The Hotel St. George

 

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The magnificent Hotel St. George at the height of its glory, taking up an entire city block in Brooklyn Heights. View here is the corner of Clark and Henry Streets.

 

Mornings and evenings in Brooklyn Heights, hundreds (thousands?) of commuters pass through a giant relic of what once was a glorious, spectacular gem of a hotel. The Hotel St. George operated for eighty years at Clark and Henry Streets, experiencing periods of broad expansion, opulent glory, and wild popularity before slipping into decline, decay, disaster, and demise.

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Postcards from the glory days of the Hotel St. George, featuring (top to bottom) the Bermuda Terrace restaurant, the Italian Village, the Colorama Ballroom (“Now Superbly Air Conditioned”), the Stardust Room, and the pool.

The Hotel St. George dates to when Brooklyn was an independent city. The initial building opened in 1885 on Clark Street, and by the 1920s had grown to an immense complex of eight buildings that took up the entire block of Henry, Clark, Hicks, and Pineapple Streets. At its zenith it offered 2,632 guest rooms, had 1,000 workers, and reigned as the largest hotel in New York City. Its unmatched grandeur included a 168,000-gallon salt water pool, a grand ballroom (one of 17 in the hotel) dubbed the Colorama for its 1,000 multi-colored light bulbs and which could hold 3,000 dancers, and dining rooms that could feed 7,000 people at the same time. Those lounges sported exotic names such as the Bermuda Terrace, the Egyptian nightclub, the Stardust Room, and the Italian Village. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the hotel’s glamor attracted the glitterati of the day and elite members of the arts, society, and politics, as well as everyday New Yorkers for weddings, celebrations, and elegant nights out through the end of the 1940s.

The hotel had permanent residents as well as transients. Suites were advertised in the early days at rates of $240 – $280 a month for four rooms. The pool was built along with what became the Tower Building and was open to the public at just ten cents for an all-day admission, drawing people from across the city. The subway station at the building entrance opened in 1919 and made the pool an easy destination to get to for families coming from as far away as the Bronx and Queens.

During World War II and the Korean War, the hotel served as housing for soldiers and sailors passing through New York as they shipped into and out of the country. (The Brooklyn Navy Yard is not far from the hotel.) Soon after, the hotel slipped into a long decline along with the rest of the borough and city during the middle-class flight to the suburbs in the decades that followed the wars. The complex was sold five times during the 1960s alone, and by the mid-70s, the pool was shut down and drained, entire floors had been closed, and the full-time staff was down to just forty employees. The remaining hotel buildings staggered through the 80s and in 1995 a huge fire destroyed the original Clark Street building.

The four Western buildings, those being the Tower, Grill, Pineapple, and Cross Hall, were parceled off to a developer who converted them to luxury rentals, but the buildings were not well managed, and tenants brought complaints and suits against the owner. In 1982, the owner converted the Tower and Grill buildings to co-ops, and those buildings have thrived since. 

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The gutted interior of the Clark Building after the horrific fire in 1995.

The pool room has been converted to a two-tiered gym and smaller pool, and the Eastern end of the hotel, along Henry Street, is now a dormitory for local college students.

These days, the many commuters that rush through the former entrance of the hotel to grab the subway that runs under Clark Street to Manhattan, just one stop away, have little, if any, knowledge of the storied  and glorious past of the once-fabulous building.

 


 

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.

 


 

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.

 


 

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.

 


 

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.

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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

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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.

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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!