Known for its Romanesque and Renaissance Revival architecture, Sunset Park, part of the western section of Brooklyn, also is known for another architectural first. The neighborhood is home to the city’s first Finnish cooperative.
Bounded by Park Slope and Greenwood Heights to the north, Borough Park to the east, Bay Ridge to the south, and Upper New York Bay to the west, Sunset Park, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, had more than 120,000 residents. By 2010, that number had risen to about 126,000.
While today the neighborhood primarily consists of Puerto Rican, Mexican and Chinese ethnicities, Indians and Hispanics also predominate. Early on, though, an enclave of Norwegians and Finns settled here and made their mark in an area that became known as Finntown.
Finns constructed co-op buildings, opened Finnish-speaking businesses and established community centers, churches, newspapers and political groups. By the 1920s, New York was home to roughly 20,000 people who identified themselves as having Finnish heritage. Now that number has dwindled to about 3,500. They settled in Sunset Park to work in the shipbuilding industry and Scandinavians were a major population group up until about the 1980s.
There actually were two Finntowns in New York. The first was in East Harlem, where a stretch of 125th Street between Fifth Avenue and Harlem River was home to Finnish businesses during the first half of the 20th century. There were jewelry shops, clothing stores and restaurants, a bakery and a beauty parlor, making the newcomers feel at home.