Midwood is a neighborhood in the south-central part of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. It is within Community District 14; is patrolled by the 61st, 66th, and 70th precincts of the New York City Police Department; and is served by the New York City Fire Department at a station on East 14th Street housing Engine 276, Ladder 156 and Battalion Chief 33.
It is bounded on the north by the Bay Ridge Branch tracks just above Avenue I and Brooklyn College campus of the City University of New York, and on the south by Avenue P and Kings Highway. The eastern border is Nostrand Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, or Coney Island Avenue, McDonald Avenue or Ocean Parkway to the west is the other boundary.
The name, Midwood, derives from the Dutch word, Midwout (middle woods), the name the settlers of New Netherland called the area of dense woodland midway between the towns of Boswyck (Bushwick) and Breuckelen (Brooklyn). Jan Snedeker, Jan Stryker, and Tomys Swartwout solicited from Director-General Stuyvesant the right of settling together on a level area of wilderness (vlacke bosch, the flat bush), adjacent to the outlying farms at Breukelen and Nieuw Amersfoort. Through Swartwout’s suggestion, the settlement was named the village of Midwout or Midwolde. In April 1655, Stuyvesant and the Council of New Netherland appointed Swartwout a schepen (magistrate), to serve with Snedeker and Adriaen Hegeman as the Court of Midwout.
Later, it became part of old Flatbush, situated between the towns of Gravesend and Flatlands.
Settlement was begun by the Dutch in 1652; they later gave way to the English, who conquered it in 1664, but the area remained rural and undeveloped for the most part until its annexation to the City of Brooklyn in the 1890s. It became more developed in the 1920s when large middle class housing tracts and apartment buildings were built.
Many Midwood residents moved to the suburbs in the 1970s, and the neighborhood and its commercial districts declined. Drawn by its quiet middle-class ambiance, new residents began pouring into Midwood during the 1980s; many of them were recently landed immigrants from all over the world. The largest group were from the Soviet Union, but substantial numbers also arrived from Jamaica, Haiti, Mexico, Guyana, and elsewhere in South America; from Ireland, Italy, Poland, the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), and elsewhere in eastern Europe; and from Greece, Turkey, Israel, Syria, the Persian Gulf states, Iran, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, China, and Korea. In a short time, Midwood was transformed, from a predominantly Jewish neighborhood with a smattering of Irish-Americans and German-Americans, to a remarkably polyglot section of the borough of Brooklyn.
Many residents refer to Midwood as “Flatbush,” or, erroneously, as being “part of Flatbush”, an older and more established neighborhood and former township, which in the 19th century included modern Midwood. The usage of Flatbush to mean Midwood dates to the period when the neighborhood was first formed, and known as South Greenfield. This usage is especially common among Orthodox Jews.
Many also consider the nearby neighborhood of Fiske Terrace/Midwood Gardens to be part of Midwood, but, as in many cities, neighborhood boundaries in Brooklyn are somewhat fluid and poorly defined.
Parks consist of Kolbert Park and the Rachel Haber Cohen Playground and adjacent handball and basketball courts, near Edward R. Murrow High School, and the track and playing fields of Brooklyn College and Midwood High School. Local Yeshiva boys often play basketball during lunch breaks at Kolbert Park. Kolbert is also very popular with many Russian male Seniors who can be seen heavily engaged in daily board games such as Chess. Long-time and past residents alike still refer to Kolbert Park as simply “Avenue L Park.” Another park is “Friends Field” at East Second Street and Avenue L. The park is popular with baseball-playing Yeshiva boys on Friday afternoons. “Friends Field” features Baseball Diamonds and Tennis Courts. Just opposite Friends Field along McDonald Avenue is the Erasmus Hall High School Football Field (Closed to the public when not in use). The Sprawling Square block-long Midwood High School Field (East 16th–17th Street at Avenues K-L) features handball courts, tennis courts, a runners track and a field used for football, rugby and soccer. It is quite visible to passengers on the adjacent BMT Subway line. NYPD-FDNY Charity Sporting Games, as well as NY-based Daytime TV “Soap Opera” Cast Baseball Games are often held there- (The studios used for CBS TV’s “As The World Turns” is nearby). Annual NYC Public School JV Varsity Football Championship and Playoff Games are held there as well. Students from adjacent Edward R. Murrow High School also use the field during school hours. For historical purposes, in 1977, Borough President Marty Markowitz (“Mr. Brooklyn”), (then known as State Senator Markowitz), and other pols began the Annual “Midwood Field Concerts” Series at the Midwood High School Field. The concert series was later moved to its present home at Asser Levy Park (along Sea Breeze Avenue) in Brighton Beach (opposite the NY Aquarium), and is these days is known as the “Seaside Summer Concert Series” (held Thursday evening’s July and August of each year).
There are two popular public pedestrian “rest” spots within the community. The first is ‘Corporal Wiltshire Square’, named in Honor of Corporal Clifford T. Wiltshire, located at the intersection of Ocean Avenue where it merges with Avenue P and Kings Highway. The other is ‘Sgt. Joyce Kilmer Triangle’, located at the crossroads of Kings Highway and Quentin Road (E. 12th–13th Streets), so named in honor of American journalist and poet Sgt. Joyce Kilmer (1866–1918). Kilmer is a second cousin of American Actor Val Kilmer.
Famous people who grew up in, formerly lived in, or attended or graduated from a school in Midwood include:
- Woody Allen, writer and director, attended P.S. 99, graduated from Midwood High School, and once resided at both 1402 Avenue K, and 968 East 14th Street.
- Darren Aronofsky, director, attended Edward R. Murrow High School (though he grew up in Manhattan Beach)
- Letty Aronson (born Ellen Letty Konigsberg), film producer and sister of Woody Allen
- Noah Baumbach, writer, director and independent filmmaker
- Didi Conn, actress, graduated Midwood High School
- Lou Ferrigno, actor, bodybuilder, grew up and lived on East 5th Street In West Midwood.
- Patrick Fitzgerald, former US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and now a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, attended East Midwood Jewish Center and James Madison High School
- Annie Golden, actress, lead singer of the late 1970s band The Shirts, grew up and lived in Midwood.
- Elliot Goldenthal, contemporary Classical Music Composer, attended I.S. 240-Andres Hudde Junior High School.
- Yosef Goldman, author
- Gil Hodges, baseball player and manager. Was a parishioner of Our Lady Help of Christians Church located at E. 28 St. & Avenue M. He has several Brooklyn namesakes. In 1978, the Marine Parkway Bridge was renamed the Marine Parkway–Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. Public School 193 in Midwood and a bowling alley in Mill Basin are named after Hodges, and on April 4, 2001 a portion of Bedford Avenue from Avenues L to N, near his home was renamed Gil Hodges Way.
- Lainie Kazan, singer, actress (‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’), (1940–)
- Barry Manilow, award-winning pop singer and songwriter
- Arthur Miller, playwright, Death of a Salesman.
- Joel Moses, Israeli-American computer scientist and MIT professor, attended Midwood High School
- Jack Sarfatti, theoretical physicist
- Erich Segal, Classics professor and novelist, graduated from Midwood High School
- Josh Silver, keyboardist and producer for the Gothic Metal band Type O Negative
- Tony Sirico, actor, “Paulie Walnuts” of HBO’s “The Sopranos”, was born in Midwood.
- Peter Steele, lead singer, bassist, and composer for the Gothic Metal band Type O Negative. He graduated from Murrow High School.
- Chris Stein, of the pop band Blondie, attended P.S. 99 in the 1960s.
- Tomys Swartwout, founding member of Midwout (Midwood). In April 1655, Director-General Stuyvesant and the Council of New Netherland appointed Swartwout a schepen (magistrate) to the Court of Midwout. One of 19 signers of the “Humble Remonstrance and Petition of the Colonies and Villages of this New Netherland Province” (December 11, 1653), one of the first campaigns for democratic rights in America.
- Sy Syms (born Seymour Merinsky), philanthropist, founder and Chairman of the discount men’s clothing retailer SYMS, graduated from Midwood High School.
- Marisa Tomei, actress, attended and graduated from Edward R. Murrow High School.
- Michelle Trachtenberg, actress, attended P.S. 99
- Bruce Wasserstein, investment banker, businessman, and writer, born and raised in Midwood
- Adam Yauch, rapper and founding member of the Beastie Boys