For half a century, Reginald Bridges’s 544 square foot shotgun house has hummed with the magnetic density of Brooklyn’s long life. Most larger houses have lived far less. For half a century, Bridges has called this house home. After Hurricane Dora tossed the roof off his childhood home at 119 Chelsea Street in 1964, the Bridges family moved around the corner to 1107 Jackson.
It was here that Bridges and his little brother Harold started Brooklyn’s own radio station, WATG, We Are the Greatest, in 1968. It was here that Bridges started archiving photographs and flyers and newspaper articles and bus schedules and obituaries and anything else that related to Brooklyn in the 1960s. It was here that his little brother died from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in his old car out front in 1978. It’s here that Bridges lived alone with his diabetic father, taking care of him the last years of his life. It’s here his father died in 1999. It’s here that Bridges oversees a kind of unofficial museum of neighborhood history, built of his lifelong collection.
One example: a blurred image of a woman in uniform, wearing a long skirt, a hat, and a tie. One shoulder arches higher than the other. She doesn’t smile. “Now that’s Miss Josephine Statums,” he says, hammering an index finger at an image affixed to a large folded posterboard. “She was our patrol lady when I was going to school.”
Josephine Statums’s posterboard is one of several dozen stacked around the small front room of Bridges’s house. He displays them at community meetings and events at the J.S. Johnson Community Center across the street. The boards contain old photos, newspaper articles, and enough pages affixed in plastic sleeves to form two or three booklets per board. Across the boards are titles like “Historical Brooklyn Jax,” “Brooklyn Old Churches,” “Brooklyn Deaths,” “Our News,” and “Old Brooklyn Stores.”
There are photos of Hazel Thomas’s little square store with the awning. She was 93 years old when she stopped selling candy and soft drinks on Elm Street, just around the corner from Brooklyn Park.
In hazy photos from the 1980s, Mayors Jake Godbold and Tommy Hazouri talk to old men in suits and old women in staid skirts with handbags.
Around the time Bridges started archiving every Brooklyn document he could find, he and his little brother started WATG. They operated the station from the back yard and transmitted via cable across Spruce Street to Brooklyn Park.
The station might not have transmitted far, but the whole neighborhood listened. There was always a baseball or basketball game at Brooklyn Park. There were always kids gathered. There was always somebody grilling hot dogs or frying fish. There were always people dancing. When there wasn’t a game, the Brooklyn Bulls basketball team held practice.
Bridges’s house documents a Brooklyn lost to time. Following years of neglect and disinvestment, Brooklyn’s shotgun houses, dogtrots, and Carpenter Gothic foursquares were mostly boarded up or demolished. More recently, the area closer to Riverside Avenue filled with gated apartments and shops catering to a more moneyed demographic. “This is what I want you to understand,” Bridges says. “We had a complete neighborhood. We had a complete neighborhood. It was home and it was complete. Now when I walk down these streets, I look at all these empty fields and I can see everything that was here. Oh there were so many houses. So many people and churches and stores and the barbershop and the Wash-a-mat. We had a complete neighborhood.”
“Before I’m gone,” Bridges says, “I’d like to see something restored and respected back here, I’d like to have some assurance there’ll be affordable places to live, and I’d like to see,” he says, speaking loudly, passionately, waving his arms over his posterboards and photos and notes and newspaper clippings and bus schedules and lists of churches and stores and people no longer living, “I’d like to see all this material, once again, have itself a new home.”
Article by Tim Gilmore. For the full story, visit Jax Psycho Geo.