Dyker Heights

‘The History of Dyker Heights’ on film

December 24, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Dr. Christian Zaino, a Dyker Heights historian, worked on a documentary film with filmmaker Angelo Bonsignore about the community. Photo courtesy Dr. Christian Zaino
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If you think Dyker Heights is famous only for its over-the-top Christmas decorations, Dr. Christian Zaino would like to set you straight.

Zaino has devoted much of his spare time to documenting the history of Dyker Heights, a community he that he loves and that he has called home for many years. He is the official historian of the Dyker Heights Civic Association.

Much of his knowledge has now been captured on film.

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Zaino was the prime source of material for “The History of Dyker Heights,” a documentary by filmmaker Angelo Bonsignore. The film is available on YouTube.

“In this hour-long documentary we explore the origins of the Dutch town of New Utrecht, the creation of Dyker Heights, the original neighbors and their homes, the architecture of the community, as well as the many institutions that grew up in Dyker Heights. In addition, we include numerous maps, photos, and architectural drawings some of which haven’t been seen in over a century,” Zaino wrote in an email to the Brooklyn Eagle.

In 2006, Zaino used Dyker Heights as the subject matter in his college thesis at New York University, detailing the community’s history from its beginnings as a residential development to the present day. Last year, Bonsignore approached Zaino with the idea of producing a film based on the thesis.

“In 2013, filmmaker Angelo Bonsignore asked if we could turn my 2006 NYU college thesis into a documentary on our neighborhood. After many months of filming and hours of editing, we are finally done,” Zaino said.

Dyker Height was originally built as a speculative luxury housing development in the late 19th Century by Walter L. Johnson. The corner of 11th Avenue and 82nd Street was officially named “Walter L. Johnson Corner” by New York City in 2009.

After Dyker Heights was developed, the community was quickly proclaimed as the “Handsomest Suburb in Greater New York.”

Zaino said that although Dyker Heights was celebrated by all of the major newspapers and prominent architectural magazines of the day, its history was eventually overshadowed by that of Bay Ridge, its neighboring community to the west.

The world-famous Christmas lights that homeowners put up each December, including giant figures from “The Nutcracker” and giant cartoon figures, have also dominated the headlines, Zaino said.

The Christmas lights draw visitors from all over the country.

But there is so much more to Dyker Heights that inflatable Santas, Zaino said.

“In 2006, I uncovered the lost history of Dyker Heights while writing my thesis thanks to the help of friends, family, neighbors, and historical institutions. What I found, I’ve been sharing with everyone I could, and this is my most comprehensive endeavor yet,” he said

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