BENSONHURST – The recent 43rd Annual Santa Rosalia Festival, a celebration of Italian-American pride that drew tens of thousands of people to 18th Avenue to munch on sausage sandwiches and rice balls and enjoy rides on the Ferris wheel, was plagued this year by rowdy young people bent on causing trouble, according to police.
Things got so bad that police had to order the street fair to close down early on three of the 10 nights it took place, Capt. Anthony Longobardi, the commanding officer of the 62nd Precinct, told Community Board 11.
“The feast is over. It was taxing, to say the least,” Longobardi told the community board at a meeting on Sept. 12. “We had to shut it down early three nights.”
There was no violence, but things got tense on a couple of nights, mainly due to outside groups coming in and acting in a disruptive fashion, officials said.
Board 11 Chairperson Bill Guarinello said officials will sit down at some point to discuss ways to make the popular street fair safer next year. “We will have a dialogue about it,” he said.
“There was some trouble there this year,” Guarinello added.
The festival, which pays tribute to Santa Rosalia, the patron saint of Palermo, Sicily, took place from Aug. 22 to Sept. 1 on 18th Avenue from 68th Street to Bay Ridge Parkway and featured live music, rides, games and lots of food.
One festival-goer said she was shocked to learn there had been trouble at the street fair. “I went with my children and we had a fabulous time. I think the people who organized the feast do a fantastic job. I never felt like I had to worry about my children’s safety,” the woman told the Home Reporter.
The feast hearkens back to the days when Bensonhurst was predominantly an Italian-American community. In tribute to the Italian-Americans who made Bensonhurst a strong community, New York City co-named a portion of 18th Avenue after Christopher Columbus nearly 30 years ago. New street signs were unveiled on the avenue reading “Cristoforo Colombo Boulevard,” a nod to the Italian version of the explorer’s name.
These days, while Bensonhurst is still home to many Italian-Americans, the neighborhood has become culturally diverse, with Chinese, Russians, Poles, Guatemalans and Middle Eastern residents all making a home there.
Community Board 11, which includes Bensonhurst, Bath Beach, Mapleton and parts of Gravesend, has the highest percentage of immigrants of any community board in Brooklyn, according to a 2018 Community Health Profile study done by the New York City Department of Health. The study found that 56 percent of the residents living in Board 11 were born outside of the U.S.
But even with the cultural changes taking place in Bensonhurst, the Santa Rosalia Festival still draws large crowds to 18th Avenue each year to revel in Italian-American food and culture.
The annual festival is sponsored by the group Figli di Santa Rosalia, which could not be reached for comment.