Fulton Mall’s Store-ied Past

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A. I. Namm & Son and the Offerman Building, two not-quite-lost names from Fulton Mall’s past.

 

With all the office and residential new construction that has taken and is taking place in downtown Brooklyn in the past two decades, we’re wondering if it’s time to restore Fulton Mall to its past glory as Brooklyn’s equivalent to Manhattan’s Ladies Mile. Dozens of residential buildings have risen above the mall, on Willoughby and Livingston Streets, and all along Flatbush Avenue from the Manhattan Bridge to the Barclays Center at Fifth Avenue. Others are on the rise, and more, including two mega risers, are coming at 80 Flatbush Avenue, 138 Willoughby Avenue, and 9 DeKalb Avenue, on Fulton Mall behind and rising way above the famous dome of the Dime Savings Bank building.

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Liebmann Brothers had this building erected for their store in 1888. The old A&S store, now Macy’s, wraps around it in the background.

With all these residential apartments a stone’s throw from the mall, there has been a big uptick in national chain stores moving onto strip, including the Gap, H&M, Banana Republic, Nordstrom’s, Adidas, and more. We’d like to see more large, upscale department stores to complement the newly renovated Macy’s store there. This might be a pipe dream, but the fact is that, beginning in the 1890s or so and lasting into the 1970s, Fulton Street from City Hall to Flatbush Avenue was full of department stores and large dry goods companies, theatres, and restaurants.

As few Brooklynites need to be told, Macy’s does business out of the former Abraham and Straus department store. A&S evolved from a dry goods store, Wechsler & Abraham, that began in 1865 and operated in the old commercial district in and around Adams, Tillery, and Washington Streets. The company moved to the Fulton Street location when the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and it soon became the largest store in New York State. The Straus name came in 1892, when brothers Isidor and Nathan bought out Wechsler’s interest. A&S remained an anchor of the strip until 1995, when its (and Macy’s) long-time parent Federated Department Stores retired the Abraham & Strauss nameplate and made it a Macy’s. A&S was of a class equal to Macy’s, and outlasted all its competitors on Fulton Street, including Spear’s, Loeser’s, Korvettes, Oppenheim & Collins, Liebmann Brothers, and others.

Former Namms Bldg, Dwarfed

When this building went up for A. I. Namm and Son, it was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. Today, it’s dwarfed by the many condo buildings going up all over the area, one of which rises behind it here.

The lot where Cookies Department Store is today, on Fulton Street between Bond Street and Hanover Place, has a history of large commercial enterprise, beginning in 1895 with the opening of the New Montauk Theater, which presented live shows from Broadway as well as original productions. It was demolished in 1925, and the new three-story building built there became the home of the Spear & Co. furniture store (1928 until the mid-1950s), one of the early innovators of allowing customers to buying furniture “on time.” It then became and remained a May’s department store into the 1980s.

Witness to many of those changes was the Loeser Department Store across Bond Street, which took up the entire block between Bond and Elm Streets and from Fulton to Livingston Streets from the 1890s until 1950. Loeser’s operated several stores, all in Brooklyn, but the Fulton Street location was the flagship. In the late 1930s a concourse was built in the subway station at Hoyt-Schermerhorn station that connected the station and Loeser’s, a block away at Livingston Street. Take a walk eastward along that concourse today and you’ll see large wall tiles with the Loeser logo, a “memorial” of sorts to the department store.

The Offerman Building

The Offerman Building across Fulton Street from Macy’s once again is home to major retail names.

Liebmann Brothers for a short time sat at the corner of Hoyt Street, near A&S. Originally a partner of Loeser when located in the old shopping district near Adams and Tillery Streets, Liebmann’s moved to Fulton Street in 1890. They closed shop before the end of the decade.

One of the most successful stores on the strip was that of A. I. Namm, who had moved from Manhattan to the corner of Fulton and Washington Streets in 1885 and then, after a fire, to 452 Fulton Street. Selling trimmings and embroidery supplies, floor coverings and such, the company grew and grew, eventually taking over virtually the entire block from Elm to Hoyt Streets and Fulton to Livingston Streets. By the 1920s it was one of the largest departments stores in the country. It redesigned its space into one large building in 1924-1925. The new store included an entrance to the subway and was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. Today, it is miniscule compared to the condos towering above it. Namm’s remained successful into the 1950s, eventually buying the Loeser store name. The Fulton Street store closed 1957, but if you look closely, you can still see the name inscribed in ninety years of grime on its façade.

Further down Fulton Street, at Lawrence Street, is another former department store building. Now home to the Children’s Place, Dr Jay’s, and Banana Republic, this once housed the Oppenheim Collins department store. Oppenheim and Collins had both been major players at A&S before leaving to start their own ladies clothing business. At its zenith, the company had stores in and around Brooklyn, Manhattan, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Maryland.

Dime Savings Bank

Possibly the most iconic building on the mall, the domed Dime Savings Bank building, will be the lobby for a 786-foot tower being built behind it. Note the cranes in place on the left.

The company was sold to City Stores and was eventually folded into the Franklin Simon brand. City Stores went under in 1979. By that time, the Fulton Mall store had been occupied for years by another retail chain, the discounters E.J. Korvette’s, which went out the same year. Walk pat the building today and you can still see the company’s logo at the top of the rounded corner of the building.

More successful was Martin’s, a specialty shop for women’s clothes and bridal gowns, which moved from the corner of Bridge Street into the Offerman Building across Fulton Street from A&S in 1924 and stayed until 1979, a key year, it seems, in the history of Fulton Street’s department store history. The company at its peak had six stores in the New York area.

Forty years later, Brooklyn’s renaissance has brought thousands of new residential units to downtown Brooklyn, and a flock of retail chains are following. We shop online now, and so the age of the giant department store will probably never return, but it’s great to see Fulton Street thriving as it always seems to, but with a bit more pizzazz today than during those intervening years.

 


Where in the World is Dennett (Dennet?) Place?

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Brooklyn’s Dennett Place is just one block long, and the treeless street                     is not much more than an alley.

 

One of the major ongoing controversies that embroil Brooklyn is the battle over how to spell Dennett, the name of one of the borough’s most fascinating streets, Dennet Place. Okay, maybe the controversy isn’t so major, but there is a question there. But, the first question to be answered is, where in the world is Dennett Place? This one-block long, treeless street lies near the southern end of Carroll Gardens, running from Luquer Street to Nelson Street between Court and Smith Streets.

corner house

The houses on Dennett Place are all approximately 18 feet wide x 28 feet deep.

Not much more than an alley, Dennet Place is lined with tiny two-family homes with tiny garden-level apartment doors that almost any adult would have to bend over to go through. The houses are all about 18 x 28 feet with a rear yard of another 17 feet or so. That’s small enough to qualify as quaint, we think.

These homes date to the mid-to-late nineteenth century, possibly to the 1850s. The general feeling is they might have been built to house workers who were building the nearby St. Mary Star of the Sea R.C. Church, which opened around 1855. Then, you could rent a Dennett Place house for $9.00 per month. Today, you can buy one for between $1.5 and $2 million.

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So, which is it? Current signs use the two-t spelling.

On most maps, this street is called Dennett Place, but some call it Dennet Place (which is why we alternated our spelling above). Complicating things more, some nineteenth century maps exist that refer to it as Bennett Place. A 2012 article in the New York Times spells it with a single “t,” and in our memory there was a street sign on a corner building there that read Dennet Place. Go to there today and the street signs say Dennett Place, which, right or wrong, is good enough for us to use that spelling. There is no record of where the name came from, so there’s no place to get a confirmation.

The other quirky aspect of Dennett Place is the series of small doors on the street-facing side of the stoops. The lane is narrow, as we’ve said, and the sidewalks are, too. The homes consist of a lower-level garden apartment and an upper-level duplex, reached from the street by a stoop. That’s typical of Brownstone Brooklyn, but usually, the stoops are built to rise straight in from the street, and the garden-level apartment is accessed by a door under the stoop. On Dennett Place, however, because the sidewalks are so narrow, the stoops were built to rise across the face of each property rather than straight in from the street, and the doors to the lower apartments go straight in from the street under the stoops. Because the height of the stoops here is less than on other blocks, the under-stoop entrances had to be built to fit, which is pretty small. We’ve never had the opportunity to see into an open stoop door, but we assume there are steps leading down to the garden-level apartment.

The block is very well kept, the buildings mostly spotlessly clean and recently painted. In one of the most popular and posh neighborhoods in the borough, even many residents are unaware of Dennett Place. It is truly one of a kind in a borough filled with off-the-beaten-path gems. Should you come to Brooklyn to see them, Dennett Place must be near the top of your list.

 

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Dennett Place’s most interesting feature is the series of tiny, under-the-stoop doors that provide access to the garden-level apartments. They’re only about four and one-half feet high.

 


 

Historic Fort Greene Park

Ft Greene Lead Tomb Tower

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn.

 

New York City, and Brooklyn with it, is a land of macadam, concrete, and steel. But with all its hard surfaces and hard edges, it is a city that loves its natural green spaces. Besides the well-known major parks, like Central Park, Washington Square, and the Battery in Manhattan and Prospect Park, McCarren Park, and Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, there are hundreds of small squares and triangles full of trees and shrubs and benches for weary pedestrians and area residents to sit in and enjoy.

Ft Greene Visitor Center

The visitors center at Fort Greene Park.

Brooklyn’s oldest official park remains today a bastion of activity and history. The land now known as Fort Greene Park has twice been the site of an actual fort. The first, Fort Putnum, was built at the start of the Revolutionary War by troops commanded by Nathaniel Greene. It was quickly taken by the British during the Battle of Brooklyn and held by them until the end of the conflict. It was re-outfitted and renamed Fort Greene

at the start of the War of 1812. After that war, it was decommissioned and was a draw for locals as a place to hang out and mingle. Washington Park, the park’s original name, was commissioned by the city in 1845 and promoted heavily by the poet Walt Whitman, who worked as an editor at the Brooklyn Eagle at the time. Washington Park opened in 1850.

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Washington Park. The street along the Eastern boundary of Fort Greene Park maintains the park’s original name.

The site is also a hallowed ground. During the revolution, the British anchored several decommissioned ships and barges in Wallabout Bay, just north of Fort Greene Park and the long-time site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Upwards of 11,000 men died aboard those vessels and were simply tossed overboard or buried in shallow mud at the edge of the bay. By the turn of the nineteenth century, their bones and other remnants were becoming exposed by tidal drifting of the muck. In 1808 the remains of these unfortunates were dredged up and buried on drier land near the navy yard.

Following the Civil War, a remodeling of the park conducted by Vaux and Olmstead, the designers of Central and Prospect Parks, included a final resting place for those “prison ship martyrs,” and the remains were moved again to this vault. In 1897, the park was renamed for General Greene. Interestingly, the street along the park’s eastern boundary is still named Washington Park.

Crypt Entrance

This door in the grand staircases that lead to the monument could be the entrance to the Prison Ship Martyrs’ crypt.

In 1905, the architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White was commissioned to design a memorial to those buried under the park, the tall column that rises above the park today. The tomb holds the largest number of bodies of any Revolutionary War graveyard.

On a less somber note, the park is a magnet for many residents of the eponymously named neighborhood, Fort Greene. There are tennis courts, a dog-friendly area at DeKalb Avenue and Washington Park, playgrounds for the youngsters, and plenty of spots perfect for sunbathing and lounging. There are plenty of great stores and restaurants nearby on DeKalb and Lafayette Avenues to grab something to picnic on while you’re there. History buffs should add a visit to this park to their bucket lists.

 


 

 

 

Historic Green-wood Cemetery

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Some of the many hundreds of ornamented gravestones in Green-wood Cemetery.

One of Brooklyn’s most spectacular, naturally beautiful, and historically important spots and a big attraction for thousands of visitors annually is Green-wood Cemetery. (We won’t say it: people are dying to go there. Oops, we said it.) More famous people sleep at Green-wood than ever slept, lived, and/or died at the Hotel Chelsea; Green-wood is also forty-five years older than that Manhattan landmark.

As the mid-nineteenth century came into view, New York and Brooklyn were growing and becoming more urban. Green spaces were shrinking, and church yard cemeteries had graves reaching to the edges of their lots. The disposal of the departed began to become problematic. A new cemetery, Green-wood, was proposed by Brooklyn socialite Henry Pierrepont and laid out (no pun intended) after the then-current English style of cemetery having an informal park-like setting.

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Minerva, the Roman Goddess of wisdom, is the main feature of the monument honoring the Revolutionary War dead.

Soon after Green-wood opened in 1838, it became a destination spot for Brooklynites and for many Manhattanites, later becoming a final destination for some of those visitors. Green-wood now holds the rich and famous from days long gone and days just gone by. A short list of celebs buried there includes:

The Famous
Leonard Bernstein, Composer, West Side Story, many others
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Artist
Henry Ward Beecher, Abolitionist
Kate Claxton, Actress
Horace Greeley, Newspaperman, Politician
Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives, Engravers
Frederick Ebb, Lyricist
Frank Morgan, Actor, who portrayed the Wizard of Oz
Samuel B. Morse, inventor of Morse code

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Statues of soldiers of all ranks grace the base of the Civil War memorial on Battle Hill in Green-wood Cemetery.

The Notable
Stanley Bosworth, Founder, St, Ann’s School, Brooklyn Heights
George Catlin, Painter
Henry Chadwick, Baseball Hall of Famer and inventor of the box score
DeWitt Clinton, Governor of and Senator from New York
Peter Cooper, founder of Cooper Union
Charles Ebbets, Owner, Brooklyn Dodgers
Mary Ellis Peltz, Theatre Critic
Eli Siegel, Philosopher
Emma Stebbins, Sculptor of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park
Henry and William Steinway, father/son, Piano Makers

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“Our Drummer Boy” commemorates the life and death of twelve-year-old Clarence McKenzie, the first Brooklynite killed in the Civil War.

The Infamous
Albert Anastasia, noted mobster
William “Boss” Tweed, Politician

and many other artists, athletes, industrialists, murderers and the murdered, military men and women, politicians, socialites, and more.

The grounds are the site of some of the fiercest fighting that took place during the Battle of Brooklyn, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War. The highest point in Brooklyn, Battle Hill, is in the cemetery, and is graced with a monument to the battle in the form of a statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and one to the New Yorkers who died in the Civil War. Elsewhere on the grounds is a monument remembering twelve-year-old Clarence McKenzie, the first soldier from Brooklyn killed in the Civil War. Ironically, it was not in battle, but in camp that the youngster, in his tent, was hit by a stray bullet from other Union soldiers drilling nearby. His monument, entitled “Our Drummer Boy,” stands on what’s known as the Hill of Graves, surrounded by other soldiers who were killed or fought in the Civil War.

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Crypts and monuments line this road and dot the entire grounds in Green-wood.

There are hundreds of mausoleums, obelisks, statues, and thousands and thousands of standard gravestones and markers of well-known and ordinary citizens across the cemetery’s 478 acres. Near the main entrance on Fifth Avenue is the monument to those lost in the Brooklyn Theatre Fire, atop a mound under which lie more than one hundred bodies of men, women, and children buried in a mass grave, the unidentifiable remains of victims of that historic, horrific conflagration. Far from being an historical relic, however, the cemetery is alive and vibrant, and continues to accept new residents. There’s room for many more.

Green-wood also continues its long history as a recreational destination, offering a slate of annual, monthly, and one-off events in every season. Many have to do with discussions and/or examinations of death. November includes a Day of the Dead Family Program; Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre; Border Crossings: This and Other Worlds (about death, not politics). 

Greenwood Cemetery, monuments, markers, fall 2018

A fall day at Green-wood Cemetery.

There are Twilight Tours, birding tours (including a search for the famous Green-wood parrots), Trolley Tours (perfect for the less mobile of us), and others with eclectic subjects, focusing on topics such as mushrooms, stained glass, and seances. One long-time annual event is the ISO Symphonic Band and Orchestra concert every Memorial Day. In addition, there are Revolutionary War reenactments, Green-wood at Night tours, and so many more all year round.

Green-wood Cemetery is a true treasure, and any Brooklynite who hasn’t been there should make a resolution to go in 2019. No matter what time of year, its beauty and its interest can’t be beat. Get to Green-wood Cemetery, while you can still walk out when you’re done.

 


 

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum

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The exhibits at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum cover international arts, local natural sciences, and world cultures.

 

Young minds are curious. From babyhood, the blank slate that is our new-born brain begins absorbing all that we see, examining our hands, and feet, and the faces, the touch, and smell of our parents and everything else that we sense. If we’re lucky, as we grow, as we age, that curiosity stays with us. One way to maintain that level of absorption of our surroundings is to continue to explore new things. Here in Brooklyn we’re very fortunate to have an institution that is dedicated to nurturing the developing minds of our youngest.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, in Crown Heights, is the oldest and one of the largest institutions in the country and perhaps the world dedicated to feeding and developing the curiosity and creativity of children. From its beginning in 1899, the museum has presented science, the arts, and the natural sciences with the notion of learning by experience, providing interactive, hands-on exhibits that encourage visitors to take an active part in each. 

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Some of the 30,000 objects in the collection of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. At the rear is the entrance to one of the museum’s many workshop classrooms, the Color Lab.

Six permanent exhibits offer interactive experiences in nature, art, sensory play, cultural diversity, and more. The Neighborhood Nature exhibit includes dioramas of local plants and animals found here in Brooklyn. The Our favorite is World Brooklyn where kids can learn hands on what it’s like to work as a shopkeeper, baker, grocer, builder, and other vocations.

Many of the temporary exhibits introduce young people to other cultures, other eras, and other ways of viewing and interacting with the objects and materials around us. The museum offers many weekend workshops for kids, and educators and organizations can rent a Museum on the Go case for classroom presentations and activities. In addition, the museum offers after-school programs in the arts, culture, and science, and teen programs geared toward community interaction.

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum was founded in 1899 by the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Brooklyn Museum), with the idea that children learn best by doing. Creating a place that offers children a chance to touch, operate, and become immersed in the offered exhibits was a revolutionary concept at the time.

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The world culture area offers a strip of “shops” displaying items specific to various places around the world.

The original building was an old mansion on or near the site of the present building in Brower Park, designed by the architect Raphael Vinoly and completed in 2008 with more than 100,000 sq. ft. inside and a large roof deck and garden. It is the only LEED-certified green museum in the city. Today, the museum boasts a collection of over 30,000 natural science and cultural objects that are either on display or used in the various programs and exhibitions. There’s something of interest for kids of all ages. We suggest you grab your kids and go see for yourself. (Note: Thursdays from 2:00-6:00, admission is free!)

 

https://www.brooklynkids.org/

 The Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11213, corner of St. Marks Avenue

Hours: Tue, Wed, Fri., 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Thu., 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Sat., Sun., 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Admission: $11 except Thursday, 2:00 – 6:00, free/pay what you wish

 


 

Pioneer Works

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There are so many reasons to love Red Hook: The waterfront, the many old warehouse buildings, now housing great modern shops and manufacturing companies such as German Kitchen Center

, the Red Hook Winery, Scanlon Glass, Steve’s Key Lime Pie, and Fairway, as well as more modern constructions like IKEA; the quaint nineteenth-century row houses along the narrow streets and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at Atlantic Basin; and the baseball and soccer fields and the large public pool at the Sol Goldman Rec Center. There are also many arts and community organizations, both commercial and non-profit, that attract visitors from all over the metro area. These include the Waterfront Museum Barge, The Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition Gallery, and Added Value Farms.

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A group listening to an artist talk about his work at the Potoprens exhibit at Pioneer Works, September 2018.

One of the larger of the arts organizations is Pioneer Works, located in a former Ironwork factory at 159 Pioneer Street, at the foot of Imlay Street  between Van Brunt and Conover Streets. Pioneer Works is a cultural center “dedicated to experimentation, education, and production across disciplines. Through a broad range of educational programs, performances, residencies, and exhibitions, Pioneer Works transcends disciplinary boundaries to foster a community where alternative modes of thought are activated and supported.” In plainer English, the organization’s goal is “to make culture accessible to all.”

One of the ways it does that is through its Second Sundays events. Second Sundays is a free event series which provides the public free access to tour the space, visit the studios of current resident artists, and view the current exhibitions. There is live music, and the organization’s program leaders give hands-on demonstrations and programs in art, education, science, and technology.

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One of the twenty artists exhibiting work at the Potoprens show talks about his work.

The center offers classes in each of its different focuses, i.e., art, science, technology, and music. Many classes relate to the current exhibitions. Admission is free, though a reservation is required. A link to order a free ticket is on the page of each program, class, or talk.

Scientific Controversies (Sci Con) is a series of conversations between scientists on unsolved quandaries, hosted by Director of Sciences Janna Levin. Conversations can be on any scientific riddle, such as Swarm Intelligence, String Theory, Black Holes, or Dark Matter.

One of the more well-known events sponsored by Pioneer Works is the annual Red Hook Regatta, in which homemade boats race along the Red Hook waterfront in New York Harbor.  The 2018 regatta, the fourth annual, takes place on September 28th. The race features two classes of boats, 3-D printed boats and general do-it-yourself boats. All boats must fit in a 2′ x 2′ x 2′ box. Electronic controllers are provided by Pioneers Works. Registration and controller-kit pickup ends on September 9th.  Full rules are here. Spectators can watch from Valentino Park pier from 1:00-5:00 p.m. The event is free, and there is catered food available (not free) and live entertainment during a half-time break.

Visit the center’s Web site for a complete list of current goings on.

Some History

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A picture of one of the steamrollers made at the Pioneer Iron Works near the close of  the 19th century. The building is now the home of the Pioneer Works cultural center.

The original Pioneer Iron Works factory opened by circa 1866 on Williams Street at the foot of Imlay Street, under the ownership of Alexander Bass. Ten years later the company was a leading manufacturer of tar kettles and steamrollers for road construction, and sugar production machinery and “temporary railroads,” the latter two products sold to companies in Cuba to be used on sugar plantations. The factory suffered two devastating fires, one in 1881 and one in 1906 but was rebuilt each time. The company closed in the mid-1940s, about the same time as the end of World War II, and the building was used for some time after as a storage facility for the Time Moving Company.

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Map detail from 1903 showing both William and Pioneer as the names of the street where the Pioneer Iron Works was.

William Street was renamed Pioneer Street around the turn of the twentieth Century. Maps from 1898 have the way named William Street. By 1903, both names, William and Pioneer, are used as the name. Eventually, William was dropped completely.

We’re repeat visitors to the center and to  Second Sundays, and can say it’s well worth a stop-by any time you’re in Red Hook, which we think should be fairly often.

Pioneer Works, 159 Pioneer Street
Hours: Thurs – Sun, 2 – 7      Admission: FREE!

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Where’s the Hill in Boerum Hill?

Atlantic Shops Strip

Boerum Hill offers many boutique shops of all kinds along Atlantic Avenue.

 

Boerum Hill might be Brooklyn’s most quietly popular neighborhood. For decades it was considered a great place to avoid at all costs, and even today many people raise their eyebrows at the area’s mention. For those who have taken the plunge and moved here it is a calm oasis of city living, a peaceful alternative to the more hectic pace associated with the its surrounding neighbors: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Downtown Brooklyn.

The neighborhood is bounded by Schermerhorn Street on the north, angling down Flatbush Avenue and Fourth Avenue on the east, Warren Street on the south, and Smith Street on the West. Most of the residential streets are lined with one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses dating from the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. In addition, there are two mid-rise housing projects built after World War II and a raft of new condo buildings along or near Fourth Avenue on the East side of the nabe. It is consistently in the top five on lists of the most expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

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Many of the buildings in the area are landmarked, and these storefronts provide a taste of what the neighborhood was like fifty or more years ago.

Location is everything, and Boerum Hill is perfectly situated near shopping, dining, entertainment, and transportation. There are stylish storefronts all along Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Nevins Streets; Smith Street is lined with restaurants and watering holes, as well has having a variety of clothing stores and delis; Fulton Mall is just above Boerum Place in Downtown; and the Barclays Center, BAM, and the Fort Greene cultural district are just across Flatbush Avenue. At that same location is Atlantic Terminal, with a full-scale shopping mall and the Long Island Railroad’s Brooklyn terminal and MTA subway hub for the B,D,N,Q, and R trains. The A, C, and G trains are at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street, and the F and G are at Bergen and Smith Streets.

When the Dutch first arrived in the Boerum Hill area it was populated by the Lenape and Merechewick [spelling varies with sources] Indians. The area was eventually divided into parcels with Dutch owners with now-familiar names such as Bergen, Van Brunt, Cortelyou, Rapelje, and Boerum. England took over new Amsterdam in 1664, but the Dutch families in Brooklyn remained as citizens and landowners in the now English colony of New York. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the area had been further subdivided, but remained mostly farms and mills. During the revolution there was heavy fighting all around the area, in Park Slope Bed-Stuy, Gowanus, and Brooklyn Heights, but other than troops passing through or manning fortifications, not much happened in what’s now Boerum Hill. The nineteenth century was the major period of development throughout the northern half of Brooklyn, with the grid laid out, streets named—many carrying the monikers of those Dutch settlers–and today’s housing stock erected. The area became a magnet for immigrants, and waves of German, Irish, and Italians came into the neighborhood from the 1850s through the first half of the twentieth century.

The 1900s saw the rise of New York’s steel-and-stone skyscrapers, including the iconic Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings. A number of the ironworkers on these buildings were Mohawk Indians from Canada, who were adept at traversing through the steel-beam superstructures high above ground. A large contingent of Caughnawaga Mohawks lived in Boerum Hill during that time, concentrated between Smith and Nevins Streets from Bergen to Schermerhorn Streets. The Mohawk population grew so large that the local stores began carrying products specifically for them, including grains and ales from the Caughnawagas’ home in Canada, and the Cuyler Presbyterian Church held services in the Mohawks’ dialect. This enclave became known as Little Caughnawaga. There are descendants of these workers living in the area today, and, tangentially to our focus, Mohawk Indians still work in the ironwork industry, including being active in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center after the September 11th attack.

All this interesting Boerum Hill history, it has to be noted, didn’t happen in Boerum Hill. The neighborhood is named for the Dutch settler Simon Boerum, who at one time owned much of the land in the area. We’ve heard that back then there was some sort of rise near what is now Carroll Park (in Carroll Gardens) called Boerum’s Hill, but the Boerum Hill name wasn’t applied to the current neighborhood until the 1960s. Until then this section was part of what was generally known as South Brooklyn; in the 1800s, residents called it North Gowanus, and in colonial times the eastern end was a wet, marshy section of the Gowanus creek waterway. There was never a hill here.

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The residences in Boerum Hill are mostly one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses, many with decorative railings, on tree-lined street .

 


 

The New York Transit Museum

Trolley Exhibit panorama

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.

Old subway car

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.

R30 Car, 1960

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.

Hurr Sandy

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.

 

 

 

 


 

Brooklyn’s Very Own Subway Line

G train-crosstown-map

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.

G tag

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

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

Grain Depot Long Shot Cropped 800w

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.

IMG_1138 Long of bottom rot resized

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.

IMG_1150 Deteriorization 600w

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.

Interior shows tops of silos

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