When I invade Flatbush, or the neighborhoods south and east of it, sometimes my thoughts turn to Brooklyn’s seemingly logical, but really very odd, street nomenclature system. While Manhattan’s grid and numbering are well documented (the grid was formulated in 1811) — the Bronx’ street numbering is a continuation of Manhattan’s, since the two were once the same borough — and the Queens Topographical Bureau undertook a complete street numbering system beginning in 1915, adopting the Philadelphia system of numbered streets beginning at the East River and proceeding east and south — Brooklyn’s many various street naming systems seemingly remain undocumented.
That’s a shame, since Brooklyn boasts several interesting tableaux. The oldest neighborhoods in northern Brooklyn carry mostly properly named streets, though Williamsburg has kept the North & South numbered system it began with, but dropped its other numbers that began on the East River and continuing east (Kent Avenue is no longer First Street, Wythe Avenue replaced Second Street, and so on). A numbered system begins in southern Park Slope and continues to the Narrows, with east-west streets numbered 1 to 101 and north-south avenues from 1st to 28th.
Meanwhile, there are runs of East and West numbered streets in southern Brooklyn, running from north to south (a strange arrangement) on either side of either McDonald Avenue or an intermediate street called West Street. These extend as far east as Canarsie and as far west as Coney Island.
We’re not done with numbered streets yet. Brooklyn has entire mini-networks of numbered streets in Bensonhurst (Bay 7th through 53rd); Brighton Beach (Brighton 1st through 15th, and innumerable Places, Walks and Terraces arrayed thereon); Beach 37th through 51st (in the mysterious walled community of Sea Gate at the tip of Norton’s Point); Paerdegat 1st through 15th, along Paerdegat Basin in Canarsie; Flatlands 1st through 10th, on the east side of Canarsie along Spring Creek; Plumb 1st through 3rd, in Gerritsen Beach; and I’m probably forgetting a few.
And then we come to the letters. Consider this: while Avenues A and B can be found in East Flatbush, between Ralph Avenue and Rockaway Parkway in general, Avenue C is way over west in Kensington, between Dahill Road and Coney Island Avenue. The reason for this is rather obscure — I’m not sure if a single cartographer or organization of same first assigned lettered avenues that run east-west from south of Prospect Park to Sheepshead Bay. I do know that at one time, Avenues C, D, E, F once ran from Dahilll Road all the way east to Canarsie. However, the developers of those mini-neighborhoods south of Prospect Park such as Beverley Square, Ditmas Park, Midwood Park, etc. wanted their street names to have that stuffy patina of respectability that only British-sounding names could impart. Thus, instead of Avenue A in Prospect Park South, you got Albemarle Road; Avenue B became Beverley; C became both Cortelyou and Clarendon; D became Dorchester; E, oddly, became Foster Avenue, after a 19th Century settler, James Foster; and G became Glenwood. South of that, things settled down, and Avenue H carries that name its entire run, as do I, J, K et al. (Unlike Washington, DC, which skips J, X, Y and Z Streets, Brooklyn uses the entire alphabet.)
Sorry. If you’re a map geek, you like this stuff, but if you’re 95% of the population, you’re asleep by now. A couple of years ago, I was drunkenly lurching around the Beverley Square area and grabbed some shots of old Avenue C, which became Cortelyou Road in honor of the longtime landholding Cortelyou family, the descendants of Jacques Cortelyou, a surveyor and tutor who arrived from Utrecht, Holland in the 1650s. I followed some months later by photographing the entire region south of Prospect Park, but that will take several FNY posts to get through. I’ll just show you a few grabs from Cortelyou, the main shopping and restaurant row south of Prospect Park; it’s gained quite the cachet in recent years, but still, in many ways, has the patina of the old regular Brooklyn neighborhood it purported to be before the cognoscenti descended therein. Have I rattled on enough?
At Flatbush and Cortelyou is the remains of the old Rialto Theatre, constructed in 1916 and closed, as a theatre, in 1977.
Greenfield, a drugstore, occupies the SW corner of Cortelyou Road and East 16th Street, and has for many a decade — ghost wall dog ads emblazoning it as “Greenfield Chemists” can be seen on the brick wall facing the open cut of the Brighton Line (B, Q). In Britain, drugstores are called “chemists” and you see that usage here, occasionally.
Engine 281, Ladder 147, 1210 Cortelyou. Some time ago, signs demarcating various neighborhood locales were installed on Cortelyou Road light posts: public schools, libraries, schools. These have survived in various conditions.
Vox Pop was a popular neighborhood gathering place on Cortelyou and Stratford Roads. Billing itself as “Books, Coffee, Democracy” it was opened as a coffeehouse, bookstore and internet cafe in 2004 by Sander Hicks, and gained a loyal following among the locals; in 2009 it has had its problems, failing several health inspections and was closed for nonpayment of taxes in November.
The T.B. Ackerson liquor store’s name honors Thomas Benton Ackerson, the founder and developer of Fiske Terrace, a planned community originated in the early 1900s. As it happens, Ackerman’s real estate office on Avenue H survives today as the station house for the Avenue H station on the Brighton Line subway. Amazingly, T.B. Ackerson’s son Ward lived until 1998, enough time to see the myriads of changes, ups and downs, that happened in this Brooklyn neighborhood that his dad in large part was responsible. More on Ackerson can be found at Paul Matus’ Third Rail.
Back in the early 20th Century, even apartment buildings and multifamily buildings were built with considerable flourishes; the arched windows on the top floor are a nice touch at Cortelyou and East 16th. I’m not sure about the purpose behind the stepped arrangement at Marlborough: is it to catch the sun or maximize the shade? In the days without air conditioning, probably the latter.
Not your usual supermarket.
In a private food co-op, only members may shop at the store. In order to become a member, someone pays a small initiation fee and usually invests a set amount of money in the food co-op to purchase a share. Some food co-ops allow members to purchase multiple shares, or require an annual fee, which causes long term members of the food co-op to own more shares. In some cases, members also join work crews, contributing a few hours of work to the running of the co-op. The frequency and duration of work shifts varies from co-op to co-op. wisegeek
There are more traditional options in the area, of course; and a vintage awning sign can be found on one of them, Bill’s Discount. I’m told THIS particular co-op allowed nonmembers to buy, and has since moved to a corner location.
Cortelyou Road is a station on the Brighton Line (in 2009, the B and Q trains). The Brighton, which runs in an open cut and an embankment from Prospect Park all the way down to Sheepshead Bay (and then on a conventional el to Coney Island) is the mass transit successor to the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railway. Built in 1877, it was a rural country railroad in spots, built, as were other Brooklyn subways that lead to Coney Island, to lead to grand hotels on the ocean’s edge.
In the 1980s and 1990s, improvements were made to some of the stations that added observation windows directly over the tracks and new station ID plaques featuring Times Roman typefont — its only use in the NYC subway system.
Now, about Cortelyou Road’s pronunciation. When I first saw the name Cortelyou in the Little Red Book street guide as a kid, I immediately pronounced it COR-telyou, emphasis first syllable. Years later I encountered people who live in the area and to a person, they pronounce it Cor-TELL-you, emphasis second syllable. Cor-TELL-you makes no sense to me — the emphasis should logically be on the first syllable. Let’s make it happen.