The city of New York renamed a block-long stretch of Seventh Avenue in Park Slope for the legendary newsman Pete Hamill on Wednesday, which would have been his 86th birthday.
Hamill passed away in August after completing the kind of storied career in journalism that young people entering the business today can only dream about. He was a columnist and reporter for just about every newspaper in town — and he capped it all off with a stint as the editor in chief of the New York Post.
A high school drop out who worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard before breaking into the newspaper business, Hamill was one of the last of a dying breed of hard-nosed, blue collar journalists.
Since his death in August, I’ve been making my way through his 13 books and have lapped up as many of his old columns as I can find. He was nearly unmatched in terms of the range of subjects he was willing cover, but he was perhaps at his best when singing the praises of what he called “the city of nostalgia.”
When I learned today that Hamill’s name was being memorialized on Seventh Avenue, I happened to be reading his 2004 work, Downtown: My New York, which begins:
This is a book about my home city. I was born in the immense and beautiful segment of it called Brooklyn, but I’ve lived and worked for much of my life in its center, the long skinny Island called Manhattan. I live here still. With any luck at all, I will die here. I have the native son’s irrational love of the place and often think of William Faulkner’s remark about his native Mississippi, and how he loved it “in spite of, not because.” New York is a city of daily irritations, occasional horrors, hourly tests of will and even courage, and huge dollops of pure beauty. For ant native the home place is infused with a mixture of memory, myth, lore, and history, bound together in an erratic, subjective way.
Hamill saw New York as the “city of nostalgia” because it’s impossible to get a grip on the place: As soon as you get a feel for the character of a certain neighborhood, it changes. Buildings go up and down, businesses move in and out — and sometimes, streets are renamed.
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