Joan Rivers Grew Up On This Block in Brooklyn


Joan Rivers, who died yesterday at 81, grew up in Brooklyn. She was born in Brooklyn in 1933 as Joan Alexandra Malinsky. This is the corner where she spent her childhood in Crown Heights, at New York Avenue and Eastern Parkway, before her family moved to Larchmont.

Rivers was one of New York’s patron saints, like Lou Reed or Joey Ramone, one of the great die-hard New Yorkers. She went to Barnard College on the Upper West Side. When she died, she was living in her condo on East 62nd Street, near Fifth Avenue. We were tipped off by the location of Rivers’ childhood home by a little remembrance of New York that ran on Vulture, in which Rivers rhapsodized about BamCinematek and attempting to door Citi Bike riders:

The first time I was in the city I was about 13, and I went in with a friend to see Where’s Charley? with Ray Bolger. I just wanted to get out and get going. Home was Brooklyn, New York. Eastern Parkway and New York Avenue, which was known as Doctor’s Row. All doctors, so it was great to get sick. It was wonderful. We were right off of Eastern Parkway, which was all leafy and green. Everybody knew everybody. It was a terrific place. You could ride your bike. You were totally safe.

But New York was the magic city. New York was where you took the subway in and you came out and you were either in Times Square or you were on Fifth Avenue. New York was Oz. All I wanted to do was get out of Brooklyn and get into Oz. All I wanted to do was find that Emerald Road, the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road. That’s all I wanted.

So I decided to do a little pilgrimage. The corner where Rivers grew up is still full of stately homes and brownstones. It’s just a few avenues down from Franklin Avenue, where new restaurants and bars and cafes and yoga studios are opening at a frenzied pace. In the time since she roade her bike down Eastern Parkway, the neighborhood has changed over and over again, that endless cycle of metamorphosis we all know well. But you can imagine it, the leafy boulevard, the concerned parents, the little creaky bike.

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Farewell, Joan. Brooklyn will miss you.