On August 22, 1972 the normally quiet strip on Avenue P between Ocean Parkway and McDonald Avenue took center stage in a hot summer drama that is still remembered today.
John Wojtowicz and Sal Naturile attempted to rob a Chase Manhattan Bank on the corner of East 3rd Street and Avenue P. The robbery led to a hostage situation, a 12-hour standoff with police, and a ride to the airport that ended in Naturile’s death.
This story has been made famous by the Sidney Lumet film Dog Day Afternoon starring Al Pacino. The original Time Magazine article about the robbery, “The Boys in the Bank,” was the basis for the screenplay and can be found here.
Former bank teller and Vietnam Veteran Wotjowicz, portrayed in the film by Pacino, was motivated to rob the bank because he needed money for Ernest Aron’s (his boyfriend) sex change operation. For the crime, he served 20 years in prison.
This may be the most dramatic incident to ever take place on this small stretch of the avenue.
The intersection on Avenue P and East 3rd Street is now a quiet hub in the Orthodox Jewish community. It is a predominantly Syrian Jewish neighborhood bordering Gravesend. Today, the area feels calm and somewhat empty with most of the residents having gone to the shore during the summer months.
450 Avenue P was most recently a medical center but is currently vacant. The sides of the building are covered in graffiti and the parking lot is full of weeds. Neighboring the now vacant building is a kosher sushi restaurant, a florist that is closed for the summer and a Middle Eastern grocery.
One longtime resident of the area, Claire Lesser of 1500 Ocean Parkway, remembers returning from work 40 years ago and not being able to take her regular route home.
“I normally got off the train and walked down Avenue P,” recalled Lesser. “But they had closed off the streets because of the commotion so I had to go up East 2nd and walk down Avenue O.”
Directly across the street from the former bank is Edward’s Hair Salon located at 455 Avenue P. Edward’s now caters to immigrants of Russian and Israeli decent. One of the oldest barbers in Edward’s is Sal Cannarella.
Cannarella started working at the barber shop three months after the attempted robbery. He heard many stories from his co-workers at what was then called Dino’s Barber Shop. The FBI used Dino’s to stage their negotiations until Dino’s was ready to close for the night, then the FBI had to move to a different barber shop on the corner.
Cannarella recalled when Wotjowicz was released from prison, “he came with a Canadian camera crew, and went in the bank and asked to be security there.”
“The gay was in the car too,” he added, referring to Elizabeth Eden, Aron’s post-op girlfriend’s name and the muse of the robbery.
The barbers at Dino’s also played a prank on the bank when after the incident they sent in their shoe shine wearing a ski mask. The bank staff pushed the panic button and police once again flooded the avenue.
Cannarella recalled that many of the businesses have changed since the robbery.
He said, “There used to be a luncheonette, a butcher shop, a bakery and a fish store on the block, but they are all gone.”
Cannarella also mentioned that Frank’s Pizza, further down the block at 424 Avenue P was the pizza place that served the robbers and the hostages during the standoff.
When asked about the events on the block 40 years ago, Vito Cusumano, the new owner of Frank’s Pizza, simply replied, “It was a long time ago.”