CHB Interviews: David Velez (Photographer and Life-Long Clinton Hill-er)

A few weeks ago, I received an email from a neighbor who had a unique story -- he's been living in the same brownstone since he was three years old, on Waverly between Park and Myrtle. I couldn't resist asking him some questions about all his years here. 1. How did you end up in the same house all of these years? How long had your family lived there? My parents bought this house and Mom told me we moved in the day before I turned three. We rented out some of the other apartments but basically it has been our family house all this time.

2. What was it like growing up in Clinton Hill? Was there a similar sense of community like there is today? Growing up in Clinton Hill........ well we never saw it as Clinton Hill as it is seen and known now.... back in the day we had the crack epidemic, empty lots, graffiti and gangs to deal with around here.

3. You worked as a Sea Cadet in the Navy Yard -- what is a Sea Cadet, and what were your responsibilities? Any memories from the Navy Yard that stick out in your memory? The Sea Cadets were like a Boys and Girls Club and we would have our drills or meets in the Navy Yard. Among the things we did as cadets were camping out, learning seamanship and drill competitions that allowed for us to compete against ROTC drill teams and march in Veterans' Parades. I can still see the buildings that were used as barracks, gyms, cafeterias, NIS, and commissary. We used to march all over.

4. How long has that church been on Waverly, where everyone dresses in white robes? The church with the people with white robes -- I think maybe seven years . I am not good with time but I know it has not been there for as long I have been here.

(note: I asked this one because that church had a huge event a few weeks ago and had so many cars on the street that they literally parked directly in the intersection blocking entry to Waverly, and that pissed me off!)

5. Tell us about some of the major changes the neighborhood has seen (openings, closings, local hangouts). The major changes are seeing the people from Billy Burg and Park Slope moving in. It has brought in bars and restaurants like Maggie Brown and Pollitos.

Where Maggies is used to be a doctors office - I went there as a kid when I had a sty on my eye. Then it was a tattoo parlor.

Where Pollitos is used to be a card store not unlike a Hallmark. The Associated used to be an A&P. The hair supply store was a pharmacy. Where the Blockbuster and now gone McD's are used to be a 5 and dime where you could buy just about anything.

The Bergen Bagels was once an ice cream store owned by John's. John owned John's Pizza (where Liberty Pizza is). John's Ice Cream shop which also sold birthday cakes.

Next to the Post Office in that empty space now used to be a Kentucky Fried Chicken. The hair salon on Myrtle between Hall and Washington used to be a cool video store - privately owned so we could always get cool movies and concerts there.

The school down Clinton used to be a Drakes Cakes factory - I used to watch the trucks pull in at night when I did my homework on my fire escape. Then it was a huge storage facility which looked more like a junk yard.

6. What's stayed the same? Kum Kau has always stayed packed - for good reason too.

7. Any scary stories from the neighborhood's "rough and tumble" past? Drugs (still evident) was and is a big issue albeit better covered now. Prostitutes as well. The home for grannies up Washington used to be a place to meet and get a "date." I'd get accosted by prostitutes on Myrtle, although it's less often than the panhandlers outside Citibank, Associated and Kum Kau.

8. What's your favorite place to eat in Clinton Hill? Kum Kau, Castro's, El Cofre, Liberty Pizza and Graziella's

9. How did you get into photography? I got into photography when I was stationed in Pearl Harbor. I was in the Navy and fought in the first Gulf War. In this time I picked up a camera and never looked back. I was basically self taught and I also graduated from the Germain School of Photography when I came back to NYC. I have been a professional photographer since 1991 when I was first published in maritime and naval publications and books. I work with film and digital cameras from 35mm up to 11x14 inches. I also have a darkroom where I do my film processing and some printing. I love photography and I am glad I can make my living from it.

10. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what flavor would you be and why? Ice cream...... my personal favorite is coffee heath bar crunch but if I was to be I would say chocolate because I could be so many different tastes (dark or milk and variations within those). I'm crazy and I barely know what I will want to shoot next - being able to be different tastes depending on my mood would suit me - so chocolate it is.

For more info on David Velez, check out his website. He snapped this hysterical photo of an abandoned leg at Waverly and Myrtle the other night:

I'm guessing this was orchestrated by a Pratt student or the guys at RePop...