Eastern Parkway: One of Brooklyn’s many Firsts

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The original route of Eastern Parkway, the world’s first, from Prospect Plaza on the West (left) and Ralph Avenue at the East end, from an 1897 Rand-McNally City of Brooklyn map,

 

In 1866, as Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead were planning the design and construction of Prospect Park, they smartly considered means of accessing the park. Most of the land surrounding the park was farmland then. The street grid had been planned in 1839, and laid out on paper, but not much area would be cut and divided until much closer to the twentieth century. The two landscape geniuses conceived of a grand road, broad and tree-lined, with little-to-no commercial activity allowed. A road that would be a pleasant, uplifting ride (this was well before the invention of the automobile) that would deliver those from outlying areas to the gates of the park and lead them home again afterwards.

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Eastern Parkway provides pedestrian promenades on both sides, and is lined with trees for its entire length.

The plan for the road, perhaps conceptually influenced somewhat by the Champs Elysees in Paris though by no means a copy of that route, was for a broad center roadway lined on each side with tress and a wide promenade, with narrower outer roadways for local traffic to the homes and apartment buildings that would line the street. Commercial activity was to be kept to an absolute minimum, a restriction the city of Brooklyn supported. Vaux and Olmstead coined the term parkway for their new road, and so Eastern Parkway is the first of the many, many parkways we now have throughout Brooklyn and worldwide.

At its opening, Eastern Parkway ran from Prospect Plaza (now Grand Army Plaza) at the north end of Prospect Park to Ralph Avenue, which at that time was the city line of Brooklyn. The route was chosen based on the terrain of this section of Brooklyn. During the ice age, glaciers pushing south crunched rocks and dirt and other debris together to form a moraine, or ridge, and Eastern parkway runs along the top of this ridge. This moraine also is the basis for the neighborhood’s current name, Crown Heights, and if you ever bike north-south through the area, you’ll realize that it’s harder to bike to Eastern Parkway on either side than it is to ride away from it. 

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The Parkway is perhaps best known as the route of the annual Labor Day Caribbean parade.

By 1897, Eastern Parkway by name had been extended through East New York out to the Queens county line, just past Conduit Avenue along what today is Pitkin Avenue. This portion of the road seems not to have been parkway, but a standard street with the glorified name and an elevated rail line running above much of the length of this section. We found a Rand McNally map from 1901 that shows the Pitkin Avenue name here and the parkway turn up along its current route and into Ridgewood, though it could be that the section north of Fulton Street was either a planned or still-under-construction route.

Today, Eastern Parkway maintains the beauty and feeling that Vaux and Olmstead wanted, except of course that traffic is now a nightmare, at least at rush hours.

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Eastern Parkway at Nostrand St., approx. 1919.

There is very little commercial activity, mainly at the corners of business-district avenues like Nostrand and Utica, and there are churches and synagogues, most notably the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters at Kingston Avenue. There are also major cultural centers at the west end, including the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum, and the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. And then, of course, Prospect Park, the genesis of the idea for the world’s first parkway.

Eastern Parkway is probably best known today as the route of the annual Labor Day parade honoring the Caribbean population of Brooklyn. The parkway is one of the many gems and the many firsts that Brooklyn can claim, and another of the many, many reasons that Brooklyn is the best place in the world to live.

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Eastern Parkway’s Route today.

 


The Narrows Botanical Garden

 

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The Narrow Botanical Garden is a small, hidden gem at the northwest corner of Bay Ridge.

 

There are many, many hidden gems in Brooklyn, and one small outdoor wonder that’s unknown even to many of its neighbors is the Narrows Botanical Garden in Bay Ridge. Tucked between Shore Road and the Gowanus Expressway just below Owl’s Head Park, this small but lovely space, now known as the Jewel of Bay Ridge, has an open field, two tiny rose gardens, a natural area with water features and a turtle sanctuary, a monkey puzzle tree, and keeps bees that produce one of the best honeys we’ve ever tasted.

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The garden has several water features in and near the natural area.

The Narrows Botanical Gardens is today and always has been a labor of love by Bay Ridge volunteers who founded the garden in 1995 and others who maintain it today. The parkland that holds the garden was created when the Belt Parkway was built between 1934 and 1940. The park at this locale was little used for decades, and became derelict, with trash, car tires, and other detritus littering the area. Then, in 1995, two area residents, Joan Regan and James Johnson, waded into the park and began cleaning it up. Their efforts soon attracted others, and within a year, they had established the Narrows Botanical Garden.

It was a simple restored park at the start, but through the years various features have been added, including a greenhouse for plant propagation, a cactus garden, a lily pond, and the small rose gardens. Support comes from local businesses, local politicians, and the city Parks Department. That support helps with covering costs, but it’s the volunteer corps that operates and maintains the grounds that is the true lifeblood of the garden.

An early autumn visit to the garden found volunteers manning the gate to the natural garden. There is no admission, but, like all non-profits, donations are always gratefully accepted. Several other volunteers worked at various spots, digging and making minor repairs. One gardener had just collected a batch of honey from the onsite hives and offered some to anyone who happened by. Delicious doesn’t begin to describe the smoothness and taste of that golden nectar. The garden itself had peaked as far as most of the flowers go, but there were a few late-late-season roses in the two rose gardens, the koi pond in the natural area was active, and the small Chinese garden area is lovely at any time of year. And, we were delightfully surprised to see that monkey puzzle tree thriving in the ground not far from the entrance.

Narrows Botanical Gdn Logo 72dpiA taste of honey won’t be offered at every visit, but if you’re a garden aficionado and find yourself in the Bay Ridge area, a stop by the Narrows Botanical Garden should be on your to-do list.

 

https://www.narrowsbg.org/about_us

 

 


 

 

Gowanus Open Studios

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Summer’s over. Many of our favorite outdoor Brooklyn activities have wrapped for the year: the great season of Celebrate Brooklyn! is long over, the public pools are closed, and Smorgasburg shuts down for the season within weeks. There’s still enough warmth for a few more barbies in the park or in your own outdoor space (if you’re fortunate in that way), but it’s time to start thinking about indoor leisure-time events.

GOS+2018+Poster 325WOne of the most exciting of those each October is Gowanus Open Studios, when artists from Atlantic Avenue to the Prospect Expressway and from Court Street to Sixth Avenue open their studios and galleries to the public. The Gowanus area is packed with dozens and dozens of artists and galleries, many of whom (260 at last count) invite us all in to their spaces to see their work and talk about their ideas and techniques. It’s a great opportunity to experience the who, the how, and the what of artistic creation.

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Collage, sculpture, and photography are some of what you’ll see at Gowanus Open Studios. Works here by (top-bottom) Kate Fauvell, Timothy Corbett, and Konstantin Dimopoulos.

If you’re an artist, it’s a great time to see what others are doing, and perhaps grab a dose of inspiration. If you’re simply an art lover, you might just find a piece that’s perfect for an empty space in your home. The weekend is a great way for families to introduce the kids to life as an artist and experience an artist’s work area (most of which will look like nothing they’re allowed to do at home.) You’ll meet artists at different stages of their careers, and the work varies from grand scale to miniature, and from painting to pottery to sculpture to assemblage and many others types of work. It’s very exciting, and for those who want to experience it all, two days is barely enough time.

And don’t forget lunch! Or dinner! Besides artists’ studios and light industry, Gowanus has a ton of great restaurants and food outlets, including Pig Beach, Runner & Stone, Monte’s, Two Toms, Dinosaur Bar-B-Q, Freek’s Mill, Table 87, Michael & Ping’s, Bison & Bourbon, Ample Hills Creamery, and many more. And let’s not forget the local breweries, Three’s Brewing, Strong Rope, and Other Half, all with tap rooms open to the public, and all three open during the Open Studios event.

The Gowanus Open Studios weekend is organized by Arts Gowanus, a non-profit organization that supports the Gowanus artistic and industrial enclave with the intention of building and promoting “relationships between individual artists, arts organizations, and the broader community” in order to strengthen the bonds between them and to “connect the world to the Gowanus community.” The open studios weekend is their largest event of the year. It’s not to be missed!

So, mark your calendar for October 20th and 21st. Hours are noon – 6:00 p.m. both days. Best public transportation is the F and G trains to Fourth Avenue, the R train to 9th Street or Union Street, and any of the many lines that pass through Atlantic Terminal.

See you there!

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Paintings and sculptures from (L-R) Joy Makon, Carol Adams, Christy Powers, Gerald Siciliano, and Joseph Burchfield, just a few of the artists you might meet at Gowanus Open Studios 2018.

 


 

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

 


 

The Coney Island Art Walls

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Out to Live, by Chris Stain, one of approximately thirty murals at the Coney Island Art Walls exhibit, through September.

 

Coney Island is known the world over as a summer entertainment magnet, famous for its teeming beaches, boardwalk food stands, and thronged amusements parks, as well as the more recent baseball games and weekly Friday night fireworks.

One of the lesser-known, but just as cool, attractions and a great reason to get yourself down to Coney Island soon is the annual exhibit called the Coney Island Art Walls. The art walls sit in an otherwise empty lot between Stillwell Avenue and W 15th Street and between Bowery Street (one block south of Surf Avenue) and the boardwalk, right behind Nathan’s hot dog restaurant. Now in its fourth year, the art walls were the brainchild of Joseph J. Sitt, founder of the real estate development company Thor Equities, which owns the land, and Jeffrey Deitch, an art dealer and former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, who co-curates the event with Mr. Sitt.

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Just a few of the walls currently on view at the Coney Island Art Walls exhibit.

Mr. Sitt, who grew up in Brooklyn, refers to the annual exhibit as “…Thor Equities’ way of bringing life to an empty site in the core of Coney Island, while keeping the Coney feeling and stretching it in new directions.” He had the walls erected in 2015 for the first show, and they’ve been up since. As is most street art, the works are temporary, painted over when a wall is given to another chosen artist.

Mr. Deitch has been an artist, art writer, gallery owner, and curator for decades, including his stint at MOCA, where a special Art in the Streets exhibit drew record crowds. He’s now bringing that same street-art vibe to Coney Island each summer, and we’re grateful for it. This year’s artists include Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Sam Vernon, Shepard Fairey, Jane Dickson, Jim Drain, Skewville, along with many other street artists and muralists.

Besides presenting the murals, the Art Walls space hosts periodic events both public and private. The final month of the season will include the Quiet Clubbing Festival on Saturday, September 15th, with six DJs spinning their sounds from 7:00 p.m. until the wee hours. Everybody gets a headset that lets you choose which DJ you want to hear and the volume. LED robots and LED hula dancers are promised for the event. The special music events require tickets, for sale in advance or at the door until sold out.

According to the Art Walls’ Web site,  the exhibition space is open every day from 11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. through September, and admission is free. However, we went twice on Friday evenings and it was closed at 7:00. A mounted policeman told us it’s open during the day. On a third trip, on a Saturday afternoon, the space had been taken over by an event, which we could have attended for $60. (We didn’t.) Our advice is to get there before five o’clock on a weekday.

For more information on the music events, go here: http://donyc.com/venues/coney-island-art-walls

See you at Coney Island!

 


 

Where’s the Hill in Boerum Hill?

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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.

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A Mohawk atop a steel girder high above Second Avenue, the Chrysler building behind.

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 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.

 


 

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.

 


 

Flatbush’s “Little” Neighborhood War

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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.

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