Up in the old hotels
Brian Merlis, in the title of his Sheepshead Bay book, calls Sheepshead Bay “Brooklyn’s Gold Coast.” After Austin Corbin built the magnificent Manhattan Beach and Oriental Hotels in the 1870s and 1880s, enterpreneurs filled the gap for people who couldn’t afford anything quite so lavish wishing to take advantage of the sea breezes and also wager on the horses at the race track. During the period 1885-1910, dozens of hotels appeared on the north side of Emmons Avenue facing the bay, including one owned by Nellie Bly, the famous New York World reporter who exposed inhumane conditions at Blackwell’s Island insane asylums and famously traveled around the world in 72 days. Other Emmons Avenue hotels included the Bay Side (which became a casino and was later incorporated into Lundy’s), the Bay View, Clifford & Evans, Gewert & Huisman, Grand View, Kean’s, Osborne’s, Tappens, and Whittal’s.
Today there’s no trace left of the hotel era in Sheepshead Bay. Or is there?
A magnificent pottery mural at the BMT Sheepshead Bay station (B, Q) by DeBorah Goletz depicts 1900s Sheepshead Bay from a view on the Ocean Avenue footbridge.
It gives accurate representations of the Bayside and Tappen’s, though it does take artistic license by showing them a block apart.
The things you remember: in the late 1980s, well before the Forgotten era, I noticed a beautiful bikini clad girl, the type Brooklyn produces in abundance, sunning herself on the second floor porch. Of course, it was December when I returned to get this picture, and she was nowhere in evidence and even if she were, the bikini wouldn’t have been.
On the south side of Emmons Avenue, east of the bulkhead, we find the Varuna Boat Club (founded in 1875) and Sheepshead Bay Yacht Club.
Just east of the bulkhead there’s the Stella Maris bait and tackle shop (Stella Maris is “star of the sea” in Latin) and the prosaically-named Grilled Fish House. Nothin’ fancy here…
Defying the seafood vibe at Emmons and East 29th since 1970 has been Roll ‘N Roaster, where cheese is spelled ‘cheez.’ RNR is reviewed, along with the late great Zeke’s of Bay Ridge in this rather snarky Village Voice article (most food critics prefer tofu or sushi).
Roll ‘N Roaster had a great all-singing, all-dancing TV commercial in the 1980s (“we’re not so fast, Roll ‘N Roaster!”) complete with some bo-dacious waitresses. When I went there, they didn’t look like the commercial! But the roast beef was good. If that turns up on YouTube, let me know…
This is the monstrosity that can be seen at the beginning, or end, if you prefer, of Nostrand Avenue at Emmons. Nostrand, one of Brooklyn’s longest avenues, winds up a few miles north in South Williamsburg.
The other side of Nostrand is even more heartbreaking.
At Emmons Avenue near Nostrand, there’s the Baron De Kalb Knights of Columbus. Baron Johann De Kalb (1721-1780) was born in Bavaria, but fought on the French side aiding the patriots in the American Revolution. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Camden in South Carolina; both Brooklyn’s and the Bronx’s De Kalb Avenues are named for him.
Your webmaster’s friend, Forgotten Fan Marianne and husband Al were married here in 1986. Why do I mention it? I was the DJ.
On Batchelder, north of Emmons, we see the new order of things beginning to take over, with anonymous, cheap brick buildings assuming command. Some of the older and wiser structures, like the little bungalow and gabled building, are still there.
Some Brooklyn pronunciations baffle me. When I saw this name on a map, I thought, easy…”bachelor” with a d. Right? Wrong…it’s batch-EL-der, with the emphasis second syllable, matching the head-scratcher Cortelyou, also sounded on the second syllable. We’ll see a truly memorable Brooklyn pronunciation later.
Hey, Bungalow Bill
The eastern part of Sheepshead Bay, originally called Gravesend Neck, was originally quite swampy, hence blocks after block featuring low-built bungalows crammed into very small plots, giving the area a distinctive identity. Of late, apparently, developers have solved the old problems and are able to build larger buildings. (left, Emmons near Haring, right, Haring north of Emmons.)
East of Nostrand, Emmons turns rather desultory. We find what looks like an abandoned community center (left) and ski and scuba shop (right)
You never know what you’ll find at a bus stop. You might see Yunjin Kim, one of the reasons why I watch Lost every week (in 2006), or you might find Mayor Dinkins wearing one of those backless paper things you put on at the doctor’s office. At least he’s facing the camera.