CORTELYOU ROAD, Brooklyn

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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.

12/20/09





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25 Responses to CORTELYOU ROAD, Brooklyn

  1. Denis McGowan says:

    Grew up at 391 Rugby Road between Cortelyou and Dorchester Roads and lived there from 1961 to 1989. It is the only home I routinely dream of.

    The house went through two fires, in 1980 and 1984. My brother almost lost his life in 1984 due to the fire.

    I went to Holy Innocents RC Church and Grammar School. We had some beloved pastors there, including Msgr Foley and Msgr. Hume.

    It was a great neighborhood and we spent hours playing manhunt, ring-o-leevio, army, stickball, wiffleball, touch football, and stoop ball as kids there. Some played cops and robbers later on. But with real cops!

    Thanks for sharing this Kevin!

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Are you the Denis McGowan of St Francis College fame?

      • Denis McGowan says:

        Yes, Kevin, I am one and the same. You were my editor on the Voice at SFC back in the day! Best wishes and greetings to you!

    • Robert says:

      Please let me know if Msgr Hume can be reached?

      • Hi-I went to holy Innocents School 1947-1951 when we moved to Manhasset. We lived at 525 E. 21St and my grandmother at 700 Ocean Ave. I read somewhere online that there was a Holy Innocents School 100th reunion on Oct 20, 2014. Church could give me no information-can anybody on this site?

  2. Dennis Cook says:

    As a kid I lived at 415 E 17th st till I was about 10. I remember DePalma’s grocery store next to the subway station. I remember the gum machines on the subway platform. My dad belonged to the Knickerbocker tennis club several blocks away down 17th street past the RC church and school. We went there many times. I always heard Cortelyou pronounced corTELyou. Electric buses used to run there. Our laundry was picked up by Pilgrim Laundry in dark green almost silent electric trucks. The driver (Dick – funny what you remember) gave me a short ride in one once.

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      The CorTEL you pronunciation doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. When I first saw the word in print, I said KORT’lyou. But nobody over there says it like that.

      Similarly to me it makes more sense to say JOR-a-lemon, instead of Jor AHL- amon.

  3. Dennis Cook says:

    Forgot to mention; we moved from 17th st in 1952.

  4. LC says:

    This is my neighborhood…many of those stores are gone now like Bill’s discount store,the hardware store to name a few…Bill’s discount is now a corner deli and the hardware store is a sushi restaurant..cortelyou has benches now on the strip as well as newly planted trees and of new mini bars and small restaurants..I grew up all around this area,this neighborhood definitely made me who I am today..and I’m still in the neighborhood today and have no plans of leaving

  5. dunia says:

    i used to live here when i was younger and never forgot it .One day i was feeling nostalgic and tried to google map my old address and i couldnt find it.Im currently not in ny but when i head back im looking for it.I sure hope they didnt tear it down or something.i lived the best and worst part of my life in that neighborhood

  6. Artie says:

    As for the pronounciation of Cortelyou, I’ve never met anyone — except the stray Manhattan-based news reporter — who pronounces it any way BUT CorTELLyou. ( My wife grew up at Westminster and Cortelyou, across from the fire station.)

    When in Rome. ;)

    And thank you for this wonderful site!

    Artie

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      I pronounce it that way but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Gail says:

      But the alma mater of PS 139 was “Hail to the name of CORtellyou, home of truth and light.”

      • Cathy Cortelyou says:

        Hi – I am of the Cortelyou lineage and we all pronounce our surname with the accent on the first syllable. Hope that helps!
        Check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Cortelyou for more info.
        Cheers! Cathy

        • Kevin Walsh says:

          And that’s the way that makes the most sense to me.

          • Pat Monaghan says:

            I grew up in Flatbush Argyle Road and Holy Innocents, in the late 40′s until our family went highbrow and moved to the country -Levittown in 1951. I was an altar boy at Holy Innocents. Never any inappropriate contact there btw unless you consider getting belted for not knowing the Latin for Mass.
            Bklyn was safe, relatively quiet, and you could let your kids walk to scHool as we did. 60 yrs later I am dad of eight and grandfather of 12.. I married my college sweetheart and am still a working lawyer with a challenging interesting practice. Does anyone remember the chestnut fights?
            Pat Monaghan

  7. Christopher Hunton says:

    As a child, I lived at 349 Marlborough Road, two buildings down from Cortelyou Road, from 1953 until 1959. It was a busy and fascinating neighborhood.

    Cortelyou is one of the early Brooklyn names. I don’t know whether the Road was named after a particular member of the family. Jacques Cortelyou was an early settler of New Amsterdam, and was the Surveyor General of the colony. He was of French Huguenot background, and his children married into Dutch families. One of the old Cortelyou family farms was in Flatbush.

    Everyone in the neighborhood pronounced the street name as Kor-TELL-you, but I do know that members of the Cortelyou family pronounce the name KORT-elyou.

    George B. Cortelyou was a prominent government official (presidential private secretary, Secretary of Commerce and Labor, and Secretary of the Treasury) under Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. He was standing with President McKinley when he was shot. Years ago I knew an old lady who lived next door to the Cortelyous on Bancroft Place in DC, and she remembered seeing Theodore Roosevelt arrive many times for visits to Mr. Cortelyou. She, too, pronounced the name KORT-elyou.

    I vote that both pronunciations are sanctioned by usage and are proper.

    • John Feeney says:

      I grew up not too far away n Flatbush (Holy Cross Boys School). Went to (the late) Brooklyn Prep. I was 30 already when my parents bought a house on the corner of E17th and Glenwood, which is still in the family.

      Growing up, I always pronounced it CorTELyou. But then, we Brooklynites pronounced the name of my street winTHROP, whereas those who live in the town of that name in Massachusetts say WINthrop.

      The battery-powered Pilgrim Laundry trucks were still much in evidence on my street (Winthrop Street between Bedford and Flatbush) at least into the 1950′s.

      It was thoughts of those that brought me to this site via Google: Here in Geneva (Switzerland) they have various pint-sized electric powered vehicles that whirr around the streets, sidewalks, and park paths. The tiny four-wheeled vans service the ubiquitous hanging trashbags, deliver mail, and make deliveries. As one passed me this evening, it called to mind the all-but-silent full-sized electric-powered Pilgrim Laundry vans that could be seen almost any day in my part of 1950′s Flatbush — as well as the chain-drive coal trucks of the same era?

  8. mike mcloughlin says:

    Loved reading all the comments about my old neighborhood. My sister Ann and our parents lived at 209 E.16th and Ann and I attended and graduated from Holy Innocents.I remember almost every teacher and classmate though I have never lived near to the old neighbor4hood. My wife Gwen and I have four grown and successful children(Four different professions).We live in a beautiful small town in Southeastern Colorado and are very active seniors. I remember D’palmas and Melkonians and Snows hardware and Greenfields and many other businesses on Cortelyou Rd.

  9. Michael Polgur says:

    Best neighborhood in Brooklyn.

  10. tanjin says:

    Cortelyou road was a place very dear to my heart. I grew up on 400 marlborough road. This place now has a strange dichotomy of restaurants, bars, cornerstores, bistros and still my favorite pizzaria san remos. Nothing beats a neighborhood that was entrenched with diversity but now I have to fathom the truth of a gentrified place with yuppies and hipsters rising the rent. The change is different but it gives a very different essence to what Cortelyou used to be. A place I will always call home but the truth is, it is not the same anymore.

  11. Richard Isaacs says:

    Lived at 309 E 19 St from 1945 to 1960 — PS 139 – Walt Whitman JHS – On Cortelyou Rd. – Benny’s Candy Store – Campanelli’s Deli – De Palma’s – Bill’s Bicycle Shop – Stan’s Hobby Ctr. – Charlie & Walter’s Luncheonette – Goldleaf Supermarket – The gas station on the corner of Cortelyou Rd & E 16th St – The neighborhood bar’s on thr corner’s of E 16th st and one on the corner of Marlborough Rd. — and on and on — it was a great place to grow up.

  12. Bill Mulcahy says:

    Dennis, I do remember you. I used to hang with the late Pete Carrera and Gene MaArdle and a bunch of others on Rugby Road. I believe your father was a police lieutenant. I am sorry to hear about the fires you sustained and I do hope all is well and that you have been happy and successful in your life.

  13. john mascoli says:

    I lived on East 16th between Ditmas and Dorchester from 1960 until 1976, my mom continued living there until the mid 1990′s. As a kid I worked at De Palma’s, I remember Dr. Greenfield, Almac Hardware, Grillo’s seafood, going trick or treating at Ebinger’s house on East 19th St. Attended PS 139, Ditmas JHS and Erasmus Hall. Great neighborhood, beautiful homes!

  14. Lawrence Waldorf says:

    Hi, can you please add me to this group since I went to Holy Innocents Grammar School from 1964 through 1971 and grew up in the area. I want to post our 100th Anniversary School Reunion Details on this page. Many of your members will appreciate being invited and many will want to share in our common historical background.

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