gangsters eating here (they occasionally gave kids a penny to watch their car parked on Broome St),” Marcus explains.

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There were also several Greek/Turkish coffee houses and clubs along Allen Street. The above is a scene from one of them…

Perhaps to alleviate the food coma, you decided to take a trip (if affordable). You may have boarded the Second Avenue El at Grand Street and headed north to visit relatives or the like. That convenience would only last until 1942, when the city closed the train line, and demolished the elevated tracks. (Legend has it that the metal was ironically sold to Japan as scrap.)

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The second annual Greek Jewish Festival is on Broome Street this Sunday (May 22), noon to 6pm.

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