Venetian Elegance: The Prospect Park Boathouse

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The boathouse in Prospect Park, now home of the first urban Audubon Center.

 

Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s natural-wonder gem, is a fantastic funscape of outdoorsy things to do, including biking, hiking, walking, running, ball playing, sunbathing, picnicking, sledding, cross-country skiing, and more. There are also many structures throughout the park that offer even more: the playgrounds, the zoo, the band shell, the Lakeside skating center, the carousel, and the Lefferts House museum. Not to be overlooked is the boathouse, home to the first urban Audubon Center in the country.

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A late nineteenth century post card picturing the original boathouse.

The Audubon Center has been a tenant of the boathouse since the structure’s last renovation, in 2000. Prospect Park is in a designated Important Bird Area, or IBA (an actual thing), and is in the migratory path of literally hundreds of species of birds traveling through in the spring and fall. The center offers programs and instructional aids regarding these and the many local birds found in Prospect Park.

The boathouse was built in 1905, replacing a more rustic structure dating from the opening of the park in 1867. The original building stood on the edge of the Lullwater section of the park’s water course, making it an easy boarding area into the rental boats. The current structure, designed by Frank Helmle and Ulrich Huberty, is a two-story Beaux Arts-style beauty based on the Library of St. Mark in Venice. It features a long row of arched floor-to-ceiling French doors on the first floor and a terraced second floor with an awning-covered porch on the west side. Outside, there are white terra cotta eaves, and on the inside, gorgeous tiled vaulted ceilings on the first floor. A lullwater (usually put more bluntly as deadwater, but Prospect Park is a happy place) is an area of barely moving water, and these are great places for algae to grow. As a result, the water in front of the boathouse is often covered with thick algae blooms.

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Undated photo of the boathouse, from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection, via the Gowanus Lounge.

After the second World War, as the entire city fell into the post-war doldrums of the 1950s and ’60s, the boathouse fell into disrepair, was put to varied city-agency uses, and was eventually closed. It came very close to being razed in 1968, with the bulldozers scheduled, when, after months of hard work, it was saved by preservationists under the new (1966) Landmarks law just 48 hours before demolition was to begin. When you see this stunning structure and its environs today, it’s agonizing to think that it was just two days away from disappearing forever. The boathouse was one of the very first buildings to receive landmark status.

Now, two renovations since its rescue, the boathouse  has become one of the most popular destinations in the park. The immediate area around it is beautiful, with the lullwater bridge in front and the recently made over Lakeside area just to the south. Besides the Audubon Center, the boathouse doubles as a venue for weddings, receptions, and private parties. There are often boats paddling by in the Lullwater, but those are rented now at Lakeside on the lake proper.

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Algae blooms are common in the lullwater in front of the boathouse.

The next time you spend a day in Prospect Park, be sure to stop by the boathouse. You can walk, you can bike, or you can glide past in a pedal boat. No matter what your mode of travel, be sure to snap a few pictures of the magnificent Prospect Park Boathouse.

The Audubon Center is open Thursday and Friday, Noon – 5:00 p.m. and weekends 10:00 a.m.- 1:00 p.m.

 


 

Free Summer Fun in Brooklyn

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Free fun in Brooklyn this summer.

Okay, it’s Fourth of July week, and so summer 2018 is well under way. Temps are in the 90s, and night times can be steamy. But, despite the heat, we can’t think of too many things to do on a summer day or evening than take a swim or catch an outdoor concert or movie, and there are plenty of places to do all that here in Brooklyn, and all for free. Have a look at our quick rundown of just some of the free fun you can have this summer right here in Brooklyn.

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Fireworks over the beach at Coney Island. See them in person every Friday night at 9:30 through August.

Fireworks: Every Friday evening at 9:30 on the beach at Coney Island. Spend the whole day and wrap it up with a bang or go just for a beer and a blast. Take a blanket and sit on the beach. Offshore, you’ll see the lights of a dozen or more yachts, outboards, and party boats looming in the dark, anchored in wait for the display, which is well worth the trip. The show is a good twenty minutes of loud bangs and bright lights, with a finale that dazzles every time. Before and after, the boardwalk and amusement parks are open for additional thrills.

Music: We’ve already told you about the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival at the Prospect Park band shell, currently in its fortieth year. Organized by BRIC Arts Media, it is the concert series in Brooklyn, and one of the leading summer series in all of New York. It runs Thursday – Saturday through August 11. The full schedule can be found here.

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Celebrate Brooklyn! offers world-class entertainers in a world-class venue. Come join the fun this summer.

On a much more modest scale, the Red Shed Community Garden produces a monthly music event June through August. Coming up on Sat., July 14, are Avant Jardin, Chris McIntyre, and the Demapping Group Providence Research Ensemble, and on Sat. August 4, Charles Waters and a special Chicago guest, yet unannounced. Performances are 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., Red Shed Garden 211 Skillman Ave., Bushwick

Movies:  There are at least four weekly outdoor movie series happening across Brooklyn, including

SummerScreen in McCarren Park, Williamsburg/Greenpoint, Wednesday, July 11 – August 29, 6:00 – 10:30 p.m. Live music preshow; food and beverages available or bring your own. Screenings this year will be Jawbreaker, When Harry Met Sally, Love & Basketball, Hackers, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Die Hard, and This is Spinal Tap.

Red Hook Flicks at Valentino Pier, Red Hook, Tuesdays, July 10 – August 28. This series has a great lineup of films, including Harold and Kumar go to White Castle, Creed, Captain Underpants, Roadhouse, Hairspray, Silence of the Lambs, Coco, and Dr. Strangelove.

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Free movie night at Transmitter Park, Greenpoint. There are free movies being shown all around Brooklyn this summer.

SummerSTARZ at Transmitter Park in Greenpoint, Friday July 6 – August 10. 8:00 – 10:00 p.m. Bring your own picnic! Screenings will be The Lego Batman Movie, Inside Out, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Coco, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Black Panther

A Summer Movie Under the Stars in Prospect Park’s Long meadow, Wednesday, July 18 – August 8. Shows start at 7:00 p.m. with pre-screening live music and activities. Scheduled flicks are The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, West Side Story, and Space Jam.

Another quick series, Movies Under the Stars, sponsored by the Parks Department, is scheduled to show six films in the first two weeks of July at various locations around the borough. (The series is in full swing throughout the city).

Other free film events include

The Cinema Garden Party’s showing of Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, Friday, July 7 at 7:30 p.m. at the First Quincy Street Community Garden on Quincy Street between Tompkins and Throop Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Rooftop Films’ presentation of an anthology of Sundance Short Films on July 19 and a screening of Pick of the Litter on August 23, 8:00 p.m., both events on the Central Lawn in Ft. Greene Park, DeKalb Avenue and Washington Park (Cumberland Street).

A Wrinkle in Time, presented by the Wyckoff House Museum in Canarsie, Fidler-Wyckoff House Park, Thursday July 26 at 8:00 p.m. PRE-REGISTRATION REQUIRED at Eventbrite.

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The public pool at Sol Goldberg Rec Center in Red Hook is one of the largest in the city.

Swimming: The NYC Parks Department’s outdoor pools are open, so jump in! Red Hook’s Sol Goldberg Rec Center; D&D (Third Avenue between Degraw and Douglass) in Gowanus; McCarren Park in Williamsburg/Greenpoint; Kosciuszko Pool, Marcy and DeKalb Avenues, Bed-Stuy; Bushwick Pool, Humboldt Street and Bushwick Avenue; Sunset Pool in sunset park, 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue; and elsewhere around the borough. Pools are open from 11:00 – 3:00 and 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. You must have a bathing suit and a lock to get in. White shirts only in the pool area.

This is definitely not an exhaustive catalog of free things to do in Brooklyn this summer, but it will give you a lot to start with. Enjoy your summer!

 


 

The New York Transit Museum

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Left to Right: A trolley car, circa 1947, a group picture of women trolley car operators during World War II, and on a trolley car in the same era. Pictures at the New York Transit Museum.

 

These are not the best of times for the New York City subway system. Underfunded by the State of New York, an outrage every New Yorker should be up in arms over, including $100 million in funded money rerouted by the governor to pay off MTA debt interest that the state should be paying, an outrage every New Yorker should be livid about, the system experiences dozens of problems effecting hundreds of thousands of riders daily. The general long-time neglect of the system was compounded by the flooding of most of the tunnels under the East River and Newtown Creek, as well as damage to the causeway across Jamaica Bay, during hurricane Sandy, nearly six years ago already. Repairs are made nightly and during every weekend, with trains rerouted or suspended, creating a nightmare for New Yorkers and a complete game of chance for tourists and other visitors.

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A subway car on the IRT, with rattan seats and a colorful floor. Electric fans hanging from the ceiling provided the only air flow in summer.

 That said, our subway is one of the best, most complex subway systems in the world, with 424 stations covering more than 236 miles throughout the five boroughs. You can get just about anywhere in the city on the trains, either directly or via transferring from one line to another, and if there is an issue on one of the lines, there’s usually a way to reroute trains around the problem or jump on another train and get close to where you intended to go.

 We love the New York City subway system. If you do, too, do yourself a big favor and head over to Downtown Brooklyn and spend an afternoon at the New York Transit Museum, an underground treasure trove of subway history and memorabilia housed in the decommissioned Court Street station of the IND system, with an entrance at the northwest corner of Schermerhorn Street and Boerum Place.

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Another car, from the 1960s. Many of these cars were in use through the 1980s and into the 90s. See it at the Transit Museum!

 Once in the station, on the mezzanine level you’ll find exhibits on the construction of the subway system (which opened in 19040, on early streetcars and trains, including models and photos, the damage and reconstruction to the system from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy (still ongoing six years later), and the effects of the 9/11 attack. Currently, there’s a large temporary exhibit on the subway in the comics, including in comic books, magazines, and newspaper comics pages

Down on track level, there is the permanent, though ever-changing display of old railroad cars, some recent, some dating to the 60s, 50s, 40s, 30s, and even back to the separate Brooklyn Rapid Transit company, which predated the BMT.

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A murky photo of devastation at a lower Manhattan subway station after Hurricane Sandy, on view at the New York Transit Museum.

The museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Admission is: $10, Adults; $5, Children 2-17; $5 Seniors 62+. Active-duty military personnel get in free. If you love the subway, warts, hiccups, and all, you must make a visit to the New York Transit Museum.

 

 

 

 


 

The Montauk Club

 

 

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The Montauk Club building at 25 Eighth Avenue, corner of Lincoln Place, in Park Slope.

 

Private men’s clubs have been popular among the elite class in New York City almost since the city’s establishment. The first in New York, the Union Club, was founded in 1836. Others followed, including (in no particular order) the Harmonie Club, the Knickerbocker Club, the Players Club, the Union Club, the Yale Club, and on and on. What they all have in common is exclusivity and a pretension to status.

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The dining room of the Montauk Club.

 

There were similar clubs in Brooklyn, including the Carleton Club, which stood at Sixth Avenue and St. Mark’s Place in Park Slope. In 1888 a number of dissatisfied Carleton Club members began organizing a club of their own, which became the Montauk Club, incorporated in 1889.  One of the founders, a broker named Leonard Moody, gave the money for the down payment on the site for the club at 25 Eighth Avenue, and the architect Francis H. Kimball was contracted to design and construct the clubhouse, which is a Venetian Gothic-style building. It’s windows with pointed arches and Quatrefoil design are direct copies of those in the Palazzo Santa Sofia (the Ca d’Oro) on the Grand Canal in Venice. Just a stone’s throw from Grand Army Plaza, this is one of the most striking and well-known buildings in Park Slope, and maybe in all of Brooklyn.

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The rear of the Montauk Club, facing Plaza Street near Grand Army Plaza.

The building extends from Eighth Avenue to Plaza Street. The basement had a bowling alley and a café. In front of the building, a stone stairway still leads to the front of the first floor from Eighth Avenue. To the left of that, a smaller set of stairs rose to the ladies’ entrance to the building. The first floor contained a grand reception room, a reading room, and a café. The second floor had two billiard rooms, as that was a popular game at the turn of the twentieth century, a buffet, two card rooms, and the club’s board rooms.

A large dining room, partitioned into three sections, took up most of the third floor, and a separate ladies’ dining room overlooked Eighth Avenue and Lincoln Place. A separate Ladies’ reception room was here, too. The fourth floor had the kitchen and, along Lincoln Place, six apartments used by visitors and members. Those visitors could sit in the designated “Jolly Room,” a sitting room in the rear of the building on this floor. The six apartments shared one bathroom with two toilets, two tubs, and two sinks. Above that, the area of the attic that had been finished had a laundry as well as quarters for servants.

Like so many other buildings in Park Slope, the Montauk Club property converted to a condominium, in 1996. The club took the basement and the first two floors, and the third, fourth, and attic floors are private residences.

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Many TV shows and movies have used the Montauk Club as a location, including Boardwalk Empire, shown here. photo: Macall B. Polay / © HBO / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Today, 139 years after incorporation, the Montauk Club carries on. From inception it has always been a social club, and so has no overarching mission. New members are welcome. Sponsorship is not required, though the club has a membership committee and there is a space on the application to name people you know, so applying for membership is no guarantee of acceptance. The cost of membership is not little but is quite a bit less than that for most of the Manhattan private clubs. For members, the club is available for weddings, receptions, and private parties. Non-members can book space there, but membership is part of the price tag. The members-only dining room is open Wednesday-Sunday, and the menu, which changes weekly, is very inviting.

If hob-knobbing with other Brooklyn social ariveés over diner in private dining rooms is your thing, the Montauk Club is definitely worth your investigation. “Affordable,” friendly, welcoming, and in a unique, elegant setting, the Montauk Club could be just what you’re looking for.

 


 

Celebrate Brooklyn! Forty years of Entertainment

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Celebrate Brooklyn! offers audiences world-class entertainers in a world-class venue. Come join the fun this summer in Prospect Park.

 

We try to celebrate Brooklyn every day. In Prospect Park, the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival of free music, dance, and movies has been celebrating and entertaining people from Brooklyn and beyond for 39 years. Their fortieth season opened last night (June 5) and will be showcasing artists of many varied genres on weekends through August 11. Get there!

The rapper / / / Common headlined last night’s opening concert, and the Mexican-American rock band Los Lobos will perform Sunday (June 10) at 3:00. Future concerts feature well-known artists including The Jayhawks, Aimee Mann, SuperChunk, Branford Marsalis, Mala Rodriguez, Kronos Quartet, Anoushka Shankar, Brandi Carlyle, BADBADNOTGOOD, Tarrus Riley, and the Breeders. That’s just a partial lineup of the summer music, and it’s all free! (Ushers at the gate will ask for a small donation. You don’t have to give, but please do.)

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Many concerts draw crowds from all over the city and the extended metro area.

If you’re in the neighborhood and don’t want to spend the evening, the park is open, and plenty of folks stand along the perimeter road behind the fence at the back of the audience, and/or sit in the grass across the road. Inside the gates, there are food and beverage tents serving the usual festival-style fare.

In addition to the free concerts, there will be a handful of benefit concerts for which tickets cost money. These will feature the Decembrists, Vance Joy, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and Jason Mraz. A privacy fence is put up around the audience for the paid-for concerts. No roadside views available.

The full schedule for the summer is at https://www.bricartsmedia.org/events-performances/bric-celebrate-brooklyn-festival.

Besides Celebrate Brooklyn!, the BRIC organization runs a public exhibition space in Downtown Brooklyn, called BRIC House, which has a glass-enclosed TV studio that is used for BRIC TV, a public access TV channel featuring community programming; two performance spaces; and work spaces for artists. The organization also offers support for artists and media creators.

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This is the 40th continuous year of the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival, organized by the BRIC organization.

The Celebrate Brooklyn! venue, the Prospect Park band shell, is on the west side of the park between the 9th street and 11th Street entrances and not far from the 15th Street entrance at Bartell-Pritchard Square. The nearest train stations are the F and G Seventh Avenue station, exit at 9th Street and 8th Avenue, one block away from the band shell, and at 15th Street-Prospect Park, exit at Bartell-Pritchard Square, 15th Street and Prospect Park West (9th Avenue). The band shell is wheelchair accessible, performances are rain or shine, and all ages are welcome, <1 and up (but note: the music is often loud).

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The Prospect Park band shell has state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, and many nights hosts crowds of thousands.

The band shell was built in 1939 and renovated in 1983 and again in 1998-99. It has state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems and is in an environment that can’t be beat.

If you’ve never been to Celebrate Brooklyn!, check the schedule and make a point of coming out this year. Whether you’re coming from Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, Long Island, or from anywhere around the world, it’s well worth the trip.(https://www.bricartsmedia.org/events-performances/bric-celebrate-brooklyn-festival)

Travel Tip: Subway, biking (bike check station at 11th Street entrance), or walking is best. Park Slope doesn’t have a glut of parking spaces on non-concert nights. When crowds come in, fugeddaboutit.

 


 

Brooklyn’s Historical Mega Breweries

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The Schaefer Beer Brewery on the bank of the East River in Williamsburg.

 

Beer here! Right here in Brooklyn. The borough is a major center of hops mashing and beer brewing, and the industry is growing rapidly. These days, the borough is dotted with microbreweries, with popular beers cooking in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Gowanus, Greenpoint, Red Hook, and even Coney Island. Some are big, like Brooklyn Brewery, the first and probably best-known of the present-day crop, but most are small, like Threes Brewing in Gowanus and Greenpoint Beer and Ale, the latter of which makes their beer just five barrels at a time.

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A promotional sign for Piels beer, featuring the marketing characters Burt and Harry Piels.

Today’s local brews continue a long tradition of beer brewing in Brooklyn. In the mid-nineteenth century, the politics of Europe sent many German immigrants to the United States, and they brought their taste and talent in beer with them. Many settled in Greenpoint and East New York, and by the turn of the twentieth century there were almost 50 active microbreweries in the borough. Those small labels had to compete with what became the three major-label beers that were brewed in Brooklyn in the last century: Schaefer, Piels, and Rheingold. For several decades those three large Brooklyn breweries pumped out beers that quenched the thirst of the entire east coast.

During the prohibition era, most of the micro taps went dry. The larger companies limped through the era selling legal “near beer.” When America’s dry period ended, the larger companies ramped up production quickly, and Schaefer and Rheingold beers were popular again from Maine to Florida and as far west as Ohio. The Piels brothers’ pale lager, brewed in East New York, was popular throughout New York and south to at least Philadelphia.

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The Miss Rheingold contest captivated New Yorkers throughout the 1940s and ’50s.

The Rheingold brewery took up several blocks in Bushwick on Forrest and Stanwix Streets from 1854 until 1976. At its peak, the brand had a 35 percent market share in New York City. More than for its beer, Rheingold is most remembered for its annual Miss Rheingold contest, a marketing phenomenon that allowed customers to vote for one of six finalists for the crown. In 1956, over 23 million votes were cast into ballot boxes in bars, beer distributors, grocery stores, and wherever beer was sold. (Voting multiple times was allowed.) The contest ran from 1940 to 1964. By that time, the company was feeling the pinching encroachment of the national brands that eventually forced all three of Brooklyn’s mega-breweries out of business, and the annual cost of running the contest–$8 million at one point, about $60 million today–became more than the company could afford.

Over in Williamsburg, the Schaefer brewery sat on the East River at Kent Avenue and South 10th Street, which became known as Schaefer’s Landing. Schaefer began production in Manhattan, on Broadway and 18th Street, in 1842, but the popularity of the Schaefers’ lager beer, which was a new type of beer to America at the time, caused the company to outgrow Manhattan, and they moved to Brooklyn in 1916, just four years before the start of prohibition. The company survived and grew to be the fifth largest brewer in the country in 1950 and again in 1970. Over the years, the company had built breweries in Albany and Baltimore, and in the 1970s opened a modern plant near Allentown, PA. The company then began closing its older, less efficient breweries, and the Brooklyn plant shut down in 1976, the same year as Rheingold’s Brooklyn factory finally shut down. By 1981, despite remaining a popular brand, the company sold out to the Detroit-based Stroh Brewing Co.

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The Piels Beer sign over its East New York brewery was the largest beer sign in the world when it went up and featured a gnome bowling in neon lights.

The Piels Factory, at Georgia and Liberty Avenues, through years of modernization and innovation, became world renown, attracting visiting brewmasters and scientists who came to examine the refrigeration and storage techniques developed by the Piels brothers. In 1936, the company installed the largest beer sign in the world on the roof of their brewery, complete with neon lighting.

These three breweries were as big as any in the country for several years, but through the 1950s, the Midwest beer companies, including the big three Miller, Anheuser-Busch, and Pabst, found it easier to ship to the growing West Coast market than could the East Coast breweries. Conquering that area, they could pump unlimited advertising dollars into the new and burgeoning TV advertising industry, and by the late 1960s had knocked our locals off their stride. After a change in ownership in 1963, the Piels brewery shuttered in September 1973, having been in continuous operation for ninety years. Schaefer bought the rights to the Piels name and continued the brand for another dozen or more years until their sale to Stroh, which went down in the 1990s and licensed the Piels name to Pabst, which kept it alive until 2015.

When Schaefer closed its Brooklyn brewery in 1976, it ended a 134-year run of commercial beer making in Brooklyn. Twenty years later, the Brooklyn Brewery opened, also in Williamsburg, and ushered in a new era of microbrewing here. Today there are once again dozens of craft beers brewed in the borough, and there are rights holders working on bringing back both the Piels and Rheingold brands. We can only hope for now that if and when they come back, they will be brewed right here in Brooklyn.

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The logos of Brooklyn’s historical big three beer brewers.

 


 

Bed-Stuy’s Many Neighborhoods

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The Hunterfly Road Houses are the last remaining vestige of Weeksville, one of the largest free black enclaves in America in the years leading up to the Civil War.

 

The city of Brooklyn grew from six smaller towns established by the Dutch and English settlers who were the first Europeans to come into the area. Eventually, those towns, Brooklyn, Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, and New Utrecht, through various reformations and annexations throughout the 1800s, consolidated into what is now the borough of Brooklyn.

As with the borough, many of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods are divided into smaller areas with their own names and histories, none more famously than Bedford-Stuyvesant. As this area’s name implies, this is a neighborhood of neighborhoods. Bedford, dating to 1662, was a village within the township of Brooklyn.

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Stuyvesant Heights in the early days of the twentieth century.

Bedford was captured by the British early in the Revolutionary War and held to the end of that conflict. In the 1830s the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad opened, linking Bedford to the Atlantic Avenue ferries to Manhattan. The ease of access to the larger city made the Brooklyn an attractive destination for upper-crust Manhattanites looking to escape the expense, bustle, and noise there. (The wheel of time turns full circle.) These newcomers, not necessarily wanting to mingle with the lower-status “natives,” built their own fancier enclave a bit southeast of Bedford, which they named Stuyvesant Heights. They also built beautiful homes, a few of which still grace this section of Brooklyn, and that’s not counting the many brownstone row houses that line the streets of the entire Bed-Stuy area. The most well-known of the new residents was F.W. Woolworth, a retailer who made a fortune in a business that at one time had stores on virtually every Main Street in America.

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A map of the Weeksville area, which extends from Bed-Stuy down into what today is Crown Heights.

Also in the 1830s, James Weeks, a free black man, bought a mass of acreage east of Stuyvesant Heights and divided it into plots that he sold to other black families. He named his development Weeksville. In the decade before the Civil War, Weeksville was the second largest community for free blacks in the country. It remained as a separate neighborhood into the 1930s, before being redeveloped virtually out of existence by growth of the entire borough, including the Bed-Stuy neighborhood, which at that time extended well south of Atlantic Avenue. (Most of what was Weeksville lies in what today is the eastern end of Crown Heights.) Four historic cottage buildings of the original area are all that remain, and they have been restored as the Hunterfly Road Houses, on Bergen Street between Buffalo and Rochester Avenues, which you can tour through the Weeksville Heritage Center.

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Ocean Hill was a mostly Italian neighborhood in 1930. This photo show members of the Società Immacolata Concezione di Calitri outside Our Lady of Loreto church.

Around 1890 or so, the Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights neighborhoods became conjoined into Bedford-Stuyvesant. In recent years, the Heights name has been brought back to life with the gentrification of the whole of Bed-Stuy, both via a designation as a historic district and by real estate brokers who want to differentiate these blocks from the better-known and perhaps less attractive Bed-Stuy. Also in 1890, the eastern area of Stuyvesant Heights became its own section, keeping the heights vibe with the name Ocean Hill. Now more closely associated with Brownsville to the east, Ocean Hill remains officially a subsection of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Until the 1960s it was an Italian neighborhood, but in the post-World War II years of suburban sprawl, the neighborhood became a center of Afro-Caribbean culture. Today, the area is experiencing gentrification creep coming from the western sections of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick. And, Ocean Hill has a subsection of its own, Broadway Junction, the area surrounding the IND subway station from which the area takes its moniker.

So, whether you’re dropping the names Stuyvesant Heights, Weeksville, Ocean Hill, Broadway Junction, or Bed-Stuy, you’re talking about Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the most iconic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn.

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A map of Bedford-Stuyvesant showing the names of the area’s numerous subsections.

 


Plymouth Church, Brooklyn Hts: An Historic Beacon for Civil Rights

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The façade of Plymouth Church on Orange Street, c. 1934.

 

One of the largest and historically most important churches in Brooklyn is almost hidden away on tiny Orange Street in Brooklyn Heights. Plymouth Church, a Congregationalist parish established in 1847, was led for forty years by the orator and fierce abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, one of the loudest voices and most active people in America’s struggle against slavery in the years before the Civil War. This simple yet beautiful church, which opened in January of 1850, holds upwards of 2,500 people. It was built so large specifically to hold the crowds who came to hear Beecher preach, and from its opening was consistently packed with parishioners and visitors from across Brooklyn and from across the East River who came to hear Beecher’s thoughts not just on slavery, but on life and the human condition.

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The interior of Plymouth Church, with the pipes of the Aeolian-Skinner organ rising high above the chancel.

Putting his words into practice, Beecher used the church as a major stop on the underground railroad, helping to move runaway slaves from the south through the northern states to Canada and freedom. A tunnel under the nave was used to hide slaves during their layover at the church, which became known as “the Grand Central Depot.” The preacher encouraged his flock to join his active efforts to free slaves, and even held “slave auctions” in the church, where parishioners could bid to buy the freedom of slaves. In addition, Beecher brought in many abolitionist guest speakers, such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Charles Sumner, to promote their cause.

In February of 1860, the church invited Abraham Lincoln to speak to the congregation. Lincoln came and attended a service, and the pew where he sat has a small marker noting the seat’s history. (Lincoln’s speech was moved at the last minute to the auditorium at Cooper Union in Manhattan to assure a large crowd.) Another great speaker and civil rights champion, the Reverend Martin Luther King, spoke at the church in February of 1963.

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The shrine to Henry Ward Beecher in the garden of Plymouth Church, with the relief of Lincoln to the left.

Plymouth Church merged with a nearby Congregational parish, the Church of the Pilgrims, in 1934, and the full name of the church now is Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims. The building achieved National Historic Landmark stature in 1961.

One of the church’s main interior physical features is its beautiful organ, an Aeolian-Skinner with what those who know about these things call an “American Classic” sound. Originally installed in 1904, it was refurbished in the 1990s. A well-known exterior feature is the statue of Henry Ward Beecher in the garden area just west of the church proper. Nearby is a relief of Lincoln at the church. Both were sculpted by the same man who created the Mt. Rushmore presidential monument, Gutzon Borglum. Ironically, Borglum was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Today, this active church is extending its history in promoting and working for civil rights, with programs against human trafficking called the New Abolitionists, and the Racial Justice Ministry, a program of both action and reflection in the name of ending racism “in ourselves, and our society.

Next time you’re in Brooklyn Heights, whether heading for the promenade or Brooklyn Bridge Park, take a few minutes to walk down Orange Street and have a look at an important piece of American History, Plymouth Church.

 


 

The Myrtle Avenue M Train Viaduct Rebuild is Complete, On Time and On Budget — Amazin’

MTA Photo 2 During 600w

The reconstruction of the M Train viaduct east of Myrtle Avenue. It was completed on time and on budget, an almost unheard of circumstance for MTA projects.

 

On time and under budget; a phrase sweeter to any project manager than anything ever written by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, or any poet ever. Astonishingly, it applies to the rebuild of the Myrtle Avenue M train viaduct in Bushwick and the Fresh Pond Bridge by the Queens terminus.

Myrtle Ave Viaduct drawing

This drawing shows the viaduct rebuild area and adjacent buildings.

 

For the past ten months or so, M train riders have been taking shuttle buses from the Broadway and Myrtle Avenue stop to the end of the line in Middle Village, Queens. This inconvenience was due to the reconstruction of the viaduct carrying the trains turning between Broadway and Myrtle Avenues just east of the Myrtle Avenue station and the rebuilding of the Fresh Pond bridge in Queens.

MTA Photo 4 Close PRoximity Before and AFter

Note the close proximity of residential buildings in these before and after shots of the reconstruction (facing opposite directions).

Both sections of the railway are over 100 years old, and both had the original track laid. No longer. There’s 600 feet of new track, 700 feet of new third rail, and new signals and electric cables. The project was due to be completed by the end of April, and sure enough, today, April 30th, the line reopened, at a cost within the $163 million budgeted. The MTA has a time-lapse video of the rebuilding on its Web site.

Because of the project’s close proximity to both residential and commercial buildings, people in those buildings had to be relocated during the endeavor. The MTA helped in their relocation and in fact paid the rent due on the apartments and stores while the tenants were out. Now that the project is complete, those tenants will be allowed home again.

That’s the good news. The bad news: At 12:24 p.m., approximately seven hours after it opened, the line suffered a severe service stoppage when a switch blew at the Myrtle Avenue station. Hours later, M train service was completely down from W 4th Street in Manhattan all the way out to Middle Village. Can’t anybody here play this game?

 


 

Flatbush’s “Little” Neighborhood War

Erasmus High Hall

Flatbush and Church Avenues, in the heart of both Little Haiti and Little Caribbean. Which will it be? (Image subject is Erasmus High School, which is not involved in the neighborhood designation dispute.)

 

As in all cities (and boroughs), New York’s immigrants, especially upon first arrival, have tended to congregate in specific neighborhoods, and in time these areas have become identified with the groups that have come together there. Those inside and out of each neighborhood often come to refer to it as Little X, such as Little Italy in Manhattan and Little Odessa here in Brooklyn. For those within the neighborhood, the moniker can be a source of ethnic or expat pride.

Little Caribbean map 350w

A map from the CaribBEING Web site showing the approved Little Caribbean neighborhood.

For the past six months or so, there has been a bit of a dustup going on in Flatbush, where local groups with the backing of Borough President Eric Adams and the Flatbush Nostrand Junction BID got approval last year to name the area along Flatbush Avenue from Empire Boulevard to Nostrand Avenue, an almost thirty-block stretch, Little Caribbean. Such approvals are given by the city council, and the Little Caribbean designation was apparently greenlighted by councilman Jumaane Williams’ office. That didn’t sit well with assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte, who, in a September 27th letter to Mayor De Blasio, asked to have the official designation put on hold. She is hoping to have a separate designation of a “Little Haiti” within the same area.

Bichotte, the first Haitian-American in the New York State assembly, says there had been conversations about a Little Haiti designation well before any for a Little Caribbean. However, a six-year-old organization called CaribBEING, led by founder Shelley V. Worrell, has been pushing the Little Caribbean agenda for going on three years. Bichotte claims that the Little Haiti name was first proposed a decade ago.

Little Caribbean w Little Haiti copy

This map shows the very unofficial boundaries of both Little Caribbean (in blue) and Little Haiti (in gray).

The affair heated up when a local community activist, Ernest Skinner, sent a public response via e-mail to Bichotte and other officials on both sides of the issue asking why there needed to be a Little Haiti separate from Little Caribbean. “When did Haiti stop being part of the Caribbean?” he asked, following that up with some disparaging remarks about the country and its historic place in the world and, more specifically, the West Indies. Bichotte demanded an apology and noted that Skinner’s remarks showed why Haitians often feel excluded from the Caribbean community and want their own separate designation within the Little Caribbean area. [Note: To our knowledge, no one associated with CaribBEING has taken any part in any name-calling.]

Councilman Williams appealed for a “more fruitful dialogue” and hopes to work with all involved to get designations for both Little Haiti and Little Caribbean. Bichotte, in her letter to the mayor, stated she and her Haitian supporters wanted the Little Haiti designation to be approved before that of Little Caribbean. The struggle continues.

“Little” neighborhood designations are all about national and cultural pride. So is the infighting. We’re all for national and cultural pride when it’s conducted in a positive way. Yet, throughout history, how many wars have been fought, how many people have died, over just these?