I try to keep Forgotten New York from turning into the Nostalgia Page of the Week, but when I am in Bay Ridge, I always have nostalgic thoughts, since I was born in Maimonides Hospital and lived in Bay Ridge the first 35 years of my life. My dentist and other dental specialists I consult are in Bay Ridge, and given the sorry state of my teeth, I tend to return frequently. On this occasion I was consulting a specialist on Fort Hamilton and Bay Ridge Parkways (that’s 75th Street to local denizens) and to return to Queens after the visit was over, I walked a few blocks to the BMT on 63rd Street. I found a lot of things that were there while I lived here, but…changed somehow, in some cases.
In Bay Ridge there are three Catholic parishes, St. Anselm (which was mine), St. Patrick, in Fort Hamilton, and St. Ephrem (on the Dyker Heights end, left). Of St. Patrick, I have heard: Ireland, conversion, snakes, etc. St. Anselm? Quite obscure these days, but he was a leading European scholar in the medieval ages; St. Ephrem, not exactly a household name, was a 4th Century Syrian theologian.
St. Ephrem’s Church, at Ft. Hamilton Parkway and Bay Ridge Parkway across from the dentist’s office, though, does figure in a standout moment from 1986. Across the street from the church is McKinley Park, the Gowanus Expressway, and my former apartment, at 7th Avenue and 73rd Street. My cousin Eileen was getting married the same day as Game 3 of the 1986 NL Championship Series. I had to usher. The game running late, the Metsies trailed the Astros 5-4 and I was afraid I would have to miss the end of the game it since the wedding started at 4 PM. Of course Lenny Dykstra hit a HR with Backman aboard and the Mets triumphed. I stalked across the expressway footbridge and across the park in my tuxedo and got there in time for the wedding.
Fort Hamilton Parkway shows up very early in Brooklyn gazeteers; in fact, it was laid out long before the Town of New Utrecht, of which Bay Ridge was originally a part, became part of Brooklyn. It shows up on maps as early as the mid-1800s, as Fort Hamilton Avenue, a road from Flatbush to Fort Hamilton, a US Government Reservation established as Fort Lewis in 1826 and still a United States Army base. By 1910 or so it had been renamed Fort Hamilton Parkway, and the name persists even though the road ia a major trucking route. The grid syatem of Bay Ridge gradually was built against it, and it now cuts diagonally across the grid, forming an X with other major routes like 7th and New Utrecht Avenues.
The X at 7th Avenue is domianted by McKinley Park, named for William McKinley (1843-1901) 25th President of the USA and first one in the 20th Century; the Spanish-American War was waged under his presidency and as the spoils of the victory over Spain the USA had annexed Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Phillippines. McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in September 1901 and was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt.
On December 21, 1903, a new park in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn was named in President McKinley’s memory. Located on two blocks bounded by 73rd Street, Seventh Avenue, 78th Street, and Fort Hamilton Parkway-this park had been purchased by the City of New York earlier that year. The site’s woodlands and meadow made it popular with picnickers. By the 1910s a parkhouse had been erected, a skating pond was created, and tennis courts were built in McKinley Park. The western portion of the park was named in 1979 in memory of Father Richard A. Kennedy and Monsignor Edward J. Sweeney, both pastors of St. Ephrem’s Church in Bay Ridge. NYC Parks
The junior (sorry, ‘intermediate’) high school on FHP between 73rd snd 74th Streets is also named for the President.
From one figure of the early 20th Century to another, as the old Lindbergh meat market at 7113 FHP undoubtedly is using the same enamel sign it must have started out with decades ago when it was named for aviator Charles Lindbergh, who flew the first nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris May 20-21,1927 inThe Spirit of St. Louis. The butcher has been called the Yore Meat Market for a couple of decades, but that sign is too good to take down.
Veterans of Foreign Wars post on FHP between 70th and 71st Streets. The former Joseph V. Sessa funeral home at 70th Street has new ownership and a new, forbidding facade.
Two more old school signs – I went to college with the daughter of the Mauriello furniture guy — so long ago I forgot both their names, so if you’re out there, fill me in. St. Anthony’s Bakery, FHP between Bay Ridge Avenue (69th Street) and 68th Street,
Take a walk back in time to the local neighborhood bakery. As soon as you open the door, the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread envelops you. The bread is kept in a glass case in the front window so you can gaze at it while drooling. In front of the counter are rows and rows of butter cookies (buy some of the chocolate gingerbread man shaped cookies — every child (no matter how old — I still do this) you know will love biting their heads off). Yummy rolls with just the right amount of crispiness are stacked high and are only 30 cents each — can you believe that?
The cutest grandma type lady with her little button down smock happily waits on you and takes your order. This old school bakery is complete with statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the bakery’s name sake, St. Anthony.
A good tip to note: They are open on the big holidays — Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter — only until the bread runs out! Yelp
We move further on in the 20th Century for another icon. Elvis has never been associated with baseball especially, but here is the Yankee Elvis (that is a strange phrase; he was a son of the deep South) across from the Fortway Theatre, which undoubtedly ran all his bad movies in the 1960s.
You’re gonna kill me for this but I always find Chinese restaurant and laundry names hilarious…
The old Fortway Theatre, FHP and 68th Street, stands across from one of the 4 public libraries I used — the others were on 4th Avenue and 95th Street, Ridge Boulevard and 73rd Street, and 13th Avenue and 83rd Street. This was apparently the only theatre in the country ever named Fortway. It opened in 1928 and closed in 2005. I don’t recall seeing a lot of movies here — the old Dyker, at 86th Street and Gelston Avenue, was where I went — but I do recall catching Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear and Young Sherlock Holmes here. It became a Chinese supermarket in 2007.
For our next FHP celebrity we have to reach back all the way to the 11th Century, as the corridor park between 4th Avenue, Ft. Hamilton Parkway, 66th and 67th Streets is named Lief Ericson Square, after the explorer from Iceland by way of Norway became if not the first, certainly one of the first, Europeans to encounter North America. Since he landed in Newfoundland and Labrador and Baffin Island, which were not widely commercially exploitable, his discoveries were largely forgotten and Europeans didn’t invade North America widely until Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Caribbean islands, believing he had attained India.
Another longtime FHP campaigner, Ray’s Time Center, across from Ericson Square.
Great wall ad with a concrete mixer truck by Kings Ready Mix at 64th St. and FHP. Right: the slanted building marks one of the remnants of Kouwenhoven Lane, a road that predated the Bay Ridge street grid, running from about 3rd Avenue and 67th Street east and north to what is now Old New Utrecht Road. It was mostly obliterated by the early 20th Century, but some driveways and property lines betray its old course.
Once video rental shops were on every other corner, with stacks and stacks of videocassettes, which are now almost as outmoded as the rotary phone and the dumbwaiter. (True to form, your webmaster still has a VCR and plenty of VHS tapes.) The recordable DVD player and Netflix slayed the industry.
Dr. Park is ready to kill your pain, but only if you are Chinese.
The N train, or the Sea Beach line, is a BMT subway line that diverges from the BMT 4th Avenue line at 59th Street and runs to Coney Island. Unusually, it is an all-local line placed in an open cut, taking over from a steam surface railroad, in 1915. It once ran to the Sea Beach Hotel in Coney Island, hence the moniker. To me, though, it’s the most boring outdoor line in the system…what you see here is pretty much what you get all the way to Coney. Interestingly some of the old incandescent lights are still in place at the Fort Hamilton Parkway station — they don’t work anymore, though.
Note the center track. The Transit Authority once experimented with an express line from Coney Island to 4th Avenue in 1967-1968 called the NX. It was a failure and today the center express tracks are only used for freight and maintenance cars.
Photographed April 2010, page completed April 17, 2010