‘Places’ Matter – short streets of BAY RIDGE Part 1

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There are entire sections of Brooklyn, probably New York City’s borough that hews most rigidly to the grid concept, that have no cul de sacs or alleys whatsoever; think of Sunset Park, Marine Park or Bensonhurst, which have only a handful between them. When it comes to one-block streets or hidden laneways, I was fortunate to grow up in Bay Ridge … its hilly topography gave developers and architects plenty of opprtunity to insert short blocks hidden away here and there that only their residents know. Today Forgotten NY will pull back the curtain and give everyone a chance to see these unknown roads and uncover some of their lore and history…

WAYFARING: BAY RIDGE ALLEYS

Vista Place

Vista Place runs between Bay Ridge Avenue and 68th Street just east of 5th Avenue, not far from the Alpine Theatre, the lone survivor of Bay Ridge’s numerous movie theatres. It was likely a real estate development in the 1920s and features standalone brick houses on both sides with garages in the back (older tracts wouldn’t have them). As we’ll see, many of Bay Ridge’s short streets are named for their topography, but Vista Place isn’t near a high hill.

Bennett Court

We move next to 72nd Street between 3rd and 4th Avenues, where we find two dead-end streets, one longer than the other, one preserving a street paving legacy not found often in New York City…

FNY’s title card today shows the very short Bennett Court, notable primarily for its surviving red brick paving. As we’ll see, a number of brick pavements have been preserved in Bay Ridge’s short lanes — and all of them are different from the others! Bennett Court is the only red-bricked pavemnet remaining in Brooklyn, as far as I know;88th and 89th Avenues in Jamaica, Queens still have it, and I recently found out that Oliver Place in Bedford Park, Bronx andWest 230th Street in Kingsbridge Heights does as well. I’m glad that Bay Ridge still claims one.

Bennett Court’s back end once bordered on the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, popularly known as the “Green Church” for the greenish cast its ashlar brick facing assumed over the years. A developer demolished it in 2008 and the property has sat empty since then in the real estate collapse of 2008-2009. A plywood fence marks the border these days. Lower left: a red-painted fire hydrant adds some zest along with the red bricks.

Bennett Court is separated from the asphalt pavement of 72nd Street by a curb, more frequently seen as the border between the sidewalk and street.

Ridge Court

Oddly, Ridge Court is marked as one-way, though there’s only one way in or out. It’s a little less interesting than Bennett Court, since it has the usual asphalt pavement. Still, it has a variegated housing stock, inclusing the bay window brick attached buildings that are a staple in western Brooklyn. The back end of Ridge Court faces the back yards of homes on adjacent Ovington Avenue.

Bay Ridge has interesting hidden alleys and one-block streets, but a very unimaginative naming scheme. Words and names are used repeatedly: there’s Ridge Court, Ridge Boulevard, Bay Ridge Avenue, Bay this, Ridge that… you wonder how cabbies and car services don’t get lost.

Bay Ridge Place

You will find Bay Ridge Place between Ovington Avenue and Bay Ridge Avenues just east of Ridge Boulevard (see what I mean about the street names? Bay Ridge was renamed from Yellow Hook in the mid-1850s to describe its location along a high cliff alongside the Narrows and Upper New York Bay). Bay Ridge Place boasts brick pavement along about 75% of its length — I don’t know how that situation arose, but it’s been this way for quite a long time, as the curb separation between the asphalt and block sections proves.

It’s true that Bay Ridge Place has Belgian blocks, but these are subtly different from the ones you find elsewhere in town. They’re cut a bit smaller, and when they were laid, the builder decided to lay some lighter bricks here and there to provide a contrast. It just shows a degree of pride and care they took in those days to create a living environment.

Bay Ridge Avenue features a pleasant mix of residential buildings. In some spots, work has been done on the street and the bricks have been relaid unevenly, but that’s par for the course on most of NYC’s brick streets.

Bay Ridge Place and Bay Ridge Avenue. At Bay Ridge Avenue, we again see two different street paving schemes separated by a curb.

Madeline Court

We next journey to 68th Street between Ridge Boulevard and 3rd Avenues, where we have the first of many Tudor-style enclaves…

A couple of the short streets shown here bear women’s names; the developer likely had a wife or daughter, who gave their names to the lanes. Madeline Court is a private drive and has separate garages adjacent to it on 68th Street. The street was built with care and has brick gateposts and even a decorated entrance to the garage area. The pavement is likely the original, going back several decades, and has been pounded almost to dust in spots. A homeowner told me that the city cannot resurface the street since it or privately owned; I suppose the homeowners would have to come up with the cost.

Madeline Court has one of the original green and white street signs installed in the 1980s. How do you tell? Very simple: the originals lacked the white stripes on the top and bottom.

Perry Terrace

Next stop is Perry Terrace, one of a pair of courts located between 70th and 71st Streets west of Ridge Boulevard.

Perry Terrace’s evolution is fairly easy to find — if you look at a Kings County 1890 atlas I discovered at Historic Map Works, a Joseph A. Perry had fairly lareg holdings in the area at the time, and when the area was chopped up into streets and hoousing plots, his name was retained for not only Perry Terrace, which sits on the “Sarah” on the map, but also for an apartment building on Ridge Boulevard, Perry Terrace. At times such names can provide crucial bits of information when you are reseraching the history of a particular area.

As for Perry Terrace itself I don’t get much of a charge out of the architecture — attached brick buildings from the 1920s — but I do like the little dormered houses the terrace faces on 71st Street.

Perry Terrace’s partner, Ridge Crest Court, is another of Bay Ridge’s “Ridge” streets and indeed has a crest, or a slight hill. Some of Bay Ridge is quite hilly near the water — the glacial ridge that provided the name. This is avery small hill, but the grade between Ridge Boulevard and Colonial Road is quite steep in spots, necessitating step streets and dead ends in some spots.

Louise Terrace

Moving right along, we visit Louise Terrace, which runs between 70th Street and Mackay Place west of Colonial Road. Mackay Place, wedged between 71st and 72nd Street between Shore Road and Colonial Road, remembers a local resident, John W. MacKay (1831-1902) a prominent 19th Century area landowner: after making a fortune discovering tons of silver as part of the Bonanza Group at theComstock Lode in Nevada in 1873, he entered the real estate, mining and telegraph businesses. His graddaughter Ellin married Irving Berlin in 1926, against the family’s wishes; his wedding gift was “Always,” one of your webmaster’s Berlin favorites, especially when Frank sings it.

Mackay’s wife’s maiden name was Marie Louise Antionette Hungerford and it is likely the short street was named for her.

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It’s possible I’m one of the few people who remembers that Louise Terrace was called Elvira Court at one time, as this 1929 Belcher Hyde map shows. Not sure when the change to Louise Terrace was made. This gives me an opportunity to show a picture of Cassandra Peterson without her famed Elvira getup. Probably no one who lives on or near Louise Terrace knows about Elvira Court. You can still find an Elvira Avenue in Far Rockaway, Queens.

Louise Terrace likely has my favorite collection of Tudors in Bay Ridge — they are subtly effectuated, with different designs and splashes of color, green here, brown there.

Bay Cliff Terrace

We move east to 68th Street again, where Bay Cliff Terrace fills the spot between Ridge Blvd. and Colonial Court that Madeline Court fills between 3rd Avenue and Ridge Blvd.

Like Madeline Court, Bay Cliff Terrace is a private court and non-residents cannot park on it. It takes its name from a steep drop at its end. Until a few years ago, it was signified by 1940s-era porcelain and metal street signs with raised letters, but the relentless NYC Department of Transportation replaced them.

Bliss Terrace

Except for the park view at the eastern end I find Bliss Terrace a little nondescript. But when I reached Bay Ridge Avenue (69th Street)…

…there’s a pair of nicely rendered apartment buildings, with subtle design touches especially on the ground floor. What a shame the owner of the one on the right ruined his.

Some more redesign heresy on 69th Street, and a porched survivor from the early days.

Bliss Terrace, between 68th Street and Bay Ridge Avenue west of Colonial Road, was named for a prominent industrialist who lived in Bay Ridge. Owls Head Park is Bay Ridge’s largest public park,stretching between the Belt Parkway, Colonial Road and 68th Street, and its high hill provides a prime viewing spot during Brooklynís occasional tall ship parades. The park was created from the estate of Eliphalet Bliss (1836-1903). In 1867 he founded the machine shops that became the E. W. Bliss Company and the United States Projectile Company. His estate, Owls Head, featured an observatory known as the Bayard Tower (see it on this FNY page). He willed the estate to New York City, provided it be used for parkland. The park, still known by old-timers as Bliss Park, has been in use by local residents since the 1920s; Robert Moses redesigned it in the 1930s. The mansion and tower were razed in 1940.

Continue to Part 2 of Places Matter– Bay Ridge





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