Manhattan Beach Police Booths, Sam Leibowitz, An Esplanade & Me

Pin: My 1970s Apt. Black: Footbridge. Blue: PD Booths.  
Green: Old Leibowitz Home. Red: Esplanade.

Manhattan Beach Memories

Police Booth On Shore Blvd (2016)
In Manhattan Beach, at the southeastern tip of Brooklyn, there are two circular guard booths, abandoned for more than 40 years. They are each about ten feet tall, and four feet in circumference, consisting of brick at the base with boarded-up windows above. They are linked to a quintessential New Yorker, an immigrant who lived equidistant from these two booths until his death in 1978. He is little remembered today but if you were a member of the Greatest Generation, you would have heard his name, seen his picture and read about his exploits many times from the 1920s through the 1960s. He was Samuel Simon Leibowitz, defender of the incredibly innocent Scottsboro Boys and, later, a hanging judge who sometimes had defendants injected with truth serum. On balance I think I could have thrown down a few beers with him but take a journey to the shore with me and see what you think...

Police Booth West End Ave (2016)
I would pass those police booths every day when I lived in Manhattan Beach. It was 1974 and I was renting the second floor of a two family house. I had just moved out of a  rent-controlled Park Slope apartment in the middle of the night after my live-in girl-friend wrecked the place. Not intentionally, mind you. She was a singer-songwriter (she still is) and something of an artist. One day while I was at work she decided to paint our bedroom and piled all the furniture on top of the bed, conveniently located in the middle of the room, thereby giving her unimpeded access to the walls. The only problem was that the bed was made of water. About 200 gallons of it. All of which came pouring out when she walked across it to greet me as I entered the room that evening.

Langham Street Apartment (2nd Floor)
I didn't have a lot of belongings, just a ton of record albums and books (the ones that weren't water-logged), so finding the furnished apartment on Langham Street was a god-send. A co-worker who lived down the block found it and talked me up to the owner so the deal was closed within a day...

I Grew Up Right Here. Note "Ocean" on Trolley
When I was a kid, the trolley clanked past my door but ended at Sheepshead Bay. When that trolley became the B-49 bus, it ran all the way to the new Manhattan Beach for a dime in 1955. What a bright, beautiful and orderly contrast to the drab noisy commerce of Flatbush Avenue. As a young lad I had other sweet memories as well, such as rolling around on the church grounds of St. Margaret Mary on
The St. Margaret Mary Bushes Survive!
Ocean Avenue, behind a clump of bushes late at night with a gal I met at my brother's wedding. Since the reception was at the  newlywed's walk-up apartment on Clarendon Road in East Flatbush, I'm not sure how we ended up down by the water. Suffice it to say if there had been a cultural meme about “bucket lists” back then, my move to Langham Street would have shortened that list.

Bay Looking West From Langham
Like most Irishmen, I love to take long walks and Manhattan Beach was a perfect fit for that. Sheepshead Bay was a stone's throw to my right and a pleasant walkway extended the entire length of the neighborhood – 17 blocks west toward Brighton. And the Atlantic Ocean was only slightly further on my left. There was an ocean promenade that started on the west end of the beach which, buttressed by rocks, extended for eight blocks, ending at a cyclone fence that prevented Brighton Beach strollers from continuing their walk into the more rarefied air of Manhattan Beach. (For more on the Esplanade see below.)
1900 Post Card. Wooden Promenade. Two Opulent Hotels Razed 1911-1916. 
Replaced by a Cement Esplanade in November 1911.

Circa 1912: The Cement Esplanade. 
Roughed Up in a 1931 Nor'Easter And Neglect Ensued

Fence That Prevented Access To Manhattan Beach from Brighton

A year or so before the waterbed fiasco, while recuperating from a serious injury to my foot, I would ride my bike there, park it and sit on the Esplanade's rocks, taking in the sun, enjoying the view of Rockaway and Breezy Point on the distant shore before the long ride home.
Esplanade Before Sandy
In 1987 a home owning developer at the end of Amherst Street got sick of watching the great unwashed wander past his line of sight along this badly maintained concrete esplanade and so he erected a fence to keep folks away from his brand new McMansion. The Manhattan Beach Community Group (representing 800 residents) sued to have him take down the fence and seven years later the Kings County Supreme Court decided that because he had a deed showing he owned that slice of the Esplanade, he could do what he liked. After that, waterside home owners
Fence That Got Sued - Part of Developer's 
McMansion At Amherst Street
who hadn't already built a fence got busy, preventing access to, and in some cases even views of, the water. 
Esplanade After Sandy. The End Has Come.

The Vinbaytel McMansion 
East End of The Esplanade (See Postscript Below)
The fences were kind of drab but not so the homes they protected: the beautiful brick villas dating to the first decades of the 20th century all started to disappear, replaced by over-built McMansions. Of course, the Nor-Easter of 1992 chewed up that Esplanade and Super Storm Sandy wiped it out. But the ocean's still there, just as it was back in the 1970s.
Esplanade After Sandy
One afternoon, as I hopped off my bike to rub my aching foot, a lovely blonde lass named Leslie who was sunning herself on the Esplanade engaged me in conversation. I was sitting on the parapet wall looking out over the Rockaway Inlet and she commented it was a lovely view. Yes she was. She lived a block away and this somehow led to talk about why neither of us were working. She cringed when I told her how my foot got hurt (glass, lots of tendon slicing glass) and I sighed when she said as a school teacher she had the Summer off. 

Leslie On The Beach, 1972
This proved to be the onset of a summer romance during what now seems to have been the last care-free days of my life. I was impelled to quickly buy a 1965 cherry red Thunderbird with a vinyl roof for $500 cash. The seller was a guy named Ali on Staten Island who spoke barely enough English to let me know that the car had to be started with the transmission arrow pointing midway between Park and Reverse while furiously pumping the accelerator. And that didn't even begin to describe all the things wrong with that car.

The T-Bird was a money pit right up to the day a year later when the engine froze as I zoomed across the Georgia border, stranding me in a ditch just outside a cross-roads town in northern Florida.
On The Esplanade Back In The Day
But it was my hard-earned money to do with as I pleased, damn it. So, being young and foolish, and sex being a mighty primal force, I took the plunge, handed over the cash for the keys and the title, whereupon Ali literally started running away down Victory Boulevard. That should have been my second big clue as to what lay in store.

Even though gas was only about 40 cents a gallon, that engine was so large and wasteful, the fuel gauge behaved like the second hand on a clock, except it only traveled in one direction – towards empty. Still, I made that 16 mile round trip to Leslie and back many a day in those weeks before I went back to work. 

I remember after a day at the beach we drove to see Kris Kristofferson as a singing-cowboy-rock-star-drug-dealer in Cisco Pike, at the Graham cinema in Gerritsen Beach. The Graham was a barn for trolley cars that had been converted into a theater thus it was long and narrow with no balcony. When you entered, you were in the lobby, which is where the projection booth was also located – literally three football fields away from the screen.
The Graham Cinema Is a Condo Building Now But Its Barn Shape Remains

There was just a flimsy curtain separating the lobby from the seats
This Building Was Right Across From The Graham
so this was not for the high-brow crowd. But they only charged a buck, and it was in a quiet residential area that could have been a movie set all by itself. We sat through a couple of scenes and started smooching, leaving early. It was such a beautiful warm Summer's night, we drove back to Manhattan Beach
and sat near the police booth along Sheepshead Bay. I asked Leslie why it was there. She said it was built to protect Judge Samuel Leibowitz, who lived down the block from her. It seems Sam was a hanging judge, had sent some Mafia guys up the river for long stretches and they vowed revenge. She pointed out how the bottom of the booth was made of brick to allow a cop to drop to his knees for protection should somebody start blasting. [Leslie wasn't alone is this assessment—I heard the same story from Langham Street residents and a local history professor echoed it not too long ago.]

All too soon, Leslie went off to graduate school but as I recall, I did introduce her to my mom before our summer fling ended. True to the code of immigrant New York mothers, she promptly asked questions to ascertain Leslie's tribal affiliation (“Coleridge Street? Oh. Which parish is that?”). When I moved to Manhattan Beach 18 months later I was living only a half mile from Leslie's home on Coleridge Street but she had moved and I never saw her again. Sigh.

Anyway, despite the longer subway ride to Foley Square each morning, I was enjoying my new bachelor life by the beach – until I was double-whammyed by the miserable New York City economy. First, the Police Academy class I was scheduled to enter was canceled due to budget cuts. Then a month later I was laid off as a probation officer when the City ran out of money in the worst fiscal crisis in its history. I no longer had a car, so I often walked across the footbridge that spanned Sheepshead Bay, connecting me to Emmons Avenue and, a long three blocks beyond it, to the Brighton elevated subway line.
Footbridge Looking From Manhattan Beach Across Sheepshead Bay
I found a job as a proofreader for Cravath Swaine and Moore, a high class corporate law firm located at the top of Chase Manhattan Plaza, just north of Wall Street. They seemed to like the fact that I had been a peace officer and was a tall, strapping lad. This led me to become by degrees a very, very small-time "Michael Clayton", if you remember that George Clooney movie where he played an ex- 
ADA who was a fixer for a white shoes law firm. I didn't have to fix any personal messes of the partners (a number of whom were former Cabinet officials). Instead it was their errant children who needed attention during my night shifts. I recall helping a very wasted college kid get home to Darien, Connecticut, and when I returned to the office, my reward was waiting: a dime to reimburse me for the phone call I made from West 116th Street to assure a partner his daughter was fine.

It was around this time that I experienced an anxiety attack I've never forgotten. It was almost midnight on a very cold Sunday night. I had spent the evening with a friend who was dying of lymphoma and would pass away a few months later. After he and his girlfriend left, I was having a late night snack which consisted of a six pack and pretzels when I suddenly felt difficulty swallowing. I thought some physical anomaly was restricting my throat or windpipe or something and thus I needed to get to a hospital. In retrospect my subconscious was obviously trying to get through to my closed-off inner child or something. The message that I wasn't hearing probably had to do with my inability to swallow the fact that although I wasn't dying, I had a lousy job and vanishing prospects in a City and a family falling apart, with $10 in the bank.

So I wasn't allowing myself to see I was angry and couldn't swallow my lot in life. I was always lousy when it came to metaphors. But I did know the nearest emergency room was Coney Island Hospital on Ocean Parkway and Avenue Z, a two mile walk. Off I went. 

Manhattan Beach Peninsula. Brighton, Left. Kingsborough C.C., Right.

When I got to the police booth near the footbridge, I was then seized with dread about crossing the water. For some reason I couldn't understand, I did not want to get on that bridge. Again, this was a common symptom of anxiety. I wasn't afraid of the bridge collapsing. I was afraid I was going to collapse because I couldn't control my panic. A shrink friend later explained to me the water represented my mother and the bridge my father. When I asked her what the booth represented, she had no clue.

So I stood there, leaning against that stupid old police booth at the foot of the ramp to the bridge. Should I walk to the end of the bay,
Police Booth That Will Not Die
circumventing the bridge, adding another mile to my journey? Should I force myself over? Or should I just slump down and sit on the sidewalk, leaning against the booth? I slumped. A cold wind blew off the water. I decided there was nothing wrong with me – I was just a little nutty about losing two jobs, my car and a waterbed in so short a time. The next month I moved on to another job investigating adult homes for the State and a year later I was back in Park Slope. But I always wondered about the legend of the hanging judge...

John Jay 1970s
I started taking evening graduate courses at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and there I met a professor, Alexander B. Smith, a former Dean with a very long curriculum vita who used to be a probation officer back in the good old days. In my profession that was considered the 1950s when there wasn't much crime so there was time to do a thorough job. As fate would have it, Alex knew Judge Samuel Leibowitz and one day over a beer in the
Judge Leibowitz December 1969
lounge, he told me a number of stories about old Sam and it was clear he admired the man. By the way, back then, the John Jay building on West 59th Street had a full bar ("lounge") on the first floor. I knew I could hack graduate school the first time I laid eyes on it. 

Alex Smith
Leibowitz was a famous defense attorney specializing in murder cases who represented prominent thugs, like Al Capone and Bugsy Seigel, as well as hapless commoners. By 1933, he had an
incredible success rate of 78 acquittals and one hung jury in defending 79 homicide defendants. So the International Labor Defense, the Communist Party's legal arm, reached out. They were representing nine African-American youths accused of raping two white women on a freight train in Scottsboro, Alabama. Leibowitz was no Commie. Still, after studying the case he readily agreed to head south to assist (pro bono) in defending the group ever after to be known as The Scottsboro Boys. 

Recently, I began studying Leibowitz's life for the first time because I wanted to understand exactly why those booths were built but also why this champion of the accused would order convicted defendants to be injected with “truth serum”. I discovered this odd practice in 1983 while reviewing dusty court files for my doctoral dissertation at John Jay College on sentencing practices in Kings County Supreme Court (a real snooze-fest if you're not into multivariate path analysis).
Spoiler Alert: Samuel Simon Leibowitz always marched to the beat of his own drum but through it all he remained a rabid Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and frankly that counts for a lot in my book. Here now the details...
Joan Lombardi Hodges (L) and Sam React to a Homer By Gil Hodges 
At '56 World Series. Joan, A Bay Ridge Gal, Still Lives on Bedford Ave.
Leibowitz was born on August 14, 1893, in Iasi (Anglicized as Jassy), the largest city in eastern Romania, to a Jewish couple, Isaac and Bina Leibovici. The population of Iasi was then one-third Jewish, and considered the birthplace of the Yiddish press (1855) and the Yiddish theater (1876). But Isaac feared the rising tide of institutionalized anti-Semitism (it eventually resulted in the slaughter of thousands of Romanian Jews in June of 1941) so Leibovici, then 32, took the family to Antwerp. There they boarded the steamship Kensington and arrived in New York Harbor on March 4, 1900 according to immigration records. [A 1950 best-selling biography by Quentin Reynolds, Courtroom, had them arriving in 1897 amidst the St. Patrick's Day Parade which I suppose we can chalk up to literary license but then again Reynolds was a journalist.]
Excerpt from 1910 Census Showing Isaac, Bina and "Simon" at 532 Sutter. 
All Arrived in 1900 from Romania

After arriving, Isaac changed the
532 Sutter Avenue Survives
family name to what had become the standard American equivalent of “Leibovici”, namely Leibowitz. They settled in an apartment on Essex Street on the Lower East Side, at a time when almost half the residents of Manhattan were foreign-born. Isaac arrived with some money, having been successful in Iasi, and was able to open a dry goods shop in East New York, moving the family to an apartment above the store at 532 Sutter Avenue. 

Sam attended Jamaica High School, graduating in 1911 (Walter O'Malley, that bastard, graduated 9 years later), and went on to Cornell University, obtaining a law degree in 1915. At Cornell, as Leibowitz would later proudly proclaim, he was the first Jew admitted into the drama club, made the varsity debating team, and was elected president of the Cornell Congress. 

Upon his graduation, Sam lived with his parents at 525 Warwick Street, also in East New York, where Sam registered for the draft. By then Isaac had become a private auctioneer. He eventually bought a house on Avenue J in Midwood, worked as a realtor and passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage in May of 1935 at the age
Sam's 1917 Draft Registration Card
of 67. Sam meanwhile claimed an exemption from the draft based on "granulation of left ear". At a Scottsboro trial summation though, taking some liberty it appears to me, he told the jurors he had "served the Stars and Stripes" in World War I, "when there was no talk of Jew or Gentile, white
Sam Sold A Ton of Liberty Bonds
or black." 

According to Not Guilty - The Story Of Samuel S. Leibowitz, a 1933 biography by Fred. D. Pasley: "Leibowitz tried to enlist in the Marine Corps but after an exam at the Brooklyn Navy Yard he was rejected because of deafness in his left ear, caused by scarlet fever. He then enlisted as a 'four minute man' for the Liberty Loan drive, speaking nightly at Brooklyn theaters" to raise money for the war effort.   

According to his draft registration card, young Leibowitz was working for the Cohen Brothers law firm at 64 Wall Street in 1917. He quickly moved on to two other offices before being hired by Michaal F. McGoldrick on Court Street in Brooklyn. There, Leibowitz volunteered to represent indigent criminal defendants in order to gain litigation experience and by 1919 he and Jacob Sheintag, whose brother was a Kings County judge, opened their own firm, with Sam taking the criminal cases and Jacob the civil suits. They rented space at 225 Broadway across from City Hall Park and were partners for the next two decades. 

Young Sam
Also in late 1919, Leibowitz married Belle Munves, a 26 year old Romanian who also arrived in 1900. No shrinking violet herself, Belle accompanied Sam on his trip to Alabama in 1933. But when Sam heard the National Guard Captain promise a fearful judge that he would protect Leibowitz and the defendants "as long as we have a piece of ammunition or a man alive," Leibowitz decided to send Belle packing.
1935: Sam and Belle

1940: Sam and Belle

1950s: Sam and Belle
1950s: Sam and Belle and Family at 102 Coleridge

Old Home On Avenue M
After some initial successes, Sam's reputation as a trial lawyer grew and by 1930 he and Belle and their three children were living in a comfortable home at 2307 Avenue M in Midwood. And soon thereafter the Commies came calling...

Leibowitz With The Scottsboro Boys

The ensuing trials, appeals and re-trials shook up the Jim Crow jurisprudence then practiced in Dixie, but unfortunately, the nine defendants, then aged 13 to 20, all served time, ranging from four to 18 years before being released for a crime that never occurred. It wasn't until 1976 that the case finally ended – that's when Alabama governor George Wallace pardoned the last living defendant with open charges. How innocent do you think they were if even George Wallace agreed to a pardon? In 2013 Alabama finally granted a posthumous pardon to all nine. 

Sam With Bodyguards in Decatur 1933

Sam and Haywood Patterson, Decatur, 1933

Sam Leibowitz 1933
The first trial in 1931 had ended in death sentences, but the U.S. Supreme Court, in its landmark Powell v. Alabama decision, ordered a new trial because the defendants had been denied adequate counsel. During the 1933 retrial, Leibowitz ripped to shreds the credibility of every witness who took the stand. The prosecution's summation consisted mostly of fervent appeals to the jurors' anti-Semitism: "Now the question in this case is this: Is justice going to be bought and sold in Alabama with Jew money from New York?" The jury quickly came back with guilty verdicts but the trial judge, James Horton, bravely granted Leibowitz's motion to throw out the verdict, ruling that Leibowitz had demonstrated the complainants were lying about the entire event. 
1933: Leibowitz Flanked by Protection

Another trial ensued before a different judge. Leibowitz produced witness after witness showing the systematic exclusion of blacks from the jury pool in "everyone's living memory". When one of his black witnesses, John Sanford, whose appearance was an act of supreme courage, was cross-examined by Alabama Attorney General Thomas Knight, he was called “John.” Twice Leibowitz told the prosecutor to call the witness “Mr.” as he did with all the white witnesses. Knight ignored him and kept calling the man “John." Fed up, Leibowitz exploded. “Now listen, Mr. Attorney-General, I’ve warned you twice about your treatment of my witness. For the last time now, stand back, take your finger out of his eye, and call him mister!”

Sam in Decatur Alabama 1933
In response, the local braniacs tampered with the grand jury list to add black jurors to the 1931 rolls, committing forgery in the process. Following another jury conviction, Leibowitz actually produced the roll book from Decatur for the Supreme Court Justices to examine for themselves, and the Court again reversed in the historic Norris v. Alabama decision. As a result, for the first time in 60 years blacks began serving on juries throughout the South.

During the trials Leibowitz was alternately protected by National Guardsmen and his own bodyguards but when asked about the death threats, Leibowitz famously replied: “It takes more than a crowd of hooded bigots to scare a Jew-boy from the sidewalks of New York.” His bravado and no-holds-barred defense of the accused made Leibowitz something of a hero in New York City. The crowds greeting him upon his return to Penn Station may initially have been attributable to good Communist organizing but there is no denying the esteem in which he was held by the public. In 1935 he even ran for District Attorney of Brooklyn but got drubbed in the primary by the Democratic Party machine candidate.

1933: Sam Mobbed At Penn Station. He Forced Retrials and Eventual Releases.
1937: At 225 Broadway. He Also Helped Them Get Jobs.

In 1940, exhausted from his trial work, Leibowitz gladly accepted a spot on the Democratic Party's judicial slate and was elected to a 14 year term as a judge in Brooklyn's county court overseeing felony cases. In 1954 he was re-elected to another 14 year term, and finally stepped down in December 1969 at the mandatory retirement age of 76. He passed away a little over eight years later. 

Clarence Norris, 1979
When he died, Clarence Norris, one of the Scottsboro Boys who had moved to New York, told a reporter: "Mr. Leibowitz was a beautiful man. He really did a job for me and the rest of the fellows. The world is a little different now and he helped change it."

So why did Leibowitz need protection in Brooklyn? Manhattan Beach old-timers said he believed strongly in the death penalty and was a “hanging judge” who gave maximum prison sentences. That was certainly true. It was also true that he presided over the trials of a number of mobsters and sentenced them sternly as well. 

1950s Photo Shows Police Booth on Far Side of Footbridge

But I always thought the gravest threat to Sam came in the late 1940s when he locked horns with the most powerful forces in the City during an investigation of a large  gambling ring protected by scores of police at the highest levels of the NYPD. As Thomas Reppetto, another former professor of mine at John Jay College (and the former Chief of Detectives for the Chicago PD) entertainingly summarized in one of his seminal works on the history of policing in America:

Tom Reppetto
“The Brooklyn District Attorney, Miles McDonald, started a probe and Judge Samuel Leibowitz, assigned to supervise a grand jury, usurped the mantle of a special prosecutor. [Police] Commissioner Bill O'Brien and the Mayor [William O'Dwyer – a former cop, a former judge, and the former District Attorney of Brooklyn!] fought back, blasting the DA and the judge. Finally after Leibowitz summoned O'Brien to his chambers to listen to wiretaps detailing the graft payoffs, the Commissioner resigned. Mayor O'Dwyer also resigned, secured an appointment as Ambassador to Mexico and remained there for several years, safe from any criminal charges in New York City.” [From American Police, A History: 1945-2012: The Blue Parade, Vol. II, Thomas Reppetto, 2012]

Leibowitz (Left) Assists Kefauver Committee, 1951

As a result of the work of McDonald and Leibowitz, 22 policemen were convicted and 240 others were dismissed or resigned. 

Public Corruption.
[O'Dwyer's blythe exit reminds me of another corrupt NYC Irish mayor, Jimmy Walker. As he took the stand during a corruption trial, he elicited chuckles from the packed courtroom when he announced: "There are three things a man must do alone: be born, die and testify." I'm grateful I recently had the opportunity to thank Tom Reppetto, a truly witty and wise writer, for the phrase he used in his lectures to describe public corruption "Slobbering at the trough of public indulgence." Many's the time I've uttered it myself over the past 35 years.]

But back to hanging Judge Leibowitz. While the Scottsboro case dominated a good deal of Leibowitz's time from 1933 to 1937, he still managed to represent a fair share of paying clients during the Depression and by the time he ascended the bench in 1940 the family had moved to a beautiful home in Manhattan Beach and now they had a maid and a chauffeur. 

Former Leibowitz Home, 102 Coleridge St., Manhattan Beach
As I delved deeper into his career I could find no reference to the police booths in the books and articles about him. After

Police Booth by The Footbridge
many hours scanning  press archives, I finally struck pay dirt. Alas and alack, another myth bites the dust: those stationary posts were only, at best, tangentially related to Leibowitz.

Booth at West End Ave and Oriental Blvd
The booths were erected in 1946 following a home invasion in the area which provided the denouement for what angry residents described as “500 crimes in the past five years”. The NYPD countered there had only been 100 burglaries in the area in the previous year, but admitted they had made only one arrest. Two of those burglaries targeted a home located at the corner of Hampton and Coleridge Streets.

October 17 1946 -- Brooklyn Eagle
  Booths? Yes. Leibowitz? No
The fact that the home belonged to the Honorable Samuel S. Leibowitz, the most famous and visible resident of the neighborhood, probably helped police executives make the decision to erect two of the four booths that the citizenry was demanding. 

In fact a subsequent burglary of the Leibowitz home was traced to a heroin addict (see picture below), and I also found a posthumously published memoir by a notable mathematician then living in nearby Coney Island who wrote: “Leibowitz had a large house in Manhattan Beach with a big picture window. Every couple of months I would throw a brick through this window. He probably thought it was the mob getting even with him. It wasn't the mob, just an angry teenager." [From Richard E. Bellman, Eye of the Hurricane: An Autobiography, 1984]

NYPD At Leibowitz Home in 1952 Per Brooklyn Eagle
Well, that just leaves the “truth serum” conundrum.
102 Coleridge Street at Hampton Street
Once he ascended the bench, Leibowitz became a paradigm of what Alex Smith would later describe, in an oft-quoted study of the personality types of criminal court judges, the “Tyrant-Showboat-Benevolent- Despot”. In other words, he was sometimes "harsh and intemperate, with occasional grandiose gestures of charity and forbearance".

1950 Best Seller: Still In Print
As a judge, Leibowitz exercised virtually unscrutinized power, as can easily be demonstrated by the case of an armed robber convicted before Judge Leibowitz in Brooklyn Supreme Court. This defendant was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation as an aid to sentence. In a letter dated July 23, 1953, contained in the case file signed by the examining psychiatrist at
"Truth Serum"
Kings County Hospital, the defendant was described as continuing to maintain his innocence. The psychiatrist then wrote: "He was given Sodium Amytal [a 'truth serum' usually administered intravenously] and interviewed while under [the influence of] this drug. He continued to protest his innocence...He admits that he indulges in alcohol to excess at times and states he was drinking when he got into this present difficulty." [From The Impact of Presentence Investigations on Plea Bargained Dispositions in Kings County Supreme Court, Joseph G. Enright, 1987]

Unanswered here is to what extent the psychiatrists at the Kings County Hospital Prison Ward were complicit in this practice. Did they suggest it to Leibowitz in the first place? In so far as these orders emanated from Leibowitz, I think he was looking for a magic bullet to make sentencing foolproof. He'd always been in favor of lie detector tests and often argued (in vain, of course) for their usefulness in criminal proceedings. If Leibowitz had done some research, he would have discovered a rich body of literature assessing the use of sodium amytal and similar drugs within psychiatry, the criminal justice system, and in more recent times, intelligence agencies. But by the mid-1950s, the overwhelming weight of the empirical evidence was demonstrating that the drugs had little reliable hope of producing truthful responses.

On the other hand, Leibowitz was vehemently opposed to the pseudo-science of explaining crime based on inferior physiological differences among offenders, which was still in vogue when he started his career. He also was in favor of no imprisonment for first offenders (except for murder) but believed, per a 1931 quote, that "20 days of the lash is more effective than 20 years of prison luxury." He also was no foe of the death penalty, either as a defense counsel or as a judge and essentially felt, based on some lenient sentences which didn't pan out, that repeat offenders should receive maximum sentences. A mixed bag for sure. 

And we also have to consider the environment in which Leibowitz worked. After the Supreme Court's Williams decision in 1949, based on a case in Leibowitz's own court, judges had essentially been blessed with extreme discretion in deciding what to consider in passing sentence. In Williams v. New York, the Court affirmed that a Brooklyn teenager convicted of a brutal murder could be sentenced to death despite a jury's non-binding recommendation for life imprisonment. Why? Because Leibowitz's colleague, Judge Louis Goldstein based his decision on material independently gathered by the probation officer from the police and shrinks which linked the defendant to numerous additional crimes and found him possessed of a "morbid sexuality." Yikes!

Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black noted that probation officers "have not been trained to prosecute but to aid
Justice Hugo Black, Served 1937-1971
offenders." Black assumed that due process concerns were misplaced simply because of the professionalism of the investigators. Justice Frank Murphy dissented. Since the damaging material upon which sentencing was based "would conceivably not have been admissible at the trial, and was not subject to examination by the defendant," Murphy argued, convincingly for me,  that "the high demands of due process were not obeyed."

Justice Frank Murphy, Served 1940-1949
Although Black's major concern was to prevent a time-consuming re-trial of collateral issues at the sentencing stage, the inference in Williams – that due process safeguards placed unnecessary limits on the discretion of judges – helped to usher in an era of maximum discretion in the post-conviction stage, reaching its full glory in states such as California where (until sentencing reform in 1976 toppled it) "one of the most extreme forms of indeterminacy permitted sentences of one day to life for even relatively minor offenses."

Leibowitz in 1960
So Leibowitz inhabited the bench in an era when truth serum as an aid to sentence wasn't considered that outrageous after-all. In the end I think Leibowitz tyrannically used questionable means to satisfy himself that the defendant was guilty. By all accounts, Leibowitz actually hated sentencing. He often talked passionately about how gut-wrenching it was for him to make the right decision, acquainted as he was with the often inadequate trial preparation of defense counsel and the fallibility of ADAs, investigators and witnesses. 

Pack Of Camels Circa 1955
For instance, Leibowitz was fond of illustrating the unreliability of witness memories and eyewitness identification by asking Camel cigarette smokers to answer a simple question without looking at their pack. Was the man pictured on the cover of every pack of Camels they had been pulling out of their pockets 10 to 20 times a day for God knows how many years sitting on top of the camel or leading the camel? The majority usually guessed wrong because there was no man pictured on the pack at all.

If Leibowitz were alive today I think he'd be pleased with the increasing role played by forensic science within police departments and he would have embraced The Innocence Project on day one of its existence – as long as he could get up and say a few words, of course. I also suspect he would have found a way on behalf of his beloved Manhattan Beach community to overturn that court ruling which for two decades has allowed a handful of rich influential men to block access to the Esplanade. Leibowitz probably would have pointed out that the man who named and developed Manhattan Beach, Austin Corbin, a banker and president of the Long Island Rail Road, was a virulent anti-Semite who barred Jews from his hotels and twice tried to close the footbridge he built over the bay to prevent “Jews and Negros” from entering his

1930s: Footbridge
Finally, Alex Smith died in 2004 but I didn't learn of his passing until years later. Looking at the date of his death, I remember working double shifts at that time during a terrorism crisis that has now been long forgotten. How I would have enjoyed listening to Alex talk about Leibowitz again. 
Looking from Sheepshead Bay to Manhattan Beach on Right

So every now and again I drive down to see if the booths are still there...and marvel that they've survived for 69 years without some government agency tearing them down. Sometimes I can picture me and Alex sitting on a bench next to the footbridge, good-naturedly arguing back and forth until he suddenly stops and asks me what
Sittin' by The Bridge on The Bay
I'm grinning about. Then I'd tell him about the waterbed, Leslie, my T-Bird and the anxiety attack. Whereupon he'd probably say: “Enright, roll up your sleeve so I can give you some sodium amytal and get the real story behind that waterbed saga.”


1911: No Police Booth!

1895 Footbridge Looking Southeast
1907: Note Race Tracks in Green (L) and  (C)
So why can't we enjoy the Esplanade anymore? Let's start at the beginning. In 1877 robber baron Austin Corbin purchased, from inheritors of the original British title to the land, about 500 uninhabited marshy acres on the eastern half of Coney Island. Corbin dubbed the land (heretofore called Sedge Bank) "Manhattan Beach" and saw that it was good. Why? Because Manhattan was so gilded, man, and "Gravesend" - the actual name of the town that covered the area - was like a complete downer. So Corbin immediately built a massive hotel which he called the Manhattan Beach Hotel. Duh. And laid new track on his Long Island Rail Road which he called the Manhattan Beach Rail Road to take folks there (once they took the ferry to (UGH!) Brooklyn) and things were going so swimmingly by Jove, he built another eyesore, called the Oriental Hotel, in 1880. [Thanks to scholar John B. Manbeck for much of the deep background. Except for the snarky stuff.]  
1903: Manhattan Beach Hotel Grounds

Not only was the Manhattan Beach Hotel enormous, but its grounds extended from what is now West End Avenue eastward along the ocean to Dover Street. The Oriental was further east up by present-day Jaffrey Street and no less gigantic.
1890: Birds-Eye View from Over the Atlantic
1907: Two Hotels Are Large Yellow Objects on Left. No Street Grid Yet
After Corbin died unceremoniously in a carriage accident in 1896, some would say fittingly, but let's not get too negative yet, his son inherited the operation. Beset by a competing hotel in Brighton, ruinous storms and a steam locomotive line that seemed way too retro compared to the new-fangled electric cars that were taking folks to entertainment spots in Coney and Brighton, the services of an innovative developer, Joseph P. Day, were employed. Starting in 1904, as the hotels floundered under poor management, he began pouring money into reclaiming what was then a sandy, treeless, flat expanse for residential development.

1895 Looking South to Hotel from Sheepshead Bay

Circa 1905: From Emmons Ave. Nary a Tree And Only Shore-Front Hotels 
A million dollars of improvements later, the first lots were sold in 1909 and houses built. Seeking to "reclaim land under water which had been washed away by heavy storms during the past 15 or 20 years", Day submitted a map to the Secretary of the Department of War (the office then overseeing the Army Corps of Engineers) in 1911. It was prepared by the Manhattan Beach Estates, the entity which Day now headed. It illustrated a wall 125 feet out to sea! It was to be built by Charles S. Voorhies, a civil engineer, to run from Brighton Beach at Corbin Place to the Manhattan Beach Hotel at Ocean Avenue, a distance of over 2,000 feet. Behind it, there would be landfill and an esplanade. (By the way Voorhies undertook many seashore projects in Brooklyn and Long Island until his death in 1937; he's buried in Greenwood Cemetery.)
Circa 1900: Manhattan Beach Boardwalk

Circa 1909: From the Roof of a Brighton Beach Hotel

Closeup: Note Oriental Beach Blvd to Ocean Mostly Under Water Before Sea Wall Was Built

Circa 1909: Southeast From Roof of Manhattan Beach Hotel

Circa 1912: Northwest from Ocean--Homes Springing Up
Once the plan was approved in May of 1911, Day immediately began selling 300 lots west of the Manhattan Beach Hotel that were then under water. Within two months, half of them sold! At the same time do-gooder legislation did away with the nearby race tracks that attracted so many hotel guests, so in September 1911 he demolished the Manhattan Beach Hotel (the Oriental was ripped down five years later, its wood finding its way onto the Rockaway boardwalk).

And finally, in the Fall of 1911, Voorhies began building the wall. On November 18, 1911, Day claimed the structure would be "one of the first of its kind to be built in the United States" and described it to the Brooklyn Eagle: "The base of the wall will be 50 feet and will be made of stones weighing at least a ton each. It will be cone shape and will be ten feet wide at the top...Storm water striking the wall will be thrown so far and on such an angle, that it will not undermine the structure of the wall." Day also said that instead of using "garbage and rubbish" for the landfill behind the wall, "good clean sanitary sand is pumped in from the ocean."

Circa 1912: Note Lack of Houses Along New Esplanade
1913: New Homes Planned "Inside The Sea Wall"

By 1916, thanks in large part to the landfill, the rebuilt Esplanade, and the removal of the old hotels, 122 homes had been erected, with over 1,600 other lots sold to investors and citizens planning to build their dream house. On October 14, 1916, under a large tent at the corner of Ocean Avenue and Oriental Boulevard, Day auctioned off the last 642 lots remaining from the 2,400 held by his realty company in the area thus far developed. That tract comprised a 34 block area extending east from Corbin Place to Jaffrey Street and from Sheepshead Bay southward to the Atlantic Ocean. All these streets had been paved and electrical, water and sewer services provided, aside from the area along the ocean east of Ocean Avenue - there a "bathing pavilion" (600 feet by 200 feet with 2,500 rooms) and a beach occupied the land. 
1916: Falmouth Street Villa. Or McMansion? YOU Be The Judge

1916: Newly Built Homes Within View of Ocean
To fully understand how the rest of the story plays out, we need to examine what happened to the rest of Manhattan Beach that had not been developed. In 1940 Day sold to the United States government 90 acres of land that comprised the eastern end of the Manhattan Beach peninsula. The Feds then converted the land into the largest maritime training facility in the country, with merchant marines and the US Coast Guard sharing the Manhattan Beach Training Station

Circa 1940: Manhattan Beach Eastern End About to Be Converted by The U.S.

It seems Mr. Day was a sly realtor. Almost half of the 90 acres he sold to the Feds for $5,000,000 in 1940 included land he did not own because it was originally under water. 
Shaded Area Was Underwater When Corbin Bought Land, Then Later Filled In. That Made It The State's, Argued Moses in 1949.

This allowed New York State, likely at the behest of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, to then successfully argue that the land rightfully belonged to New York.

From Maritime Training Station To Temp Housing for Vets, To AF Housing, To Kingsborough

As World War Two drew to a close, Moses set his sights on this federal land as a means to alleviate extreme summertime congestion at Coney Island. He wanted to create a "beach park" and then link it to the Brighton and Coney beaches via the Esplanade. 

Moses was not the first to propose this. As early as 1919 the Brooklyn Borough President Edward Riegelman, impressed by the recently constructed Esplanade, called for "the erection of a suitable boardwalk, extending from Sea Gate to Manhattan Beach." He lamented that "this very necessary improvement has been talked about in the Borough of Brooklyn for twenty years and almost every Borough President since consolidation [1898] has had the matter under consideration." But alas and alack, the Beep decided that for the immediate future its construction would be "limited to the portion of the beach lying west of Ocean Parkway."

2013: Boardwalk Upper Left Under Repair. 600 feet to the Promenade, Center Bottom

Meanwhile, the Esplanade, untouched by the Feds, remained in private hands whose hands exactly has become something of a legal saga as we shall see – but it took only 19 years after the magnificent walkway's construction for it to be severely damaged, in a March 1931 coastal storm which "sucked away the sand from under the Esplanade, the new sea wall, and weakened the structure." The home owners, lacking the resources to undertake repairs that would have cost at least six figures, rode out the Depression and the War while the walkway began its long deteriorating descent.   

With the war over and the Feds scaling back bases, Moses announced in his October 1946 capital plan that he would link the Coney Island boardwalk, which ended at Brighton Beach, to the Manhattan Beach promenade. In the process, the badly maintained walkway would be completely rehabilitated by the City. 
Jan 29 1952: Brooklyn Eagle Ran This Photo (Lousy Quality On Microfilm) With Caption: "Esplanade at Manhattan Beach Is In Dilapidated State"  
But the Moses plan stalled when the Feds balked at selling their land. Instead, a large chunk of the acreage became a veterans colony ("Manhattan Beach Temporary Housing Project") to help alleviate the extreme post-war housing shortage in the City.
1946: Temp Housing Being Erected for Vets Families

Then in 1951, the Feds sold 16 acres to the State keeping the eastern-most tract for an Air Force facility (that eventually became Kingsborough Community College in the 1960s). Three years later, when public housing was found for most of the vets, the State, egged on by Moses, laid claim to that 24 acre tract as well. 

Governor Tom Dewey then held a press conference to hand over to the City the deed to the combined 40 acre tract it had amassed. And in October 1954 Moses gleefully announced the creation of Manhattan Beach Park, which opened in 1955.
In February 1951 Moses Issued an 8 Page Pamphlet On Manhattan Beach

But what about the Esplanade?  In 1951 while Moses waited for the land to be ceded to the City, he assured owners that his vision of the Esplanade "will be completely fenced off from the adjacent privately owned land and developed so that it will not destroy either the privacy or ocean view of the owners of these properties.

And in October 1954, only ten days after Moses sealed the Manhattan Beach Park deal, Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore and Moses submitted a proposal to the Board of Estimate which stated: 

"As the City is without title to the lands in the Esplanade [defined in the proposal as a 40 foot wide ocean-front strip, including a 16 foot wide cement walkway, extending 2,060 feet from the west side of Ocean Avenue to the west side of Corbin Place], no city agency has responsibility of its maintenance, and as the private interests in Manhattan Beach have never assumed this responsibility, the cement walk and other improvements have fallen into a state of disrepair. The areas needing repair are constantly increasing, so that immediate action is required to remedy existing conditions. Apart from this the lands in the Esplanade should be made part of the City's park system in order to provide a connection between the public boardwalks and beaches in Coney Island and Brighton Beach and the [newly announced parks] at Ocean Avenue."

Robert Moses Back In His Hey-Day

Anticipating residents' objections, the proposal then added: "Laid out as a park, access to the Esplanade area will be precluded except at streets terminating at the park, thereby preventing trespassing upon the adjoining private property...[N]ecessary measures should now be taken to secure ownership for the City of this attractive and valuable ocean-front area in order that it may be reconstructed and suitably developed for park use."

The community wasn't buying it. Citizens packed the Board of Estimate hearing that was set to approve it, protesting that "Coney Island merrymakers" would spill over into the area, creating "a carnival atmosphere and making nuisances of themselves."

NY Times 9/23/55
Cashmore caved. As the New York Times reported on September 23, 1955: "The Board [of Estimate] rejected the Moses project with the understanding that Borough President John Cashmore of Brooklyn would bring in a substitute plan for restoring the esplanade to its former function as a local pedestrian way. It was also understood that the cost of of the restoration, estimated at $350,000 to $500,000 would be paid by a Manhattan Beach area of assessment. The speakers had declared that the property owners would be 'glad to pay' up to $500,000 to restore the pedestrian way." 

If Cashmore did indeed come up with a "substitute plan", I couldn't find it. The next time the Esplanade appears in the public record is 1964, four years after Hurricane Donna walloped the walkway, when Mayor Robert Wagner decided to delete from the capital budget $50,000 earmarked "to protect the Manhattan Beach Esplanade and shore-front from erosion". The capital budget that year was $828,949,835. The $50,000 was the only deletion the Mayor made to the budget presented to him by the Board of Estimate. That $50k represented less than .00006 of the budget (apparently Wagner's mantra was "let the Army Corps of Engineers do it"). And so the Esplanade continued to deteriorate. 

Newly Built Cement Esplanade Sometime Between 1912 and 1915
1980s: Nothing Last Forever (Without Maintenance)
2012: Hours Before Sandy Hit

2012: Sandy About to Hit

The Morning After: No More Esplanade

The Morning After: The Great Wall of Voorheis Is Toast

Post-Sandy: Give Me Land, Lots of Land, Then Fence Me In

2014: Esplanade After Sandy Is No More. 
Just A Wall In People's Backyards.
Psst. Hey, Wanna Buy An ESPLANADE?
The history of the deeds for property along the Esplanade is kind of funky but bear with me. As noted above, the developer Day started selling shore-front plots based on C.S. Voorheis Maps "as approved by the Secretary of War on May 1, 1911" and additional maps based on Voorhies' surveys conducted in early November 1911, just as the land was being reclaimed by the Great Wall of Voorhies. Apparently Day gave the owners title to the Esplanade and the shore-front itself. However, when Robert Moses and his Parks Department minions started researching the matter they told the press that it was unclear who owned the Esplanade, but no matter - they would take the run-down walkway by condemnation (aka eminent domain)...Until they couldn't.

Park Department: "Title to the Walk Is Not Clear"

In 1987, Jack Laboz, who had owned the shore-front property at 293 Amherst for three years, built a fence to prevent access to the Esplanade from Amherst Street. The Manhattan Beach Community Group asked him to take it down and when he refused, a lawsuit ensued (Index 17985/87) which resulted in a non-jury trial. On September 2, 1993, Judge Yoswein in Brooklyn Supreme Court decided in his favor. Yoswein's decision is not available on line but the Appellate decision which affirmed Yoswein two and a half years later (no sense being hasty) (224 A.D. 2d 394, 638 N.Y.S. 2d 112 N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept., Feb 05, 1996)  is published

1996 Appellate Decision
The community had argued that there was an "implied easement" that neighborhood residents had to access and enjoy the Esplanade because "It is well established that when property is described in a conveyance with reference to a subdivision map showing streets abutting on the lot conveyed, easements in the private streets appurtenant to the lot generally pass with the grant." But the court rejected this "implied easement" because none of the plaintiffs had land abutting the Esplanade and averred that the Esplanade was a "private walkway" that was "subdivided into separate lots, and sold separately". 

The Laboz deed for 293 Amherst filed in 1984 clearly states there is a "Parcel II" for the lot described as: "All that certain lot…shown as portion of the Esplanade as laid down on the Map of Manhattan Beach Estates made by C.S. Voorheis, C.E. and filed in the City Register's Office, Kings County, as and by Map #'s 1530 and 41B, bounded and described as follows: Beginning at the corner formed by the intersection of the northerly side of the Esplanade with the easterly side of Amherst Street as projected; Running thence southerly along the easterly side of Amherst Street as projected 40 feet to the Pierhead and Bulkhead lines approved by the Secretary of War on May 1, 1911; Thence easterly along said Pierhead and Bulkhead lines 104 feet to a point; Thence northerly at right angles to the eastern side of Amherst Street as projected 40 feet to the northerly side of Esplanade; Thence westerly along the northerly side of Wsplanade (SIC!) 104 feet to the corner, the point or place of Beginning."

April 1987 "Waiver" for 293 Amherst Shows Tax Lot Extending to Sea Wall
Looking at previous deeds for the property we found a 1971 filing which conveyed ownership of the very same 40 foot by 104 foot strip of the Esplanade to the previous owner of 293 Amherst Street, who passed it on to Laboz via the 1984 deed. The 1971 seller of this strip was listed as JOGLO REALTIES, with Belle Greenberg of nearby 25 Dover Street listed as President (and offices at 50 Court Street, Room 1009; Greenberg's husband at that time, Emil Greenberg, an attorney, had an office there as well and notarized some of her deed signatures).

Searching for other JOGLO dealings, we found a December 6, 1966 deed recording a sale of the Esplanade along 296 West End Avenue to homeowners there (an amended deed was filed in 1981 as well), who passed it subsequently to the current owner, Gary Vinbaytel.

We also found a September 1969 conveyance by JOGLO of a 208 feet by 40 feet strip of the Esplanade running from the westerly side of Amherst (across the street from Laboz) to the easterly side of West End Avenue (across the street from Vinbaytel). The buyer of this Esplanade strip was another entity, GARDEN 34TH STREET CORP, also at 50 Court St but in Room 1010 - talk about arm's length! Another filing in 1971 conveyed another contiguous 50 foot strip from JOGLO to GARDEN. And a third filing in April 1983 transferred ownership of this entire strip from GARDEN 34TH to its President and owner, Paul Pearlmutter.

Follow The Bouncing Deeds

1969 Deed JOGLO to GARDEN. 208 ft x 40 ft (Note: No Lot or Address Listed)
1971 Deed Lists Lot 90 And ANOTHER 50 Feet by 40 Feet Chunk

1983 Deed Attestation: "Lots South of 90 and 95" Ergo 258 Feet Total
1983 Deed: From Pearlmutter's Corp to Him-258' x 40' Total

What's odd about these transactions is that Pearlmutter's home at 280 Amherst did not abut the Esplanade - it was one house in from the corner home (290 Amherst). His purchase from JOGLO was obviously prompted by a desire to profit because one month later in May 1983, he sold his piece of the Esplanade to the owner of 290 Amherst. Pearlmutter's 1983 filing identifies the strip as being "south of Lots 90 [on West End] and 95 [on Amherst]". Which raises an interesting question: since all the Esplanade property filings are made referencing the tax lots of the homes abutting the walkway, are any taxes being paid on this land?  There are clearly no tax lots assigned to any portion of the Esplanade on City tax maps.

The sales history tells the tale: here is the deed granting a total of 258 feet of the Esplanade from Pearlmutter to the owner of 290 Amherst Street, Robert Jaret, in May 1983:
Then in December 2004, Robert Jaret sold a 104 foot long chunk of his 258 foot strip of the Esplanade (the portion abutting 295 West End Avenue) to Alla Levy, who had purchased the home at 295 West End Ave in 1998. This deed lists an assessed valuation for this "residential vacant land" and it's $122,624. Levy sold it for $171,000. So taxes do appear to be assessed to home owners for their chunks of the Esplanade.
2004 Metes and Bounds Above; Sales Details Below

2004 Filing Indicates Assessed Value and Sales Price for 104 Feet of the Esplanade


It appears JOGLO REALTIES at one time owned all of the Esplanade and likely obtained that ownership in 1944 since it was incorporated in Brooklyn in May 1944 and engaged in no other recorded realty transactions beyond the Esplanade prior to its dissolution in April 1988. 

Then on June 30, 2005, Robert Toussie filed a deed that was dated August 14, 1977 which conveyed to him - from JOGLO - that portion of the Esplanade extending from Ocean Avenue to Beaumont Street, as well as a strip of land along all the properties fronting the Esplanade in that four block stretch. In all, it was a strip of land that was 1,062 feet long by 40 feet wide. 

This expanse was 1,002 feet shy of the full length of the Esplanade defined by Moses in his 1955 Board of Estimate proposal to take the walkway. That's because Toussie/JOGLO did not include the stretch from the westerly side of Beaumont to the westerly side of Corbin Place - three full blocks which appear to have been conveyed by JOGLO to others much earlier (see discussion of GARDEN 34th STREET CORP above, an entity which also had no real property filings anywhere else in the City except along the west end of the Esplanade).

293 Amherst On Left. Fence Everywhere

Robert Toussie originally moved to Manhattan Beach in 1970 when he purchased 290 Exeter Street on the Esplanade. Over the years he would buy other nearby homes for family members. In 1988 he was presented with an award by the community for doing his best to maintain and beautify the stretch of the Esplanade he owned.
1988 Award to Toussies For Restoring the Esplanade

However, Mr. Toussie and his son Isaac have given a lot of business to lawyers over the years arising from their housing developments in Suffolk County. Isaac "pleaded guilty in 2001 to using false documents to have mortgages insured by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and in 2002 to mail fraud, admitting that he had persuaded officials in Suffolk County to overpay for land". In 2008 there was further controversy when President G.W. Bush pardoned him, then rescinded it 24 hours later when his father's contributions to the Republican Party and various campaigns were highlighted by the press. More recently Robert Toussie successfully sued Suffolk County for the right to continue to bid on real property auctions there.

Young Robert Toussie
Robert Toussie also had a federal conviction, in 1967, for failure to register for the draft and failure to report for induction, but it was successfully overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court (!) in a 5-3 decision, Toussie v. United States, 397 U. S. 112 (1970). Lately, however, the Toussie litigation has concerned disagreements with neighbors over his ownership of the Esplanade. 
2011: Robert Toussie

2007: Isaac Toussie
In a December 2001 decision, Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Nicholas Clemente found in favor of Toussie's neighbors, Igor Zolotov and Olga Belenkaya, whose 50 year old chain link fence in their backyard at 295 Dover Street was "unilaterally" removed by Toussie. The court's decision stated: "Defendant claims that he purchased the disputed area in 1977 from JOGLO Realty and received, but never recorded the deed. The strip of land (called the Esplanade) runs along the Atlantic Ocean, 40 feet x 1,062 feet. As evidenced by photographs along that way, almost all of the adjoining property owners have more or less 'encroached' for approximately 20 feet into this [strip]. The defendant, under a claim of right and in disregard for plaintiffs’ rights, went upon 20 feet of the property - removed the fence that had been there for approximately 50 years. He erected another fence at the point that he unilaterally determined to be his property. By so doing, he chanced to commit a trespass. In effect, at his peril, he chose to become a defendant rather than a plaintiff." The court ruled that his neighbors had essentially "adverse possession" of that strip given its long-standing uninterrupted use (Index 25312/00).

In 2013, Toussie sued another neighbor, the Zweig Estate, at 291 Beaumont Street, accusing the owners of dumping 8,800 cubic yards of landscaping and other debris onto the Toussie Esplanade in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. Zweig then counter-claimed "Huh?" and asked damages of $100,000 be assessed against Toussie for what was termed a nuisance lawsuit (Index 504775/13).

In 2014, Toussie sued another neighbor (Leonard Finkel of 286 Coleridge Street) to force him take down a chain link fence that separated Finkel's back lawn from the Esplanade. There ensued filings by Finkel showing photos dating back to antiquity and the same adverse possession argument was advanced that seemed successful with Judge Clemente back in 2001 (Index 500266/14).
1980s Photo of Finkel's Fence in Center Background

In a May 2015 decision in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Judge Mark Partnow (great surname for a judge!) tried to sort out yet another dispute - this one involving a home owner on another block - that has also spilled over into Federal court. At issue is the construction of the Great Wall of Toussie, a six foot high barrier running from Ocean Avenue to Beaumont Street which Toussie erected to replace the Great Wall of Voorhies that was completely wiped out by Super Storm Sandy in October 2012.
Post-Sandy: The Great Wall of Toussie from Ocean Ave to Beaumont St.
Toussie sued Eli Marionovsky, who lived mid-block on Ocean Avenue, for regularly trespassing on his Esplanade, encouraging others to do so, and claiming publicly at community meetings and to many others that Toussie had no right to appropriate the Esplanade for his own use, or to alter the shoreline, assertions which Toussie claimed were belied by his deed from JOGLO. 

The defendant countered that Toussie had made complaints about Marionovsky's McMansion which led to enforcement action by the Department of Buildings and that the law suit was another retaliatory effort to shut him up. Furthermore, the neighbor alleged that although the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued permits to Toussie in early 2013, they had subsequently issued a violation for exceeding the scope of the permit which was limited to "in-kind-/in-place repair or reconstruction of bulkheads and shoreline erosion structures that were functional before Hurricane Sandy." DEC specifically cited "constructing a retaining wall without a permit at the end of Ocean Avenue."  

Toussie argued that "the true motivations underlying defendant's unlawful conduct were his frustration over [Toussie's] private ownership of the oceanfront Esplanade and the diminution of the ocean breeze and view purportedly enjoyed from defendant's property, which is approximately 400 feet from the ocean."

People, can't we all just get along?????

The court once again defined the Esplanade, as argued by the opposing counsels, thusly: "This strip of land is defined by metes and bounds in a deed [from] JOGLO, allegedly executed on August 17, 1977, that was first 'mysteriously' filed with the New York City Register on June 21, 2005. Although defendant questions the authenticity of this deed, it conveys [to Robert Toussie] 40 feet of land, extending 1,062 feet from the easterly side of Beaumont Street to the easterly side of Ocean Avenue up to the pierhead or bulkhead line" (Index 20502/13).

In his opinion Judge Partnow concluded: "The court finds that [Marionovsky] has made a prima facie showing that this action involves public petition and participation...[Toussie/JOGLO] have failed to demonstrate that their suit 'has a sound and substantial basis in fact and law.'" (Index 20502/13)

But the case drags on and is calendared for July.


1) Deed Alleged to Date to August 1977 (But Filed 2005) 
Above: 1977 Deed PAGE 1 Filed in 2005 by Robert Toussie
Above: 1977 Deed PAGE 2 Filed in 2005 by Robert Toussie

2) Random Brooklyn Deed From August 1977 Filed 1977
Above: Random 1977 Brooklyn Deed PAGE 2 Filed in 1977


Pink = Toussie Homes. Red = Toussie Neighbors Suits. Green = Labov Lawsuit.

However, by far the most interesting lawsuit extant is occurring in U.S. Federal Court, Eastern District (Index 16-CV-01666), where, in April 2016 Toussie sued the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. The complaint alleges that DEC and their employees charged him with violations in re-building the sea wall after the Sandy devastation solely to extort him to give up his right to the Esplanade so it could be opened to public access again. Are you kidding me?

The complaint sounds like it could have been lifted from my reminiscences above: "He [NYS DEC employee] remembers visiting the Esplanade during his youth, recalls having his first romantic encounter there, believes that it used to be more easily accessible to the public, and believes it should be again" (Index 16-CV-01666).

Anyway, the complaint also addresses the JOGLO issue: "Mr. Toussie personally purchased the Esplanade in 1977 from an entity called JOGLO REALTIES, Inc., which was not affiliated with him. That company later became defunct, and Mr. Toussie created, at  the suggestion of JOGLO's former owner, a new and unrelated  company of the same name (JOGLO REALTIES, Inc. [incorporated 9/13/1999]), which he continues to own...Mr. Toussie enjoyed a warm relationship with the owner of the old, defunct JOGLO, and over the years purchased several additional properties from members of his family.  [Note: Previous sentence doesn't make much sense.] Mr. Toussie later conveyed the Esplanade to JOGLO REALTIES through a deed that was lost (upon information and belief, by counsel) and never recorded. Regardless of whether Mr. Toussie or JOGLO REALTIES is considered to be the current owner of the Esplanade, each is a  plaintiff herein."

So not only do we have a 1977 deed that wasn't filed until 2005, we have another deed, date unspecified, which has been lost. To which I can only add "Huh?" and move on. Anyway, these suits are all in some stage of non-resolution, as is the administrative hearing by DEC which Toussie claims is being leveraged by the State of New York to get him to give up his right to the Esplanade because, like me, DEC is wistful about olden days gone by along the sea! 

In addition to Toussie and Laboz, as noted briefly above, the Esplanade has also been claimed by those nearer the western end of the strip. Gary Vinbaytel, at 296 West End Avenue, took over land at the dead end of the street and has built what looks like a Miami Vice set. His 17,000 square foot mansion listed for $9 million in 2012 but hasn't sold yet.

As of this writing (July 2016), only a small section of the Esplanade is open to the public, at the southwest corner of Manhattan Beach Park at the end of Ocean Avenue which remains part of Manhattan Beach Park.

The Only Part of Esplanade Which Survives -- Owned by the City

Meanwhile, the fences along the strip bear no trespassing signs warning about guard dogs, security cameras and THE MAN. Five years ago, just before Sandy descended, the City included the Esplanade in its Vision 2020 Plan. Instead of fully reviving the century-old dream of City planners to connect Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach via a promenade, it set a modest goal to "Explore opportunities for enhancing visual access to waterfront at street ends with provision of public access where feasible." As Forgotten City points out, "[w]hen the city speaks of linear coastal parks, Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park serve as leading examples but the Manhattan Beach Esplanade predates them by more than a century."

1987: Through A Fence Darkly
October 2012. The End Was Near

Post-Sandy: Exeter Street Home on Esplanade


Toussie Home After Sandy's Devastating Blow
Per a pissed-off Manhattan Beach resident, the esplanade-front house above, devastated by Sandy, was owned by the Toussie Family "who were good friends of ours...The father, Robert, made millions as a young man, and was my husband Ralph's customer. His wife Laura was gorgeous in body, mind, and soul. They have 3 daughters and one son, Isaac, who went to elementary school with my daughter Nikki. The Toussie's built the first house of this kind in Manhattan Beach and people came from far and wide to gaze upon it. The children all played happily in this mini-mansion until one day...when Isaac and Nikki were in 6th grade ... they ran against each other for president of the school. The writing was on the wall even then, as Isaac and his dad "did something", that shall we say was not kosher, and Isaac won the election by a small margin. Ralph was so pissed there are no words to describe. And so we never spoke to the Toussies again...So what happened to the Toussies besides the current destruction of their home? What goes around ... comes around." 

The anonymous poster then left a Wikipedia link to the entry that began: "Isaac Robert Toussie (born 1971) is a Brooklyn, New York real estate developer convicted of fraudulently obtaining mortgages from the Department of Housing and Urban Development..." You know the rest.

Again, I say: People, can't we all just get along?

Vinbaytel McMansion on Right

Developer Gary Vinbaytel
Vinbaytel McMansion Is Available For $9 MIllion
The New York Times did a story back in 2004 featuring a mini-McMansion owner, Alex Puzaitzer ("Making It Big (the House, That Is); Immigrants' Lavish Homes Divide a Brooklyn Neighborhood"), describing him as a hard-working entrepreneur who owned a nightclub and the Zone Chefs business. Two years later the Feds busted mobsters who were silent owners of Zone Chefs ("Zone Chefs In The Soup Over Mob Scam Charges")

Home On Dover Street Built By Another Developer Featured in NY Times Story On Russian McMansions. Built in 1998, It Looks Tame Compared to Subsequent Fortresses Below

Of course, there are no dearth of stories when it comes to McMansion-Land. Take this one in June 2006 for example when three home-owners were arrested for bribing a NYC Department of Buildings inspector: "In June 2006, the Department of Investigation arrested three Brooklyn property owners for allegedly bribing a Buildings inspector. After an inspector issued a citation and a stop-work order for work at 245 Exeter Street in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, David Safir, the lot’s owner, allegedly offered $3,000 to the Buildings inspector at a follow-up inspection, asking that no additional violations be issued and the stop-work order be dismissed. Safir allegedly told the inspector that his friend, Gennadiy Bronsteyn, owner of 170 Coleridge Street in Manhattan Beach, faced a similar situation. The inspector met with Bronsteyn and Arkadi Shapiro, who owned 168 Coleridge. The inspector mentioned to Bronsteyn and Shapiro that the homes on the lots failed to comply with the approved plans. Both allegedly offered the inspector $10,000 to issue a C of O anyway; Shapiro later gave the inspector $1,500 as a payment towards the $10,000."

All of the over-built houses have their origin in a revision to the City's zoning laws which allow communities in southern Brooklyn to expand their living space by consuming more of their lot to build up and out or to simply tear down the home and erect new monstrosities. These do-over's have to be approved by the City's Board of Standards and Appeals (at last count, BSA had approved 97% of all such applications). This change was voted in with the assent of a few Community Boards at the request of the Orthodox Jewish community who wanted more space for their large families. 

Not so much in Manhattan Beach. These are busting egos not expanding families in play. Not satisfied with the additional space the zoning change gave them, the McMansion crowd has gone nuts.   
McMansions Come In All Sizes-This One Next To My Old Digs on Langham

2014: McMansions As Far As The Eye Can See and Far From The Esplanade

The Manhattan Beach community at last report has been trying to heal the rift between the McMansionites, most of them Russian, and the old-timers fed up with new neighbors obtaining variances to expand their houses, blocking their views and light. The new breed  had even formed their own organization (Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association) to challenge positions taken by the 75 year old Manhattan Beach Community Group.

In a so sad it's funny kind of way, Michael Tropp, a McMansion owner who was slapped with $100,000 in fines by the City for violating all sorts of building codes, served as the zoning expert for the Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association but then after all the nasty publicity he was reassigned to the crime committee whereupon Tropp complained the 61 Precinct failed to show up for his meetings

Tropp Tore Down Two Houses to Build This. $100k In Fines Ensued.
The newcomers also favor privatizing the beach itself now. Vision 2020, the City's grand initiative to restore citizen access to the water, once prompted Community Board 15 to tell the City: "Many of the streets ending at waters edge are 'Dead End Streets'. Most residents have usurped these dead end streets, erecting fencing and blocking a visual corridor as well as a place to access the waterfront. These street ends could create both visual interest and pedestrian access to water views." All that seems to be dead in the water in Manhattan Beach now.
McMansion-y Shore Boulevard

Be It Ever So Humble? Shore Blvd Again

1900 Manhattan Beach Hotels

2016: What's Left of an Eight Block Esplanade. Buh-bye.

"I Feel Sorry for The Many Reputable Real Estate Developers Out There. I Wish Just One of Them Would Move to Brooklyn." - J. Pismo Clam
NOTE: Aside from my own miserable photos, I also borrowed from many sources. Thanks to John Manbeck, NY Times, Newsday, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn Historical Society, Brooklyn Public Library, New York Historical Society, Forgotten New York, Bowery Boys History, Ephemeral New York, Sheepshead Bay Bites, Google, US Census (1900 through 1940), exhibits found in lawsuits accessible online, NYC real property filings, and other public documents. Text embeds many links to source material.


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