7. Remnants of Sunset Park’s Finnish history remain
Before Sunset Park’s Chinatown or Little Mexico, Finntown was one of the first ethnic enclaves in the area. The neighborhood had about 10,000 Finnish residents at its peak, with a Finnish-language newspaper and 20 co-ops. The Imatra Society of Brooklyn Finnish immigrants began as a workers’ association and soon after became a community organization in support of Finnish immigrants. A block of 40th Street was nicknamed “Finlandia Street” in 1991.
Much of the history of Finntown has been forgotten, but a handful of buildings remain. Perhaps the most notable are the Alku and Alku Toinen apartments built in 1916 on 43rd Street. The buildings, which translate to “Beginning” and “Beginning Second,” were the first nonprofit housing cooperatives in the entire city. The buildings were constructed in the Arts and Crafts style, and at first, the buildings were regulated by agricultural cooperative standards. Building residents created five principles to govern the building: democratic control, a nonprofit structure, voluntary membership with individual economic participation, and concern for community.