I’m quite familiar with Canarsie and Flatlands — these neighborhoods in southeast Brooklyn were quite accessible to the Bay Ridge boy just by bicycling east a few miles, which I did readily in my years before moving to Queens in 1992. While these neighborhoods look essentially the same as they did in the 1970s and 1980s, with no new major construction, demographics have changed quite a bit, shifting from mostly Irish and Italian (many classmates at alma mater St. Francis College were from eastern Brooklyn) to mainly Caribbean and African American.
For years, I read, Canarsie was the butt of jokes by vaudeville and Borscht Belt comedians because it was considered a backwater. Much of Brooklyn east of Coney Island and south of Flatbush did not get fully built up until the post World War II era. While there were business districts and shopping strips, there were also regions still devoted to farmland as late as the Fab Fifties. Some of the rough edges still haven’t rubbed off, as you will see on this page, though southeast Brooklyn is now urbanified through and through.
Canarsie and the neighborhood of Flatlands were once part of the Kings County Town of Flatlands, which Dutch settlers had originally called Nieuw Amersfoort, after the Dutch city. When the British assumed control in 1664 they called it Flatlands for its non-hilly topography. The town center was at Flatbush Road (Turnpike) and Kings Highway (see below). Ultimately all of Kings County’s towns were annexed to Brooklyn by 1896, and Brooklyn was consolidated with NYC in 1898.
After getting off the L train alluded to on this FNY post, I set off north on Rockaway Parkway, one of the original roads that led out of Canarsie to the next town to the north, New Lots.
For me The Jerry Building, on Rockaway Parkway just north of the train, is one of the great treasures of Canarsie. It presents a huge facade of gleaming white terra cotta. Undoubtedly, the person who built it was a Jerome. Most Geralds abbreviate their name Gerry, with a G. I’m sure they exist, but I don’t know of a Jeremiah who called himself Jerry. The Lamentations of Jerry? I don’t think so.
Canarsie still has numerous signs of former trolley service, including trolley poles along Rockaway Parkway and Glenwood Road that today are mainly used to hang traffic signs. In an unusual situation, for a couple of decades up to 1942, a trolley line was the extension of the Canarsie subway route, running in a private right of way between East 95th and 96th Streets southeast to the waterfront. In addition trolley routes Nos. 9 and 14 ran down Rockaway Parkway until May 27, 1951. The city has never gotten around to removing the poles that held the overhead trolley wires.
If you look at maps of Canarsie from the 1890s or so, the area in no way resembles the street grid found today. There’s just what became Rockaway Parkway, Conklin Avenue, Canarsie Road (East 92nd) and some east to west farm to market roads, and lanes leading to churches and schools. Back then Canarsie was truly a small town, a backwater in the shadow of the big city.
One of those east-west lanes is Smith’s Lane, which once ran continuously for a few blocks, but today exists as a piece here and there. THIS piece, off East 95th and marked by a wood sign nailed to a telephone pole, exists only because one house (seen in the above picture, a white house with a red roof) is still located on it.
St. Albans Episcopal Church, Farragut Road and East 94th, appears as if it could have been a private dwelling at one time and became a church later.
One of the Brooklyn mysteries that will have to remain unsolved until I get more information is why Avenues F and G were renamed Farragut and Glenwood Roads. Farragut is likely named for the Civil War Union Admiral, but Glenwood? (A small piece of Avenue F is still in place in Kensington, and Avenue Q became Quentin Road after Teddy Roosevelt’s son Quentin was killed in World War I).
ForgottenFan Ron Schweiger:
Cornerstone Christian Educational Ministries, around the corner on East 94th, was definitely once a private home. I have always been a fan of ecclesiastical lettering — look at the flourishes on those C’s.
Most of Canarsie was developed late enough so that most of its houses, from the post World War II era, are free standing on grassy plots. Occasionally, though, you see rows of attached houses like these on Foster Avenue from East 92-93rd streets, that were likely developed a few years on either side of World War I (1917-1918).
You won’t find an Avenue E in Brooklyn. Its place is taken by Foster Avenue, which runs continuously from the F train el in Parkville all the way to the cut for the Canarsie Line, though it makes an odd jog at Kings Highway, where it continues east a full two blocks south. Whoever drew up the Brooklyn street layout, especially in the southeast, was smoking serious peyote.
While Avenues F and G were renamed decades ago, Avenue D (along with J, K, L, M, N) run into Canarsie while keeping their letters. However, several miles west in Ditmas Park, Avenue D is called Dorchester Road.
On a building that still distributes wholesale soda pop and beer at Avenue D and East 92nd, a No-Cal soda ad has been permitted to remain. No-Cal, which originated in 1952, sprang from Russian immigrant Hyman Kirsch’s desire to market a sugar-free carbonated beverage for diabetes patients. At the height of its popularity, actresses Kim Novak and Julie Adams appeared in commercials. As Coca-Cola’s Tab and Diet Pepsi cut its sales, No-Cal was out of business by the 1970s.
Nolans Lane, running from East 94th to 96th Streets near Foster Avenue, is another of Canarsie’s obscure east-west alleys. So obscure, in fact, that its single mercury-bulb light has been allowed to remain despite a wholesale replacement of NYC street light luminaires in 2009. More on Nolans Lane here.
The road was named for John H. Nolan, who was known as the Little Drummer Boy in the Battle of Cedar Creek. He later became an undertaker and managed Canarsie’s first funeral establishment, a branch of L. Ruoff and Sons. He is buried in Canarsie Cemetery, where an elaborate monument recounts his role in the skirmish. Linda Steinmuller, Canarsie Courier
East 92nd Street (seen here south of Foster) boasts several buildings that are a little older than those on other streets. That’s a hint that it was in heavy use earlier than its surrounding streets. Its path is part of the colonial-era Canarsie Lane, which ran from what is now Lefferts Gardens to Canarsie; pieces of it, like East 92nd, are still in place, including Cortelyou Road south of Holy Cross Cemetery. South of Avenue M Canarsie Road slices away from the overall numbered grid and still possesses its old name. The apartment building was likely built after the old Canarsie steam rain was converted to electric powered trains under the Dual Contracts purchase in the 1910s, and Canarsie became more accessible for commuting to Manhattan.
SCHOOL LANE, a short lane between East 89th and Remsen just north of Glenwood Road.
From my Canarsie nighborhood page:
Before Remsen Avenue existed, children walked to P.S. 114, a wooden schoolhouse, through School Lane, which ran alongside of “Pop” James’ Grocery and Candy Store. School Lane was originally known as Cobb’s Lane – a corruption of Kopf’s Lane, named for Peter Kopf, who owned a grocery store on East 92nd Street, and was known locally as “Honest Peter.”
The schoolhouse was destroyed by fire in 1907, and temporarily moved to Harms’ Hall – a place where minstrel and Punch & Judy shows performed – on Rockaway Parkway and Smith’s Lane. P.S. 114, which recently celebrated its centennial anniversary ( see June 21 issue at canarsiecourier.com ) was built in 1912 on Remsen Avenue and Glenwood Road. Linda Steinmuller, Canarsie Courier
At the SW corner of Conklin Avenue (one of Canarsie’s oldest roads) and East 92nd Street is the American Legion Memorial, constructed, as its cornerstone says, in 1929. On the front lawn is Canarsie’s war memorial, dedicated in 1970.
CANARSIE COMMUNITY REFORMED CHURCH, Conklin Avenue and East 93rd. The congregation known today as Canarsie Community Reformed Church can trace its roots back to 1876 when the Rev. John Conrad Dickhaut founded the Flatlands German Evangelical Church. Over time, the German language was discontinued and the group became known as Canarsie Reformed Church. American Guild of Organists
Information on Brooklyn’s one and only log cabin on the NE corner of Flatlands Avenue and East 93rd (now a real estate office that has done its dangest to hide the unique log cabin details behind garish signage) is sketchy at best. The cabin was built by Lloyd Doubleday Senior in 1936, and it was run as an ice cream parlor for many years.
Some digging on the internet has turned up a site by a Canarsie old timer called Buddy Chai, who has a whole page on the cabin, as well as some interior photos. Enjoy.
Walking this route in early October, I spotted directly across Flatlands Avenue a house on the corner with a storeroom full of Christmas decorations and moving figures. Christmas music blasted through a loudspeaker. A passerby mentioned that the owner does a large Christmas display every year.
The spread is owned by a former Brooklyn assemblyman named Frank Seddio and, as luck would have it, it goes “live” today, December 4, 2011 as I write this:
A 48-year-old Canarsie holiday tradition is going blue this year when the Smurfs make their dazzling debut in front of Frank Seddio’s holiday-decorated home.
The magical, mushroom-inhabiting critters will spend the days skating in front the home on Flatlands Avenue — a heartwarming, $300,000 slice of Yuletide kitsch that promises to brighten the block and beyond when it’s illuminated with 50,000 twinkling lights on Sunday…
The former assemblyman and surrogate court judge — and his elves — have decked the halls since 1986, continuing a tradition started in 1963 by the home’s previous owner, Frank Guarino.
This year, the cast of 100 animated characters includes a new, singing-talking-joke-cracking parrot, and Stumpy, the fan-favorite talking Christmas tree. Eight wondrous displays feature vignettes depicting Hanukkah and Kwanza, and there’s a 12-foot wreath crowning the roof that “can be seen by airplanes landing at Kennedy Airport,” Seddio said. Brooklyn Daily
A very modern funeral home, Guarino of Canarsie, at Flatlands and Remsen. Information on funeral homes, as with some churches, is sketchy on the world wide web, but I don’t think it would be a wild guess this Guarino has something to do with the Guarno mentioned above, who started the Christmas tradition.
St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church was originally constructed on Canarsie Road, now East 92nd street about 1880 and has, I gather, survived a relatively recent damaging fire.
The spire of old Grace Church, the tallest building in Canarsie until the campanile of Holy Family Church on Rockaway Parkway surpassed it, looms on East 92nd Street south of Avenue J. According to more than one account, Grace (now affiliated with the Methodists) was built in 1839 though I’d have to take that with a bit of salt.
Bureau of Sewers
Canarsie is vast — much larger than the maps indicate that it is. Since my goal was Flatbush, I demurred exploring further south and lit out southwest down Flatlands Avenue, a horn honking, cacophonous main drag and bus route to East Flatbush, where it meets Avenue N.
At Ralph Avenue and Flatlands, there’s a handsome brick building with arched windows, with entablature proclaiming it to be a part of the Bureau of Sewers (now undoubtedly a part of today’s Department of Environmental Protection. It’s lined up at the present headwaters of Paerdegat Basin, which used to extend as Bedford Creek well into East Flatbush before it was redirected into the sewer system. There are also a group of streets in Brooklyn with the name, which is close to the Dutch for “horse gate.” Possibly, horses were watered using the creek in the colonial era.
Some more Dutch for you: the Brooklyn seal, shown on the entablature, contains the words Een Draght Mackt Maght, or, “Unity Means Strength.” Also shown is a young woman carrying bounds sticks called fasces, representing government (the fasces symol also appeared on the back of the “mercury” dime from 1916-1945.
For reasons known only to the DEP, the entrance to the parking lot for decades was accompanied by an old bishop-crook lamppost. That post was removed but the tradition continues with this replica post.
The Arch Diner, opposite the Bureau of Sewers on Ralph Avenue, is a relatively new addition to NYC’s diner canon — it’s a 1990 DeRaffele.
I turned south on East 53rd and Flatlands (for reasons you will see below) and saw, before attaining my quarry, several species of modern NYC housing.
In Brooklyn you occasionally see a house set way back from the curbline, with an expansive lawn. They’re probably quite old and were there before the area streets were laid out. (In Flatlands, the street grid was built from the 1920s-1950s and in Bergen Beach, wasn’t finished in some areas till the 1990s!)
The encroachment of the Fedders Special, beloved by outer-borough developers because they’re cheap to build, is happening all over NYC — even in Marble Hill, Manhattan. They’re marked by concrete lawns, rusty fire escapes and a hatred of vegetation.
This stretch is definitely post WW II, possibly as late as the 1960s. Garages in the basements do allow for some green lawns in the front. One gent emerged and asked why I was taking pictures and was satisfied by my reasons. Your paperz pleaz!
A nice pair, East 53rd south of Avenue L.
I walked down east 53rd because I wanted another look at #1587, between Avenues M and N. You will notice that it seems turned away from the street, with a lengthy dormered section on the side. There are older pictures of this house all alone in an open field.
It was built by a Douwe Stoothoff, a Dutch immigrant, sometime around 1800. In 1828 it was sold to John Williamson, whose son, Garret, became a prominent rhubarb farmer in the area. The house was moved to its present location as the street grid was built through in the early 1900s. Over the years, a succession of owners have done their best to disguise it so that you wouldn’t recognize it as a colonial-era house.
Pastosa Ravioli, Avenue N and East 53rd. I have always admired Italian pasta shops because of the shade of light green used on the signage along with the red (that’s now faded here). This is a relic of Flatlands’ once more prominent Italian-American population.
At Avenue N and Utica Avenue there’s a large parking lot on the corner, but there are also a couple of former trolley poles with lamps mounted on them, marking he space as a trolley turnaround. Avenue N was a main route for trolleys heading to Bergen Beach (#41) and on Utica Avenue (#46). Both routes were converted to motor buses in 1951, which was a tough year for the Dodgers and for trolleys.
Power Playground, across from the old trolley lot, features a beautifully rendered flag on the handball wall. The park was named for a local luminary in the 1950s, Marshal Power, who died at age 35.
Seeking another colonial-era house I headed north on East 48th.
Attached homes with porches, likely from the Roaring 20s.
Smaller homes and grassy plots mark these as from the early 20th Century.
No doubt, a stucco fan.
At 1640 East 48th, near Avenue M, is the Stoothoff-Baxter House. It was purchased, or inherited, by Irish immigrant John Baxter in 1796 after previous owner Garret Stoothoff passed away. By 1812, Baxter had added the larger part of the house.
This is the smaller part of the house that, according to the historical plaque, was built in 1747 by Elberts Stoothoff, though I suspect that’s somewhat too early. The house was moved to its present location around 1900 when the street grid was introduced. According to this real estate website, the surrounding homes date to the 1940s.
I walked west on Avenue M toward Flatbush Avenue and the heart of the old Village of Flatlands. There’s a lot of history and admirable architecture where Flatbush and Flatlands Avenues, Avenue M and Kings Highway are concentrated.
Harden Street is a narrow lane running south from Lott Place across Avenue M to a dead end. If you angle the camera just right it looks like the country lane that it used to be. We will see another one later on.
At the northeast corner of Flatbush and Flatlands is a masterpiece with a classic Flemish-style stepped facade. I don’t know the history of the building but it was definitely part of a real estate development because similarly styled buildings are on the other side of the street. Older photos show a Manufacturers trust bank on the ground floor, and it’s still occupied by a Chase branch. A fire recently ravaged it, but it will be restored.
These are the lookalike buildings on Flatbush Avenue I had mentioned.
An Art Deco era chiseled sign marks the former Prudential Savings Bank.
Moving west to Flatlands Avenue, Avenue M and Ryder Street is Father Kehoe Triangle, named for a longtime pastor at nearby St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
In the first eight years of his service as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas, Father Kehoe established the new school, convent, rectory, and church building. The gothic inspired church building, completed in 1930 was the crowning point in Father Kehoe’s career. Throughout these years the parish grew from 700 parishioners to a burgeoning 7,000 members with an ever-growing waiting list. In addition to the new buildings, Father Kehoe was instrumental in helping the poor members of his community during the Great Depression. He founded a parish unemployment bureau with a guaranteed $20,000 per year funding. This bureau was responsible for securing $5 million worth of employment for local residents.
Father Kehoe used his spare time to organize the local boy scouts, fife and drum corps, and girl scouts. He also assisted in obtaining funds and securing construction for five churches other than his own: Resurrection Church, Good Shepherd Church, Our Lady Help Christians, St. Mary Queen of Heaven, and St. Vincent Ferrer. During his career he received an honorary Doctorate of Laws from St. Francis College and administered religious services to U.S. Navy troops based at Floyd Bennett Field during World War II in 1941. After serving as a priest for 47 years, Father James F. Kehoe died in 1943 at age 74. The funeral service was held at his parish, St. Thomas Aquinas. One hundred seventy-five priests were among those who paid their respect. NYC Parks
The Vietnam War memorial was inserted here in 1968.
Facing the Commander Eugene S. Sarsfield Playground is the Park Tavern, with its sign manufactured from wood pieces.
Here’s a Robinson Kings County atlas plate from 1890 that, fascinatingly, shows the Flatlands Village street layout as it was then, but also the future grid. Built roads are shown in purple, and I have helpfully added their modern names. Harden Street is the short stripe between Mill Road and Flatbush Road (now Avenue). Mill Road, once the main east-west route, has devloved over time and now exists in just a couple of pieces. Kings Hihway, of course, was expanded into a power route in the 1920s. Them there’s Lotts Lane.
Running south from Avenue M and Coleman Street is a short, unassuming dirt road. The city doesn’t mark it with a street sign, and no houses border on it. It comes to a dead end before reaching Avenue N. S the 1890 map shows, this is the only remaining trace of Lotts Lane, once a major farm to market north-south road for horses and wagons.
A block away on Hendrickson Street south of Avenue M are buildings associated with St. Thomas Aquinas parish, the first Catholic church in Flatlands village, established in 1885 (see map above, on which it appears). The original church building on Flatbush Road was replaced with the present Hendrickson Street campus in 1930; the original cast bell is displayed on the lawn.
Thomas was a [13th century] Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis. “Aquinas” is not a surname (hereditary surnames were not then in common use in Europe), but is a Latin adjective meaning “of Aquino”, his place of birth. He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy was conceived as a reaction against, or as an agreement with his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory. wikipedia
Next door, the convent associated with the parish is named for Saint Edith Stein, a Carmelite Order nun (converted from Judaism and later, atheism) who was martyred by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942. She was canonized by JPII in 1998.
The cross at the door has some odd (to me) imagery. Can anyone volunteer an explanation?
PS 207 was built, for God and country, in 1924. It was likely once associated with Aquinas, as even in 1924, public schools would never display a cross on the cornerstone.
3847 Avenue M, where it meets Flatlands Avenue. This is likely very old, possibly 19th Century (note the cupola, which one must have had nice views of surrounding countryside).
Flatlands Dutch Reformed Church and Churchyard
This church and its burial ground were established in 1654, with the present building (1848) the third on the site. During the Revolutionary period of British occupation of Long Island, Redcoats would enter the church for Sunday services and, in a Kings County that was still largely Dutch speaking, the Rev. Ulpianus Van Sinderen would berate them in a language they didn’t understand, subtly, so they wouldn’t suspect. The parish house dates to 1904 and the cemetery consists of burial grounds for Native Americans, free blacks, and Dutch congregants.
Hubbard Place runs for two blocks between Flatbush Avenue and Kings Highway, but the eastern end, between East 40th and Kings Highway, is the older part, an original lane in the Town of Flatlands. In the above photo, the large, bland brick builing replaced the hsitoric Van Pelt House, first built in 1790 but allowed to fall apart in the 1990s and torn down by 2001.
But the west end of Hubbard Place, near Flatbush Avenue, also boasts some eclectic architecture, though the buildings have been tamed by siding.
Flatbush Avenue painted sign. In Broooklyn, CL stood for CLoverdale.
A mighty wraparound corner sign in orange and black for a plumbing concern at Avenue J and Flatbush Avenue.
I took a left on Avenue J and immediately found myself awash in orange-yellow, as I encountered 5 or 6 NYC cabs. Anyone care to explain this livery agglomeration here?
As we are nearing Flatbush/Nostrand, the terminal of the IRT 2 and 5 trains, larger apartment buildings begin to appear like this one at J and East 34th. An ancient handlettered sign advertsies Edelstein Roofing, which may or may not be still in business.
A final Dutch colonial-era house, on this tour at least, can be found at 1128 East 34th, between Avenues I and J. The Johannes Van Nuyse House very much resembles the Stoothoff-Baxter House shown above, with a much older smaller house constructed in 1744. The house was later owned or tenated by the Duryea, Magaw and Coe families and was moved to its present locale in about 1925.
At Avenue I and Flatbush Avenue is the edge of a very early residential development in Flatbush, Vanderveer Park, founded by Henry Mayer in 1892.
1655 Flatbush Avenue actually straddles the Bay ridge LIRR Branch cut.
Flatbush and Nostrand Avenues are two of the longest avenues in Brooklyn (the champion in length being Bedford) with Flatbush running from the Manhatan Bridge to the Marine parkway Gil Hodges Bridge, and Nostrand from south Williamsburg to Sheepshead Bay. Where they meet, just east of Brooklyn College, has been known to generations of Brooklynites as “The Junction,” even though you won’t find that name on street or subway signs. (Broadway Junction, where Broadway and Fulton Street, and a metallic tangle of elevated lines meet, is more formally recognized as a ‘junction.’)
It’s among Brooklyn’s busiest shopping districts, a continuation of Flatbush Avenue’s status as a retail district to the north. It’s also the southernmost reach of the IRT subway. The IND once palnned aline down Utica Avenue, but wars and depressions cancelled it.
And after 5 hours, I cancelled my Canarsie to Flatbush walk and jumped on the #5 train at the beginning of my journey back to FNY World Headquarters in Little Neck.
Photographed October 2011; page finished December 4, 2011