From 1945-1950, the Gowanus and South Brooklyn neighborhoods in Brooklyn were getting publicity for their issues with juvenile delinquency. Fights and vicious killings involving gangs like the Garfield Boys (which spawned the South Brooklyn Boys), the Dragons, Tigers, Red Hook Stompers and others became more and more prevalent. Rumbles were happening almost every other night, summer and winter, although there were more fights in the warmer weather. The death of James Fortunato in May 1950 in a city park seemed to be a clincher for getting help into that neighborhood and it got the attention of the New York City Youth Board whose specialty was working with youth gangs.
A white gang called the “Gowanus Boys,” were one of these active groups who caught the attention of authorities. They were selected by the Youth Board for needing assistance and a worker was assigned to them who later wrote a book of his experiences called All the Way Down: The Violent Underworld of Street Gangs.
Sometimes called “Gowanus,” and later the “Gowanus Stompers” and “Gowanus Juniors,” they were a very active gang, especially in their fights against their rival the Dragons. And just for kicks, they ventured further afield and fought the Sand Street Angels in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, north of Fort Greene. A lot of the fights were a result of the construction of the Gowanus Houses which replaced decrepit tenements that were too run-down for the City’s liking. Black and Puerto Ricans moved into the new public housing and fights with the Irish, Italians and Pollocks flared up.
The book is an intriguing glimpse into life as a Youth Board worker and the trials and tribulations both the worker and the Gowanus Boys experienced. Some of his stories are very sad and he gives a look into the troubles and thought processes of the Gowanus Boys. I have always found looking at the inner thoughts and feelings of those in the gang very interesting. Not everybody wants to talk about their feelings; some are very forthcoming with their experiences, and other clam up. Just a few days ago I found an absolutely fascinating questionnaire that a member of the Gowanus gang from 1947-1948 completed at 19 years of age in December 1956. Here are the questions and answers, they speak for themselves: