15 August 2012

The Clock on Columbia Street

I've written about the large standing clock that used to adorn Columbia Street in Brooklyn before, but this photograph—the best I've seen to date—is the first I've posted on the blog. 

To recap, the intersection of Columbia Street and Union Street used to be one of the great commercial centers of South Brooklyn. Stores and pushcarts lined the streets. There were two movies theatres and plenty of bars and restaurants. The first Thom McAn shoe store and the original Citibank were located in the area. Then Robert Moses dug the BQE, cutting the neighborhood off from the rest of Brooklyn. The Brooklyn docks slowly died. And a big sewer dig throughout the '70s, designed to hurt the Mob, causes numerous buildings' foundations to crumble. The area died and has yet to fully recover today. 

One landmark oldtimers remember well is the clock. It stood outside a jewelry store run by Robert Corn on Columbia between Union and President Streets. It became an unofficial meeting place, as in "I'll meet you under the clock," and legend has it mobsters would convene there to hatch their criminal exploits. 

When the businesses began to leave and the buildings topple, the clock was uprooted and removed sometime in the 1970s. Nobody knows where it went, but some believe it still exists somewhere in somebody's basement or attic. 

I've never been able to find out anything about Robert Corn of his business. One would think he has ancestors out there somewhere who know something about that clock.


Anonymous said...

How was a sewer construction project supposed to hurt the mob? I don't see the connection.

Happy walker said...

looks old~

http://www.lonelyreload.com (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Columbia Street was the heavily mobbed-up area. The city dug up the length of the street in the 1970s, purportedly as a public improvement project. But the dig lasted forever. Business in the area suffered, and buildings eventually fell down or were torn down. Many people suspected this was the City's indirect way of choking off the Mob in the area. If you can't arrest them, you ruin their stomping ground and the businesses in it. And that's pretty much what happened.

Harry Knuckles said...

Brooks, appreciate the series but I must respectfully suggest the idea that the CITY had either means or motivation to indirectly target Columbia Street as a mobbed up area is farfetched. Think about it: what affect would that have on their criminal enterprises, none of which were static. The early-to-mid 1970s were boon times for the Brooklyn mafia-- as long as you weren't dead Joey Gallo or the like. You've likely seen his brother Albert around and not realized it. Truthfully, there's simply NO EVIDENCE whatsoever-- nothing even suggested in any state or federal mob case related to South Brooklyn, nor in any of the numerous books about same-- to suggest that Columbia St was targeted in this way, nor that it any negative impact on the five families... If there was less numbers, loansharking etc etc on Columbia St because of the decline of waterfront industry, their overall business was highly resilient and there was still plenty of action to be had throughout the area and Brooklyn as a whole.

Also, mob guys could and were arrested all the time on a variety of charges (think of the iconic jailhouse scenes "Good Fellas" for a reality-based 'pop culture' example) but it's not until the federal application of RICO statutes beginning in the late 1970s that any substantial damage is done and even that was more marginal than first believed.