Brighton Beach. A paradise for the layman. There are those who take vacations to the Bahamas, Cancun, or across the globe, but little do they know that one of the most historic and attractive vacation spots is right in their own backyard, on the southern tip of Brooklyn. Most people only think of Brighton as that stop on the Q train before they get to the more famous Coney Island, but Brighton Beach has a story of its own. It is a neighborhood rich in culture and absolutely gorgeous in the summer time. Beginning in 1970's, waves of Jewish immigrants began coming in from the former Soviet Union, either because of persecution or a search for freedom and a new life. Given the title "Little Odessa" after a city in the Ukraine which many of the immigrants came from, Brighton features its own beach much like the origin cities of these new immigrants.

First built in 1868 as part of a series of beach resort towns by William Engeman, a very powerful and wealthy entrepreneur of his time, Brighton was purchased after the Civil War for a mere $20,000 for nearly 200 acres.

In 1879, Engeman formed a race track between Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue. With it, he also founded the Brighton Beach Racing Association, which held nearly 34 races in its first year. When Engeman died in 1897, his son inherited his father's estate, and continued to operate the track for the next 10 years until it was finally shut down due to the anti-betting laws of the time. With the closing of the track and the end of gambling, the grand hotels of the area faced their doom while the wealthy began to depart from the area.

As gambling came to an end, Brighton sought out new forms of attraction. As a result, in 1905 a Brighton opened up a boardwalk nearly a mile long. They later names it the Brighton Pike and it included a carousel, and animal and Wild West shows. Exotic animals from around the world were also featured including elephants and camels. What is perhaps most famous of the boardwalk's attractions was the "Chase Through the Clouds" roller coaster ride, which would later fall victim to a 1919 fire.

Engeman built a pier to receive steamboats in 1869. To accommodate the masses of people that used this port, Engeman began projects to build hotels. The Ocean Hotel was completed in 1871.

With the extension of Ocean Parkway, vacation seekers were able to ride their carriages down to the beach and spend the night by the Ocean Hotel. The demand for rooms exploded and Engeman decided to build more luxurious accomodations. The Brighton Beach Bathing Pavillion and Ocean Pier was completed in 1878 and Brighton was able to take advantage of its high demand.

In the 1890's, the city developed a intra-borough roadway named Coney Island Avenue. This roadway was created with a primary purpose of getting people from a city to Brighton Beach.

The Russian community soon became homesick, and it was not very easy for them to assimilate with Americans and learn the English language. This resulted in the construction of the Oceana Millennium, a theater located on Coney Island Avenue. In this theater, Russian immigrants could watch movies and shows, all in Russian. However, it was not the Millennium that made them truly feel at home, it was the fact that they lived by the water just as they did back in Russia. Below is an insider's perception of the history of his own town. In this interview, Yochanan relates Jewish history to the history of Brighton. He also discusses the aspects of organized crime in Brighton Beach. A gold mine of information, Yochanan gives us an authentic view of Brighton Beach and its rich history.


1. Brooklyn Public Library: Our Brooklyn. Brooklyn Public Library, 07 May 2010. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/ourbrooklyn/brightonbeach/>.

2. Immerso, Michael. Coney Island: The People's Playground.

3. Simon, Rita J. In the Golden Land: A Century of Russian and Soviet Jewish Immigration in America