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Spike Lee: 'Cobble Hill Was Mobbed Up'

In an interview with New York magazine's Vulture column, the director says the neighborhood of his childhood was very different from today.


Cobble Hill has become Brooklyn Heights, at least according to director Spike Lee.

In the runup to his newest film, Red Hook Summer, the creator of Brooklyn-based movies such as Do The Right Thing was featured in a lengthy interview with New York magazine's Vulture column in which he discussed growing up in Cobble Hill and how it has changed.

Lee lived at 186 Warren Street, between Henry and Clinton Streets, from 1961 to 1969. Back then, the director said it was "mobbed up," dominated by a strong Italian-American community. But he told the magazine that he doesn't take issue with new businesses selling "wheat germ and Pilates."

"That does not bother me," Lee told Vulture. "What bothers me is that these kids do not know the street games we grew up with. Stoop ball, stickball, cocolevio, crack the top, down the sewer, Johnny on the pony, red light green light one-two-three. These are New York City street games."

Lee goes on to say that his was the first black family to move into Cobble Hill.

"And we got called “n*****,” he told Vulture. "At that time, Cobble Hill was strong—I mean, strong—Italian-American, because of the docks. But as soon as the neighbors understood that there weren’t any other black families, it was not like a mass of black families moving in behind me, I was just like everybody else. It was a great time to grow up in Cobble Hill."

Lee told the magazine he would compare current-day Cobble Hill to Brooklyn Heights. 

"But when I was growing up, the demarcation line was Atlantic Avenue," he said in the interview. "Brooklyn Heights was rich, Jewish. Atlantic Avenue was like the train tracks, and on the other side of Atlantic Avenue was Cobble Hill. It was mobbed up. When you crossed ­Atlantic Avenue, that was like going to another world."

Lest locals take offense to any negative connotation that Lee's words may have, rest assured his opinions of most other Brooklyn neighborhoods are pretty much the same.

"It’s all different," he told Vulture. "There’s gentrification of Cobble Hill. Fort Greene’s gentrified, Harlem was gentrified, Bed-Stuy’s gentrified, and Williamsburg is gentrified."

What do you think, readers? Has Cobble Hill become another variation on Brooklyn Heights? How do you feel about Lee's memories and description?

Furtgo July 12, 2012 at 02:39 PM
Yes, his family moved, he moved to Fort Greene as a young adult during the (still cheap) cultural renaissance of that neighborhood, he married, and then he moved to the Upper East Side. He earned enough money to have a nice place on the 'Vineyard, a beautiful island that has historically welcomed people of African descent. What's wrong with that? Please point out the problem. You don't have to be rich to stay on the 'Vineyard, by the way…
Furtgo July 12, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Everything looks different to a kid.
Eddie hernandez July 13, 2012 at 03:00 AM
I was born and raised in cobble hill and I agree with what spike lee stated in his interview. From 1977 through 2007 my neiborhood was full of Italians and puerto ricans. Alot of abandon buildings and nobody wanted to live there it was a tuff area. But we made it home, this place was home of crazy joe gallo and special agent Diaz who brought down Nicky Barnes with his great uncover work. I'm proud growing up in cobble hill, it made me tuff and street smart and that is what makes u survive in new York. Now I go back because my parents still live there and it's not the same. Everybody is a stranger, no more tight community and kids do not play the games that spike talked about. My neighborhood had character now it's just bland.
Snurman July 16, 2012 at 11:59 PM
I was under the impression that Cobble Hill was largely Syrian/Lebanese back in the day
joecosenza March 12, 2013 at 05:52 PM
They called me peanuts, from clinton street.write me sometime.

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