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.

 


 

Brooklyn’s Very Own Subway Line

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Brooklyn’s G train Crosstown Line station map.

 

It’s the most disparaged subway line in the entire MTA system. “The line to nowhere,” They say. The line is the G train, and They are those who don’t use it. For those who do ride the G, it’s the best train in New York City. The A is known as the 8th Avenue Express and the F is called the 6th Avenue Local. The G is the crosstown line, snaking through Brooklyn from Church Avenue in Kensington north through Greenpoint, with (currently) two stops in Queens and ending at Court Square, without ever going into “The City” on the way. It’s the only non-shuttle subway line that avoids Manhattan.

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Letter tag for the G train.

The G train opened as the GG in 1933 as part of the IND system, using the double-letter code of the day for local trains. It was a simple shuttle between Queens Plaza and Nassau Avenue in Greenpoint, with plans to expand the line further. In 1937 the crosstown line extension to the Culver Line opened, with transfer points to the BMT’s L train at Metropolitan Avenue-Lorimer Street and to the A and C trains at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street Station. The last stop was Smith-9th Streets in Brooklyn, and simultaneously the line was extended in Queens to 71st Avenue in Forest Hills. In 2009, it was extended to Church Avenue during a rehabilitation of the Smith-9th and Fourth Avenue stations, and upon project completion, an outcry of public opinion convinced transit officials to maintain the Kensington terminus rather than cutting the line back again. In 2010, the Queens end of the line was changed to the Court Square interchange with the E, M, and 7 lines.

During its history, the G train has had shifting terminus points at both ends and its car length juggled as ridership numbers ebbed and flowed along with the changing turn-arounds. The line’s nadir was the stretch of time corresponding with New York City’s financial and social troubles in the mid-to-late 1970s. A general lack of basic maintenance resulted in the line’s stations growing dirty and dingy, and service cuts made for long waits in unpleasant and sometimes unsafe conditions. The G train was given a reputation as a line to avoid.

01 Jul 1937, Page 1 - The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s front page on July 1, 1937, announcing the opening of the G train’s Crosstown Line.

With the explosion in population and popularity of Brooklyn in the past thirty years, there has been an increase in people living, working, creating, and hanging out in the borough, with the crowds and high prices in Manhattan becoming what to avoid. Even though the line’s shady reputation remains intact in the minds of many, the G train now boasts a ridership growth that is out-pacing any other line in the MTA system. Service has increased, stations have been rejuvenated, and, for those heading from South Brooklyn to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, or Bushwick, the line is now one of Brooklyn’s best-kept secrets. All that’s needed now is to increase the train length from its current four cars to six.

That’s coming, and more. Many Brooklynites do work in Manhattan, and with the planned renovation of the L train’s Canarsie Tunnel beginning in April of 2019 to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, the 225,000 commuters that use that tube every day will have to find an alternate route to work. G train in 7th AveThat means transferring to the G train, northbound to the E, M, and 7 lines to midtown and southbound to Hoyt-Schermerhorn Streets for the A and C lines to the Financial District. To accommodate an anticipated huge increase in ridership, the MTA plans to add four cars to each train and to add trains, especially during rush hours. The secret will definitely be out, though the perceived inconvenience will probably not change the minds of too many of those new riders that the G train sucks. While they’re riding it, it just might.

For now, and then after, the G train is Brooklyn’s very own subway, and while for many it’s the train to nowhere, for us, it’s Brooklyn’s own, and we love it.

Great Brooklyn neighborhoods and attractions on the G line:

Greenpoint (Greenpoint Avenue; Nassau Avenue Stations)
Brooklyn Bazaar
Sunshine Laundromat
Numerous TV/ Independent Film Production Studios
Greek Theatres/Greek Restaurants

Williamsburg (Metropolitan Avenue; Broadway; Flushing Avenue)
Hip Neighborhood
Eclectic Restaurants
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Transfer to the L to Bushwick

Bed-Stuy (Flushing Avenue; Myrtle-Willoughby Avenues; Bedford-Nostrand)
Gorgeous Brownstones
Billy Holiday Theatre
Home Depot

Clinton Hill (Classon Avenue; Clinton-Washington)
Pratt Institute
St. Joseph’s College NY
Beautiful Neighborhood

Ft Greene (Fulton Street)
BAM
Arts Hub/Cultural Center
Barclays Center
Beautiful Neighborhood

Downtown Brooklyn/Boerum Hill (Hoyt-Schermerhorn Sts.)
City Point Mall
Fulton Street Pedestrian Mall
Macy’s Brooklyn
Downtown High-Rise Construction
MetroTech

Cobble Hill/Boerum Hill (Bergen Street)
Smith Street Restaurant Row (North end)
Trader Joe’s

Carroll Gardens (Carroll Street; Smith-9th Streets)
Beautiful neighborhood
Smith Street Restaurant Row (South end)

Gowanus (Smith-9th Streets; Fourth Avenue-9th Street)
Art Studios
Gowanus Canal
Lowe’s
Whole Foods

Park Slope (Fourth Avenue-9th Streets; Seventh Avenue; 15th St.-Prospect Park)
Prospect Park
Best neighborhood to live in (Time Out NY, 2012)

Windsor Terrace (15th  St.-Prospect Park;, Ft. Hamilton Parkway)
Prospect Park
Low-scale housing

Kensington (Church Avenue)
Eclectic mix of restaurants and people
Kensington Stables
Green-Wood Cemetery

 


 

Crown Heights Mega Development Could Threaten BBG

Spice Factory Rendering from theQatparkside 600w

The proposed development of the old spice factory at 960 Franklin Avenue could cast a giant shadow over the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

They’e ba-ack.

Another mega-development threatens the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and once again the neighborhood is being awoken to the danger by dedicated community watchdogs.

For the third time since 2014 a large development project has been submitted for consideration to Community Board 9. The latest project, from Continuum Company and funded by Lincoln Equities, is proposed for the current site of the old spice factory at Franklin Avenue and Montgomery Place, a stone’s throw from the BBG and tall enough—at least thirty-two stories, and perhaps as high as forty-two—to cast a seven-acre shadow across the garden, including its greenhouses and the Steinhardt Conservatory building housing three special biospheres in climate-controlled environments, all of which would be greatly impacted by the loss of light even for a few hours a day.

Spice Factory Rendering close up

A closer look. The dark upper sections of the proposed buildings are higher than what current zoning allows.

Several neighborhood groups have mobilized against the project, which is in a specially zoned area that limits construction to seven stories, a restriction that was implemented more than twenty-five years ago specifically to protect the BBG from exactly what’s being planned now. Rezoning will require environmental assessments, public notice and response, and approval from multiple city agencies. While that sounds difficult, it’s not uncommon for such how-did-they-let-that-happen projects to be approved.

Last year, another large-scale project, by Cornell Realty and slated for construction at Crown and Carroll Streets, was put on hold when the community objected to its scale, which mid-process morphed from four seven-story buildings to a 500-unit, 175-foot-tall, two-tower behemoth. On hold doesn’t mean scrapped, and this and several other projects await the approval of just one similar plan to break the ice before refiling.

The spice factory was in operation right up to the sale of the property late in 2017 to Continuum, and neighbors continue to enjoy the mixed fragrances emanating from the now empty building. Built around the turn of the last century, the plant began life as the Consumers Park Brewing Company, one of many breweries that dotted Brooklyn in the late Nineteenth Century and into the mid Twentieth Century. The current building is not part of the new plan, and somewhere there’s a wrecking ball that’s gearing up for action. That in itself is a shame.

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The Tropical Pavilion is one of three controlled-environment areas in the Steinhardt Conservatory that could be affected by the Spice Factory plan.

We’re all for the development of empty or underused space, the repurposing of old warehouses and factory buildings, and the restoration, reconstruction, and/or redevelopment of dilapidated housing stock. But we support maintaining any neighborhood’s character in the process. Crown Heights residents are just getting used to the idea of the development of the Bedford-Union Armory just a few blocks away at Bedford Avenue and Union Street. A mega-project of the size and scope of the Continuum plan will absolutely alter the quality of the neighborhood.

Not of least concern is the potential harm that would be done to the botanic garden. This world-class, world-renowned facility is a gem that all Brooklynites should want protected. Plants need sun. A seven-acre shadow crossing the grounds would wreak havoc on the fragile eco-systems in the conservatory. Currently, the garden is protected by zoning laws. We think it should remain so.

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The old spice factory on Franklin Avenue, site of the proposed mega development. The botanic garden lies just beyond the trees on the left.

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

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The Erie Grain Terminal, on Gowanus Bay’s Henry Street Basin.

Despite all the major construction going on in downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and to a lesser extent, pretty much everywhere across the borough, there remain many locations where, at least for now, the past looms large, no more so than on the Red Hook waterfront, where many vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain to intrigue and remind us of bygone eras. One of the larger structures remaining in the Gowanus Bay area is the decaying hulk of the former NYS Grain Terminal, a near-hundred-year-old government project built to boost activity and jobs in New York Harbor at a time when many grain shipping companies were moving to cheaper ports at Philadelphia and Baltimore. Today the decaying structure threatens daily to collapse into the Henry Street Basin over which it precariously hangs.

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A closer look, with outer sections of the structure hanging precariously over the water, their bottom portions rotted away.

 New York State opened the grain terminal in 1922 as an adjunct to the reconstruction and incorporation of the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal System. That project was undertaken to reinvigorate the use of the Erie Canal and the ports of New York Harbor. The grain terminal was an example of way too much too late. There are fifty-four concrete silos, thickly built to withstand any possible grain explosion, with a capacity of two million bushels of grain. Despite the plant’s then-state-of-the-art construction, most of the lost grain movers didn’t come back, and the terminal never reached the level of business and capacity that would make it profitable. Government officials referred to the terminal as the “Magnificent Mistake.”

 The state operated the terminal at a loss until 1944, when it transferred the deed for the property to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which kept it limping along until finally shutting the terminal in 1965. The property was sold to a private owner in 1997. It’s currently closed to all but the intrepid trespassers who occasionally break in to document the plant’s interior before it’s gone.

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It is art, or is it history?

We have no idea what the future holds for the grain terminal, though we feel it’s safe to say it doesn’t include grain. It’s beautifully ugly, a 120-foot high, 430-foot long, mold-covered cement hulk crumbling into the basin, sections with their foundations rotted away drooping precariously over the water below. Our reporter paddled up the Henry Street Basin in a canoe to get the exterior photos included here, risking life and limb to get close-up images of this fantastic piece of Brooklyn history. We like to think the artifacts of the past will remain as symbols of our industrial heritage, a time when things seem to us looking back simpler and more black and white (both ideas mistaken, nostalgic misrepresentational deflections from our too complex present). Reality, and economics, may call for a different outcome.

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The interior of the terminal showing the tops of the silos as a grid of holes in the floor, and chutes from above that directed grain into them.

For the moment, the terminal stands. If you’d like to check it out in person, take the B61 bus from Smith-9th St. (F/G trains) or the B57 at the Jay Street Station of the A/C/F/R trains, both buses heading toward Red Hook. It’s a short walk from IKEA across the Red Hook Ball Fields to the Henry Street Basin. (Google map it.) You can’t go in, but the waterfront area of Red Hook is active, vibrant and beautiful, and definitely worth the trek.

For a beautiful, moving look into and around the terminal, check out this video from Carlito Brigante.

 

Interior Picture Source: atlasobscura.com


 

Nitehawk: Not a Movie, a Movie Theatre

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Rendering of the marquee of the new Nitehawk Prospect Park theatre.

Already something of a fixture in central Williamsburg, the owners of the dine-in movie house Nitehawk are giving a $10-million overhaul to Park Slope’s old Sanders Theatre (more recently the Pavilion), on Bartel-Pritchard Square at the Northwest corner of Prospect Park, and later this year the Nitehawk Prospect Park will open, with first-run, classic, rare, and independent movies onscreen and drinks and dinner delivered to your table. We can’t wait. 

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Rendering of the restaurant under a screening room in the Nitehawk Prospect Park. Architects: Think! Architecture and Design.

The new Nitehawk will have seven screening rooms, vs. the three at the Williamsburg venue, and four of those will have 35-mm projectors, allowing for the screening of rarely shown films that are not available in today’s more common 70-mm and digital formats. And, there’s the food. Besides popcorn, you’ll be able to watch the movie while eating from a menu offering such non-traditional movie noshes as spinach-artichoke empanadas, paella risotto balls, and burrata crostini, which features roasted acorn squash and poached pears; or try a specialty item like the I, Tonya, made with shredded pork knee (ouch!), American cheese, and gremolata aioli. The owner of the Nitehawk,  Matthew Viragh, plans to offer a menu that’s different, but not unlike, the offerings in Williamsburg, so there should be more filling entrees like the sausage and pepper hoagie, the meatloaf sandwich, the Nitehawk burger, and the fried chicken sandwich. For drinks, there’s coke and root beer, and also a well-stocked assortment of whiskeys, scotches, tequilas, rums, and more. Wait service takes your order before or during the movie, and a good time is had by all.

Renovations are well underway at the Sanders, a landmarked building originally built in 1928 to replace the Marathon Theatre (opened1908). The 1,516-seat Sanders had a fifty-year run as a movie and vaudeville house. The Pavilion opened in 1996 as a three-screen multi-plex, and in the early 2000s underwent a second renovation, carved into nine screens.

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The Sanders Theatre, from long ago, via Cinema Treasures.

The building was sold in 2006 and the new owners, Hidrock Realty, devised plans to build a six-story condominium over the theatre and the adjacent one-story building (that once housed The Park House Restaurant and then Circle’s bar and Mexican restaurant), a plan eventually approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The owners of the Nitehawk approached Hidrock about replacing the Pavilion, and in 2016 Hidrock sold the theatre to 188 Prospect Park West LLC, which immediately announced the closing of the Pavilion and the coming of the Nitehawk. Leading the renovation is Think! Architecture and Design, headquartered in Metrotech. The LPC has just approved a new marquee sign proclaiming the Nitehawk. 

 

At a time when digital viewing on multiple devices has taken over our consciousness, it’s getting harder and harder to find any outlet showing the many, many great films that have not yet been and perhaps never will be digitized. We’re excited that the Nitehawk is working to expand the number of venues for such films, and we plan on taking advantage of them, and the burrata crostini, too!


 

For a Secure Future, Brooklyn Church is Selling its Air Rights

One of Brooklyn’s many nicknames is, “The City of Churches.” Yet, as time passes, the general migration of people from one area to another sometimes results in shrinking congregations and distressed parishes. In Carroll Gardens there are several former churches that are now condominiums. In Clinton Hill, one very notable church has taken a different tack.

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A rendering of the proposed complex at 550 Clinton Avenue.

The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew is in the process of selling its air rights to a developer who hopes to use them to erect a twenty-nine-story mixed-use condominium on the block. The church, the largest Episcopalian church on Long Island, hopes to use the money it receives in return to make long-needed repairs and provide future stability.

This parish has a long history, dating back to the nineteenth century. As New York City’s population swelled in the early-to-mid 1800s, many residents chose to move to Brooklyn, where housing was cheaper and spaces bigger. Some members of Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan established a Brooklyn church of the same name. After some years, the effort became too great and Trinity church was decommissioned and re-established as St. Luke’s Church. The initial St. Luke’s building was erected in 1841 and was added to over the years. It was heavily damaged by fire in 1887 and razed to make way for the current church, which was constructed between 1888-1891. Another disastrous fire, in 1914, ravaged the new building, and this was repaired and the building improved and rededicated in 1915. St. Luke’s Church merged with another local Episcopal church, St. Matthew’s, in 1943.

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The interior of the church of St. Luke and St. Matthew, circa 1915.

In 2012, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the church gave its space to the organizers of the Occupy Wall Street event in a successful effort dubbed Occupy Sandy. St. Luke and St. Matthew’s was a beehive of activity, serving as a warehouse and distribution point for Sandy relief supplies and a kitchen for cooking meals to aid the victims and feed the relief and reconstruction workers.

Just before Christmas of that year, on December 23, fire once again damaged the church, this time an incidence of arson, in which someone deliberately poured gasoline on the front doors of the church and set them afire. Two entrances and the narthex just beyond them burned, and the damage from those fires has yet to be repaired today.

The sale of the church’s air rights to the developer, Jeffrey Gershon/Hope Street Capital, would require the buyer to make the needed repairs to the church. Gershon/Hope Street is planning to construct the mixed-use condominium on the block. Given the air rights transfer, the plans are for the new building, designed by Morris Adjmi Architects and to have the address of 550 Clinton Avenue, to rise 312 feet behind the church, on Vanderbilt Avenue, with a five-story section wrapping around onto and along Atlantic Avenue to Clinton Avenue. But, the church has been landmarked since 1981, and according to an article in The Architect’s Newspaper, the developer’s first presentation of its plans to the NYC Landmark’s Preservation Commission (LPC) was met with some resistance.

The commission was unhappy with the man-made materials chosen by the developer to make the repairs to the church, which would be less durable than the stone used to build the church in the first place. A second glitch is in the design of the new building, which the commission feels is not in keeping with the character of the surrounding neighborhood. (This despite the location being about a block from Pacific Park, a new, in-progress mid-rise apartment complex, the tallest of which, to our knowledge, is twenty-three stories.) The commissioners asked the developer to address these concerns and re-present at a later date.

Occupy Sandy Relief at St L and St M

The church was used as a distribution center for relief supplies after Hurricane Sandy.

The reality is that large-scale residential development is overrunning Brooklyn like the floodwaters of Sandy, and there is no end in sight. Busy Atlantic Avenue seems like an obvious conduit along which to build, and doing so could avoid, or at least postpone, similar construction sprouting up within already developed low-rise neighborhoods while simultaneously adding value to the homes in those areas.

Perhaps with some architectural adjustments, the LPC will be satisfied, the plans will be approved, the development will move forward, the church of St. Luke and St. Matthew will get its repairs and secure future, and somewhere, someplace in Brooklyn, a small parcel of land will be saved from a mega-construction project that could alter the face of a neighborhood.

Happiness all around, just the way we like it.


 

The Kings Theatre, A Treasure Restored

The Kings Theatre, A Treasure Restored

Deep in the heart of Brooklyn lies one of the most magnificent treasures in all of New York City: The Kings Theatre in Flatbush. Built as a grand movie palace by the Loew’s Corporation, the theatre first opened in 1929, when going to the movies was a social event, and the rich and the poor mingled in the lobby and sat in egalitarian style in the auditorium. The original design firm, Rapp & Rapp, modeled it after the Paris Opera House, with a nod to the Palace of Versailles, including many Baroque and Rococo elements as well as details in the then-popular Art Deco style, such as the wall sconce pictured below.

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Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, auditorium

The theatre rode high during the golden age of movies in the ’30s and ’40s, and presented vaudeville shows along with the movies. The palace deteriorated along with much of the surrounding area in the ’50s and ’60s before closing in the ’70s. Immaculately restored in a two-year-long renovation, the theatre had its ribbon-cutting in 2015 as a live-performance venue, with Diana Ross performing at the grand reopening, and the glory of the heyday of movies is back in Brooklyn. Acts and artists as varied as tKings_Theatre_Light smlhe Russian singing group the Turetsky Choir, hip-hop artist Sean Paul, the country musician Jason Isbell with the 400 Unit, various comedy shows, and many more popular acts now perform on the Kings Theatre stage on a regular basis.

The building is owned by the city these days, and operated by ACE Theatrical Group, which conducted the reconstruction led by the architectural firm Martinez + Johnson. The effort cost approximately $95 million. It’s definitely worth a trip out Flatbush Avenue to check out this gorgeously restored gem.

Kings_Theatre_Flatbush_finished_Exterior Jim Henderson 400

 

Photo Credits:

Top: Lobby of the Kings Theatre: By Moucheraud (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 . via Wikimedia Commons

Auditorium: By Alexandra Silversmith (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Art Deco wall sconce: By Professorcornbread – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44433911 , via Wikimedia Commons 

Exterior: By Jim Henderson (Own work) [CC BY 3.0  http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


 

 

Bed-Stuy in Our Eye

The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood is one of the earliest settled locations in America. The town of New Bedford was formed in 1662 by Dutch settlers, who were the first Europeans to arrive here, well before any Englishmen. It was at the intersection of two early cartwBrooklyn_brownstones_in_Stuyvesant_Heights_built_between_1870-1899 Cr. Vaguynnyays that settlers and natives alike used to travel up and down and the length of Long Island. The north-south road ran along what is now Bedford Avenue from Mespat, later called Newtown (now parts of Elmhurst, Maspeth, and all of Long Island City and Astoria), through New Bedford to the town of Flatbush and beyond. The east/west road started at the East River and ran generally along what is now Fulton Street through Jamaica and on out to Montauk.

Because of its location at this crossroads, the New Bedford was of strategic importance during the Revolution, and the British captured it early in the Battle of Brooklyn and held it to the war’s end. The town was incorporated into the greater city of Brooklyn in 1854. The area first began to grow with the opening of the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad in 1836. This line connected Bedford with the East River ferries and made getting to and from Manhattan a relatively easy trek. Much of the area remained empty, however, until the 1880s, when a construction boom lasting into the next decade built up ninety percent of the current row houses.  

As in other areas of Brownstone Brooklyn, the styles of Renaissance and Roman revival, Queen Anne, and neo-Grec abound, including single-family, two-family, and many multi-family homes of four and five stories. Some well-to-do New Yorkers moved into the southern part of Bedford in the 1890s and early twentieth century, perhaps most notably, F.W. Woolworth, and built mansions and large townhouses along and near Stuyvesant Avenue. Feeling somewhat elevated in status vs. the surrounding area and wanting their section to sound more elegant, they called their little corner of the world Stuyvesant Heights.

In the period between the World Wars, the large stock of affordable housing in Bedford began attracting middle class residents in higher numbers. It was in the early 1930s that the entire neighborhood came to be known as Bedford-Stuyvesant. Then another transit improvement brought a new influx of residents. In 1936, the IND subway lines opened along Fulton Street, providing easy, cheap and fast access to and from Manhattan. The new arrivals included many African-Americans, some from overcrowded and expensive areas of Harlem and others coming north in the early days of the Great Migration. Unfortunately for manyStuyvesant Hts Historic District copy of these newcomers, a lack of skills and/or opportunities kept them from procuring good-paying jobs. By the mid-1950s, the area had become blighted and riddled with crime, anger, and despair, a volatile combination that exploded into several conflagrations during the fight for civil rights in the ’60s and again during the famous New York City blackout in the ’70s.

About the only thing that stays the same in New York City is the high speed at which things change, and Bed-Stuy today is a beehive of real estate activity. The huge stock of brownstone townhouses and brick multi-family housing there has caught the eyes and dollars of young professionals who, like those who came before them, can’t afford the price of homes in Manhattan or elsewhere in Brooklyn. Investors, too, are following the scent, and area housing prices have seen a big upswing in the last decade. In just the last four years, home values have skyrocketed. In the first half of 2013, the median sale price (msp) of one- and two-family homes in Bed-Stuy (within a half-mile radius of Quincy St. and Malcolm X Blvd.) was $555,000, and the average price per square foot (ppsf) was $236.  By the same period in 2017, the figures had almost doubled, to $1,024,995 msp and $438 ppsf, each class of property almost doubling in value. For three- and four-family buildings, the prices were $591,650 (msp 2013) and $1,367,500 (msp 2017) and $192 (ppsf 2013) and $427 (ppsf 2017), each figure more than doubling in four years. This has been a boon to long-time resident homeowners who now have an asset worth much more than they ever might have expected. It is also the source of some friction, as many renters in those multi-family buildings feel vulnerable to sudden, unaffordable rent increases, the very roof over their heads 724-macon-street-6 sml copyunder threat.

 You know you’re living in a hot spot when you’re now buying your morning bagel at a coffee roaster rather than a bodega, or when it’s no longer strange to see a loaded double-decker tour bus glide down the avenue, and Bed-Stuy residents are experiencing both of these phenomena. Despite a legacy feeling of uncertainty for some, without question, these days Bed-Stuy is riding high.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard: The Before, During, and After

Brooklyn Navy Yard from the Air Kris Arnold  

The Brooklyn Navy Yard* area has played many critical parts in the history of the Borough, the city, and the country, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War.

The yard sits on the edge of Wallabout Bay, a large cove in the East River between Williamsburg and Vinegar Hill. President John Adams, believing in the necessity of a strong Navy, in 1801 ordered the building of six navy yards in the new country, and Wallabout Bay was chosen as one of the sites. The yard was decommissioned in 1966. When it closed, it was the oldest industrial facility in New York State.

Before

The bay played a horrific part in the American Revolution. Having captured more rebels during the Battle of Brooklyn and in the roundups afterward than they could manage on land, the British loaded prisoners onto ships anchored or groNavy Yard hms-jersey-interiorunded in the East River. The biggest and most notorious of these was the HMS Jersey**. Built as a warship and later converted to a hospital ship, in 1780 it sat grounded and rotting in Wallabout Bay. Estimates put the deaths on this boat alone at perhaps eight thousand. (By comparison, approximately 4,500 rebels died in combat in the entire war.) It was called “The Hell Afloat.” The men who died in the squalid conditions in the hold of the ship were either simply thrown overboard or buried in mass “graves” in the mud of the bay’s floor during low tide. Many were later removed to a mass grave in Fort Greene Park, but bodies and bones have been exposed during various dredgings and excavations ever since.

During

In the final days of the Adams administration in 1801, Naval Secretary Benjamin Stoddert purchased an existing shipyard in Brooklyn from a private shipbuilder who had been working for the navy and other commercial interests. Stoddert had long wanted to bring shipbuilding in-house rather than pay private contractors, who often overcharged the goverNavy Yard dry-dock-1nment for their services. (Apparently, the $400 hammer has a lo-o-o-ng history.) Jefferson, who had been elected as the next President months before the deal was made, was not keen on increasing the size of the navy, and so the new navy yard was at first used for repairs and for conversions of local commercial ships to naval vessels rather than building new ones. Years after Jefferson’s presidency, the first ship to be built in Brooklyn, the USS Ohio, was begun in 1817 and launched in 1820.

The yard served the navy continuously from then until 1966, scoring several firsts along the way, including the first combat steamship, the USS Fulton II in 1837, and the navy’s first battleship, the USS Maine, launched in 1889. The Maine was blown up in Havana harbor in 1898, precipitating the Spanish-American War.

Other notable events from navy yard history are the establishment of the Naval Lyceum (1833, the precursor to the Naval Academy now at Annapolis, MD) by Commodore Matthew Perry, the development of ether anesthesia (1852) by naval doctor E.R. Squibb at the yard’s naval hospital (opened in 1838), and the launch of the USS Arizona (1915), famously sunk in the Pearl Harbor sneak attack (1941) that brought the U.S. into World War II. In addition, the first song ever sung on the radio was broadcast from the Navy Yard in 1907 to test a radio system newly installed on a ship docked at the yard. The song was “I love you truly,” sung by Eugenia Farrar, an opera singer.

The Brooklyn Navy Yard was decommissioned and closed in 1966, along with about ninety other military bases across the country. More than 9,000 jobs were lost with it.

After                          

When its history as a naval facility ended, the shipyard remained open as a private venture, rented to Seatrain Shipbuilding. The city converted the old navy office and quarters buildings to an industrial and office complex. The shipyard closed in 1979, and after another bumpy two deNavy Yard Bldg92cades, the city again stepped in, modernizing the infrastructure within the complex in 2001. That attracted the interest of bigger players, and in 2004 Steiner Studios opened its humongous TV and Film production sound stages, giving the yard a huge boost, including added jobs within the studio and attracting support services and related industries. Today approximately 400 tenants large and small are renting and operational, and numerous buildings remain to be refurbished. On the west side of the complex, a Wegman’s superstore is due to open in 2018.

The area south of the bay is still referred to by some few as Wallabout, though almost all Brooklynites consider it the northern end of Fort Greene. It’s surrounded by subway lines, though none run through the area. Five bus lines stop at or very near the various gates into the yard and serve the immediate neighborhood. And, should the BQX trolley line ever come to be built, it would run either by or through the yard. Housing prices in this area, as in all of Brooklyn, are on an upward trend. The Wegman’s opening should be an added attraction.

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*Opening photo of Navy Yard by  Kris Arnold, New York, USA – Brooklyn, Manhattan, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2027855  

** Photo is of an engraving of conditions on the HMS Jersey. (From the Library of Congress, in the Navy Yard’s BLDG 92 collection)

Industry City: The Rise, the Fall, the Resurrection

During the last decade of the 19th century, Irving T. Bush built a massive warehousing complex along the Gowanus Bay on land inherited from his father. The Bush family had owned an oil refinery, which Irving’s father sold to Standard Oil, and when he died, Irving received a huge inheritance. He bought the land back from Standard and began building warehouses to store the many products that were coming into and out of New York Harbor at the time. He soon built addition800px-Bush_Terminal_Fairfield_North_aerial_-_1958 resized w captional larger buildings and rented space to companies that needed it and added huge piers, each of which could accommodate the docking of four large cargo vessels and all the cargo they unloaded.

 After some years of success, Irving expanded his operation to include shipping the products he and his tenants were storing, adding more buildings and a network of railroad tracks, including a huge rail yard, and was soon loading and unloading products and materials to and from at least eight regional railroads, including the Baltimore & Ohio, the Erie-Lackawanna, the NY Central and others. He even had his own railroad company, the Bush Terminal Railroad (BTRR). Bush built a line of tracks from the terminal to existing Pennsylvania railroad tracks. At least two of the terminal railroad tracks curved past the warehouses and ended right at the water, where groups of entire cars were pushed onto car floats that were then guided across the harbor by tugboats to New Jersey, from where they carried their goods across the country.

 By the end of World War I, the terminal spread over twenty city blocks, has seven piers along more than 3,000 feet of waterfront and held more than 100 warehouse and manufacturing buildings, its own railroad, and upwards of 25,000 workers.

 Irving Bush died in 1948, and soIC Mini Golf w captionon after, external factors led to a fall-off in the shipping portion of the Bush Terminal Company’s business. Bush Terminal Company sold the buildings in 1963. The port remained active until 1974, while the buildings remained almost fully occupied by a rotating series of tenants through the 1990s.

 In 1956, a huge explosion rocked the entire neighborhood. Sparks from ironworkers making repairs in one of the pier sheds ignited materials below and the fire soon moved to coils of fuse material that exploded. The blast was felt miles away. Ten people were killed and hundreds injured.

The complex changed hands more than once, and finally sold in 1983 to a group that changed the name to Industry City. Today, Bush Terminal’s physical plant has been resurrected. Industry City is a sparkling wonder, with hundreds of tenants that include artists, design, media, retail, manufacturing, and technology companies, along with government agencies, non-profits, and of course, warehouse space. It’s also an entertainment venue, with such events as the Brooklyn Crush Wine and Artisanal Food Festival and Rock and Roll Playhouse, a free summer concert series, a brew festival, Table Tennis Tuesday, and many other events throughout the year.RR Car in IC captioned

That said, much of Industry City is currently empty or underused. The current owners have recently begun the process of rezoning the complex and its immediate area to allow for additional businesses to come in, to convert up to 272,000 square feet to hotel space, and renovating 387,000 square feet for academic use, 900,000 square feet for retail space, and 43,000 square feet for event space. The entire process up to the beginning of the work could take eighteen months or more.

For now, the area retains its industrial flavor, and the railroad tracks remain embedded along First Avenue, curving every block into one of the docks built between the wings of Bush’s original buildings.