Borough Park has been oddly overlooked during my Forgottenhood, and strangely enough — I lived in Bay Ridge from 1957-1993 and Borough Park, a vast area roughly defined by the old Bay Ridge Long Island Rail Road line, 18th Avenue, 9th Avenue, and Green-Wood Cemetery/Dahill Road, was what I passed through on bus or bike to get to such neighborhoods as Kensington and Flatbush. It’ll likely never be as hip, hep, hip-hop and happening as Brooklyn’s Ribbon of Gold: Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, Willliamsburg and Greenpoint, where the cool kids go to party. It’s not shot and a beer like Bay Ridge or Windsor Terrace. It’s an area that works and worships, as it is home to a large Orthodox Jewish population, as well as several sects of Hasidim.
It is, however, a mistake to think Borough Park is exclusively Jewish, as my aunt, uncle and cousins lived in the heart of Borough Park at 13th Avenue and 50th Street, and my aunt, now in her eighties, still maintains a residence in that same apartment. They had Jewish, Italian and Irish friends there. Of course they had to do all their shopping on Friday or Sunday.
If you look at a map of Borough Park it features among Brooklyn’s severest grid patterns, with ranks of streets and avenues paralleling themselves ad infinitum. This monotony is broken by two main thoroughfares: Fort Hamilton Parkway and New Utrecht Avenue, both of which have been in place since the mid-1800s, one as the main road to Fort Hamilton and the other as the road that accompanied the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island Railroad and since 1917 the West End Elevated Line. The two streets meet and form a big “X” at 45th Street, Alben Square, which was an unlikely Brooklyn rock and roll mecca in the early 1970s.
In July 2007, I found myself wobbling around the streets surrounding the Big X. Then as now I forgot how, exactly, I arrived, or how I left. The photographic evidence, though, proves that I was indeed there. Here’s what my Canon recorded that hot day.
Photography storefront, Fort Hamilton Parkway. (which I’ll call FHP to avoid constantly typing it out). In my Borough Park jaunts, I’ve found some very old storefronts still hanging in, unchanged, for what must be decade after decade. The lettering on the sign appears to be from the Super Seventies, while the display windows and doors seem unchanged from when Harry Truman was in the White House. RIGHT: PS 131, FHP and 44th. Usually, it’s harder to find architectural information about NYC public schools online then hen’s teeth, but the Orange Crate Art blog provides a telling newsclipping:
Borough Park had not been laid out and only a few roomy single-family homes were there when PS 131’s main building was built in 1902.
1902 was a big year in Borough Park — that year, St. Catherine of Alexandria Church was constructed a couple of blocks away at 41st Street. Its steeple is the tallest object for a mile or two radius, and can be used for orienting if you’re new to the area.
The West End BMT line is elevated between 9th Avenue and Coney Island, running along New Utrecht Avenue, 86th Street and Stillwell Avenue for the most part. As stated before, it replaced the surface West End Line in 1917. Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle drives madly under the West End el to track a killer riding an el train in The French Connection (1971), while Tony Manero (John Travolta) struts proudly during the opening titles under the 86th Street stretch of the line a few years later in Saturday Night Fever.
The Fort Hamilton Parkway and Bay Parkway stations along the line were both given concrete viaducts due to their width. This one features Guastavino-like interlocking brickwork and colored terra cotta, nice ornamentation noticed by… me, and maybe a couple others.
FHP north of the Big X is mainly residential, with attached stone buildings (like much of Borough Park) but here and there, you find a storefront like this one, Nouveau Prosthetics. If I’ve just lost a limb, perhaps I’d like a place that tries to add a touch of class by relying on French. Or maybe I’d just be too disgusted to notice.
Closer to the cemetery, where there are, no doubt, a number of car crash victims, there are a brace of auto repair shops, mixed with florists.
The Lamp Warehouse has maintained a splashy presence at FHP and 39th Street since the 1970s at least. Tom Edison and the guy with the bow tie who opened the place are featured on the exterior.
[By 2011 the exterior had been whitewashed, though Lamp Warehouse maintains a presence in the building.]
You will find 3-story dwellings between 37th and 38th Street east of FHP these days, but for over 75 years, ending in 1985, there was both an elevated line (The Culver) that connected both another defunct El, the Fifth Avenue, with Coney Island. Between 1954 and 1975 the el served as a shuttle between the BMT West End Line and the IND 6th Avenue Line (a spur was built from Church Avenue and Ditmas Avenue in 1954).
In addition, a surface freight line, the South Brooklyn Railway, ran from the waterfront south to Coney Island. The freight line was discontinued about 1980; freight can now be moved along the el south to Coney Island Yards.
The el as it looked just prior to demolition in 1985
Name That Car! It’s a Plymouth … what model, what year?