If It’s December, It’s Dyker Time!

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The stunning light displays in Dyker Heights will be up until the end of the holiday season. It’s well worth a trip!

Dyker Heights has been an attractive neighborhood since its initial development in the late nineteenth century as a bedroom community for Manhattan’s business elite. Today, it’s a mix of modest yet comfortable semidetached homes and shockingly huge mansions, but it’s never more attractive than during the December holiday season, when the entire neighborhood lights up with a massive communal display of Christmas lights and decorations. If you’ve never taken a walk or ride during the holidays through Dyker, as it’s called locally (or Dyker Lights at this time of year), you must put it on your bucket list and get it crossed off soon, perhaps this season.

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From angels to reindeer to toy soldiers and candy canes, everything’s lit up in Dyker in December.

Anyone who enjoys the festive atmosphere surrounding the holidays, and especially the lights, will have their cravings sated in Dyker. People come from all over the world to see the Manhattan window displays in the department stores, and people come from everywhere to marvel at the lawn and house displays in Dyker Heights.

To get there, you could take one of the tour buses that come from Manhattan, or drive, but we recommend the D train to 79th Street and a leisurely walk west along 83rd or 84th Street to 10th Avenue and back. There are spectacular displays throughout the neighborhood, but the most eye-popping are on 84th Street between 10th and 12th Avenues. If you find enchantment in Christmas décor and lights, you must get out to Dyker Heights and see the show.

But enough said. There’s no marvel in talking about it. This entry is about the lights, so the lights take over the page from here. We took a tour of this year’s displays, and our photos follow. We don’t claim to be professional photographers, but they should whet your appetite to see the show in person.

 

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Not everything is bright and festive. This home has a definite flair for the dramatic.

 

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Check it Out: The Brooklyn Public Library

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The plaza and portico of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Branch at Grand Army Plaza. This building is considered one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in America.

 

Every major city has a library system, and Brooklyn is no exception. Dating back to when Brooklyn was an independent city, the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) is the sixth largest library system in the country, with 59 branches throughout the borough. Almost everyone in Brooklyn lives no more than one-half mile from a library.

The BPL as an entity began as a private association with the merger in 1869 of two antecedent organizations, the Brooklyn Athenaeum and Reading Room and the Brooklyn Mercantile Library Association of the City of Brooklyn. In 1878 the merged organizations were renamed the Brooklyn Public Library, but as noted, at the time it was private, not free. The library was located on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights.

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The inner lobby of the Central Branch, circa 1958, with the card catalogues on the left and information and checkout desks on the right.

The city of Brooklyn established the free Brooklyn Public Library in 1896, and today the system holds more than four million items. It welcomed just under eight million visitors last year and circulated over 14 million books and electronic media.

Between 1901 and 1923, the industrialist Andrew Carnegie gave the system $1.6 million to expand the system, and more than one-third of today’s total branches were built with those funds. Twenty-one of the system’s 59 branches are still referred to as Carnegie Libraries.

The main branch of the system, at Grand Army Plaza and officially called the Central Library, was considered for the predecessor organization in 1889, but no ground was broken until 1912. The original design was an ornate Beaux-Arts affair that, because of rough economic times during World War I and then the Great Depression, was abandoned after just one wing had been constructed but not finished. The site remained dormant until 1935, at which time a new design was commissioned in the then-current Art Deco style. Shaped like an open book, with the grand, 50-foot high entrance at the binder and the front and back covers fanned out along Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway, respectively, the beautiful limestone building opened in 1941. The building is considered by experts as one of the shining stars of Art Deco design in the country.

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Literary images in the portico of the Central Library, including Brer Rabbit, Natty Bumppo (The Deerslayer) , Walt Whitman, and Poe’s Raven.

Above the main entrance doors are arrayed fifteen bronze images representing characters and writers from the American literary canon, including Tom Sawyer, Rip Van Winkle, Hiawatha,

Walt Whitman, Winken, Blinken, and Nod, and animals including Poe’s Raven, Brer Rabbit, and Moby-Dick.

The library today is a major cultural element in Brooklyn, offering classes and programs for kids, teens, and adults, as well as seminars, talks, readings by authors and scholars on many subjects, movie screenings, and other events, all for the general public and all free. Check with your local branch for specific events.

In this age of digital images taking over from reading for many people, the library is as necessary today as it was one-hundred twenty years ago. And, in a nod to modernity, the library’s collection includes more than 700,000 digital items.

If you haven’t been to your local branch, go check it out. If you can get over to the central branch, go and check it out. And while you’re there, join the library, look through the racks, grab a book, and check it out.

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Three of the twenty-one so-called Carnegie Libraries, built with money given by the industrialist/philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Pictured L-R are the Macon Library in Bed-Stuy/Stuyvesant Heights, the Park Slope library, and the Arlington Library in Cypress Hills.

 


 

Fulton Ferry Landing

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A view of the busy East River and Fulton Ferry Landing (far side) from Manhattan, 1845. A steamboat leaves the dock, center, as another out in the river approaches.

 

In 1814, Brooklyn was a small village on the Western tip of Long Island, across the East River from bustling New York City. At the time, the only way over the river was via commercial sailboat ferry, service of which had been in place since the 1630s, running from the foot of Joralemon Street in Brooklyn to Broad Street in Manhattan. Both landings were later moved, the Brooklyn side to what was then called Ferry Road. It was from here that George Washington’s Continental Army escaped the British to Manhattan during the Battle of Brooklyn. 

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A ticket for the Fulton Ferry cost four cents through the first half of the nineteenth century.

The sailboat ferries were not so reliable, as they were at the mercy of the winds, and thus were sometimes delayed by calm and sometimes blown way off course by blusters and gales. Everything changed in the crucial year 1814. That’s when, on May 8th, Robert Fulton, who since 1807 had been operating a steamboat in the North River (today commonly called the Hudson), launched his East River ferry service. The trip took less than twelve minutes, and suddenly it was fun rather than uncertain to take the ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Manhattan became wide open to Brooklyn and Long Island residents and commerce, and Brooklyn was open to Manhattanites who wanted to get away from the hubbub of the city.

Eventually the landings and the roadways leading to them on both sides of the river were renamed to honor Fulton and his achievement. (Both boroughs also have nearby Nassau Streets, named after Fulton’s first East River ferryboat. And, Fulton’s North River boat, the Clermont, could have as its namesake the eponymous street in Fort Greene.)

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Bargemusic, at Fulton Ferry Landing,  is performed on one of the many barges that once off-loaded coffee, cocoa, and tobacco at the nearby piers.

Fulton died the year after the ferry began, but the Fulton Ferry Company was a successful enterprise for more than one hundred years. The few competitors that sprung up were bullied or bought out of existence; bullied via drastic price cutting that only the Fulton Ferry Company could survive, or bought through mergers or acquisitions, one of which changed the name of the company to the New York and Brooklyn Union Ferry Company, popularly called Union Ferry.

The company’s fortunes began to wane with the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883. People could now drive or walk across the river, or, beginning in 1898, take a trolley. Though its business slowed, Union Ferry remained profitable for another forty years, finally closing in 1924.

Through the years, the ferry landing area was industrial, being a dock not just for ferry service but busy with commercial vessels from all over the world. The area to the north, today known as DUMBO, was a thriving enclave of warehousing and manufacturing, as well as a center of coffee roasting for national distribution.

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Today, Brooklyn Bridge park offers many recreational activities on the refurbished formerly industrial piers.

The waterfront from the Navy Yard to Red Hook was a solid line of piers full of ocean-going ships loading and unloading massive amounts of grain, tobacco, coffee, and cocoa, all of which were shipped in large sacks that were stored in the nearby warehouses. Unfortunately, in the twentieth century shipping methods changed from using sacks to containers, and that heavily impacted the Brooklyn side of New York Harbor. The tight confines of Brooklyn’s downtown area couldn’t accept containers, and so much of what used to come to Brooklyn transferred over to the more wide-open ports of New Jersey. In the early 1980s, the Port Authority shut down all activity north of Atlantic Avenue.

By the time the piers closed, the landing’s future could already be envisioned. In 1977 both the River Café and Bargemusic began their separate operations at the foot of Old Fulton Street by the Brooklyn Bridge, and both continue to attract visitors hungry for good food and music today. From the eighties through the nineties and beyond, the somewhat bleak Empire-Fulton Ferry state park under the bridge was a site for summer sculpture installations and for TV shoots where the body or abandoned car was found. But not much else was going on, at least publicly.

Behind the scenes, planners were envisioning a new strategy for using the site, and today the Fulton Ferry Landing area has been transformed into a destination for fun and frolic. Brooklyn Bridge Park opened in sections beginning in 2010 and has since grown to its full size and potential. Covering 85 acres along more than a mile of waterfront from Jay Street at the north end south to Atlantic Avenue, the park straddles the landing itself, and the piers that remain are now covered in grass or artificial turf, with landscaped pathways and gardens, and include a carousel; picnic area; beaches; basketball, soccer, and roller skating open-air arenas; and much, much more.

Restored to a new glory, the Fulton Ferry Landing is abuzz with activity again.


How to get there: Access to the Fulton Ferry Landing area is via the F train at York Street station in DUMBO or the A or C trains at High Street station and 2/3 trains at Clark Street station, both in Brooklyn Heights. All are an easy walk from the landing.

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An aerial view of the former Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, today a part of Brooklyn Bridge Park, with the restored red brick Empire Stores warehouse building center, the Tobacco Warehouse, now home to the St. Ann’s Warehouse Theatre, to its right, and the Jane’s Carousel in front on the water’s edge. (From the Empire Stores Web site.)