NEWKIRK PLAZA, Midwood Park

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Brooklyn’s former steam railroads, the West End, Sea Beach, Culver, and Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island, which chuffed across farmland on the way to the sea, have left a lasting legacy, in that all of them have become subway or elevated lines.

The West End and Sea Beach were named for seaside hotels to which they brought summer vacationers, and even now oldtimers refer to the N and D trains (the letter designations seem to change every 15 or 20 years) by the old railroad names. The Culver is named for the founder of the railroad that was replaced by the F train elevated, Andrew Culver.

And, the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island was so named because it ran from the city of Brooklyn south through Flatbush to Coney Island.

One of the ways that subway lines that were formerly part of railroads can be recognized is that they tend to run on their own rights of way. The Dyre Avenue line (#5 train) in the northern Bronx used to be part of the NY, Westchester and Boston RR, in existence from 1912-1937. The Sea Beach (N train) runs in an open cut between 61st and 62nd Streets, then 63rd and 64th, and finally between West 7th and 8th on its way south to Coney. Meanwhile, the Brighton Line (now the B and Q), which replaced the Brooklyn, runs in an open cut and embankment between Marlborough Road (East 15th) and East 16th Streets south to the seashore.

 

Brighton Line tracks at Foster Avenue

The Brighton Line has retained an aura of old-time railroading that the other open-cut subway line, the Sea Brach, hasn’t. It runs through the neighborhoods south of Prospect Park, which consist of several planned developments of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that are chock full of handsome Victorian-era standalone houses, several of which can be seen out the windows of the train. From there it runs south through Midwood and Sheepshead Bay on a raised embankment that interrupts several of the alphabet avenues that run east and west. Some of them actually had to be lowered to allow the traffic under the low embankment — if they are allowed to pass through at all.

 

The final station of the Brighton’s open cut before it runs on the embankment that begins at about Glenwood road is Newkirk Plaza, or as it was known until 2011, Newkirk Avenue. In an arrangement unique in New York city, a pedestrian walkway runs above the island (express) station on both sides, with shop fronts facing each walkway.

I had originally thought of “Newkirk” as a Scottish name meaning new church, but it turns out it’s yet another of Brooklyn’s many Dutch appellations and honors the immigrant Nieukercke family, through whose farm the avenue was built in the late 1800s. The family had arrived in the colonies in 1659. As it happens the name translates to new church in Dutch as well.

 

Two views from 1960 and from 2013 looking north from a pedestrian crossover between Newkirk Plaza’s two sides. In 1960 it was possible to lean over a low concrete wall and aim a camera down at the subway cars passing by, which in this case happens to be a BMT Standard. Unfortunately, over the years, other things were being aimed at the subway cars and so, during a Newkirk Plaza renovation in the 2000s, a very high barred fence was placed along every possible opening. You can still stick a camera through the bars, as I did here. photo: Gotham Turnstiles by John Henderson

It’s hard to see when the photo is small, but in the NE part of the plaza, on the right, notice the Ebinger’s Bakery sign, as well as Almac Hardware. We’ll discuss Almac presently, but Ebinger was Brooklyn’s best-known purveyor of baked goods for decades, from 1898-1972…

Ebinger’s was a contemporary of other turn-of-the-century German bakeries in New York like Entenmann’s, Drakes, and Holtermann’s. These bakeries turned out fresh pastries every day—a fragrant collection of crumb buns, lemon bars, nut cookies, and coffee cakes. Entenmann’s would eventually grow into a successful international brand, but only Ebinger’s can lay true claim to the blackout cake. Capital New York

A visit to Ebinger’s on 86th Street was a weekly ritual for our family in Bay Ridge in the 1960s, and though most remember its chocolate cake, I remember Ebinger’s best for its cookies, drizzled with frosting in every pastel color in the rainbow. After Ebinger’s folded in 1972, a couple of entrepreneurs tried reviving the brand, claiming to have gotten their hands on the original recipes, but it wasn’t the same. Those recipes must be buried in a vault someplace along with the original Coca-Cola formula, the one with the coca leaves.

 

In the Easy Eighties, I had a girlfriend who lived on Newkirk Avenue and, while I usually took late night bus rides home to Bay Ridge, if we were going somewhere on the subway, which in the 1980s was still a graffiti-scrawled mugger-mover, we wound up getting on the train at Newkirk Plaza, which, then and now, is entered by this forbidding-looking short tunnel on Marlborough Road. Back then the walls were completely bare, and the desultory attempt at beautification by stencilling the words “Newkirk Plaza” on the walls in green and yellow Garamond Italic hadn’t yet happened.

The A&N Diner sign, by the way, is a relic of the past, as the diner is no longer present.

 

Newkirk and Marlborough Roads. The bishop crook posts are a recent addition as is the bulky NYPD surveillance camera. For many years, Newkirk Plaza was crime-ridden and though conditions are better, crime still pays return visits regularly, for old times’ sake.

 

This is the steel viaduct carrying Newkirk Avenue over the open cut. The green light indicates the station remains open 24/7.

 

Seen on the far wall is a chipping painted ad for the former Independence Savings Bank.

Originally chartered in 1857 as South Brooklyn Savings Bank, it remained primarily a Brooklyn-based bank and retained its headquarters on Court Street. In 1975, the name was changed to Independence Savings Bank.

Starting in 1992 it started to expand outside of Brooklyn with the purchases of banks such as Long Island City S&L (NYC), Bay Ridge Federal Savings(Brooklyn) and Staten Island Bank and Trust(NYC). At its height it had $5 billion in deposits and branches throughout New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties. In 1998 the bank converted to a public stock corporation from a mutual savings bank. By 2005, the banking environment was changing and it couldn’t keep up due to its size and decided in September 2006 to sell itself to Sovereign Bank. wikipedia

 

Newkirk Plaza is the product of a grade crossing elimination on the Brighton Line that took place between 1904 and 1908. This placed the line in its present-day open cut and embankment. Newkirk Plaza was created when residential buildings were placed along the line between Newkirk and Foster Avenues, and pedestrian walkways built along the open cut surrounding the station entrance. Shops occupied the ground floors along the walkways– and Brooklyn had stumbled into its first shopping mall. This occurred anywhere between 1908 and 1913. Brooklyn wouldn’t have another shopping mall until Kings Plaza at Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U opened in late 1970.

For every one of those years (or nearly so, since it has been here since 1914) Almac Hardware has been a presence here. Photos of the Plaza in its early days are scarce (if you have any, pass them along) but Almac does appear in the 1960 photo above.

 

Returning to the Marlborough Road entrance, the south side of the wall has a mosaic addition under way. The mosaic by Carlos Pinto, as well as Susan Jaramillo’s mural on the north side of the wall, have been installed by the Brooklyn Recycle Project. Flight is the theme of both works.

Susan Jaramillo’s lighthearted mural showing the residents of Midwood and Ditmas Park flying over the neighborhood includes a Hasidic gent with helicopter blades on his shtreimel, a burka’ed woman, a yogette floating above the scene without wings, jet packs, winged skates, and other various flying methods.

 

That Double Dragon illuminated sign for a Chinese restaurant is the same one I remember form the early 1980s, and the restaurant is still there, unlike the A & N Diner.

 

This is a view of the platform sometime in the Swingin’ Sixties, when BMT Standards still rumbled along the line. Cast your gaze to the northwest, where the Lipton Drugs sign can be seen. photo: nycsubway.org

 

In 1999, when I visited the plaza, the sign was still there, though the drugstore was long gone. These signs are heavy, bulky, and difficult to take down, so they tend to outlast their parent stores.

 

There is a pharmacy on the Plaza, though, according to the Daily News, Leon’s barbershop next door has been in business for a century. I imagine they mean there has been a barbershop in that space for a century, since Leon himself doesn’t look a day over fifty.

 

A look at the 100-year-old multifamily homes, with carefully wrought cornices and large window lintels, lining the Plaza, with storefronts on the ground floor.

 

A street clock was installed as part of the early 2000s renovations.

 

Newkirk Station Liquors, another longstanding Plaza business.

 

Looking over the pedestrian bridge connecting the Plaza’s two sides. A large apartment building faces the Plaza on its southwest side. The Type B lampposts and tall fences are part of recent station renovations.

 

Here’s a closer look at the Minar Food Market sign, which is likely several decades old but still gets the job done; why replace it?

 

The Newkirk Plaza station house has been renovated, as well, leaving it with a more spacious interior than you’d think, and a couple of new skylights.

 

The east side of the stationhouse features a plaque, placed in 1908, that commemorates the grade crossing elimination along the Brighton Line that brought about Newkirk Plaza.

Bob Diamond, of Atlantic Avenue railroad tunnel fame, wrote a lengthy treatise on this project in Rapidtransit.net several years ago, accompanied by some fascinating photographs.

 

A look at bicycle parking along the crossover, and the east side of the Plaza.

 

Lin’s Market harks back to the old general store days, as its awning sign advertises “jewelry, bags, hosiery, hats, toys, watches, stationery, varieties,” and claims itself to be the “ultimate hobby store.”

 

I don’t think Lo Duca’s Pizzeria has anything to do with Mike Piazza’s replacement at catcher for the Mets a few years ago, Paul Lo Duca, who liked to play the ponies. The big A in the window means the fare is safe under NYC’s restaurant inspection rating system, though I’ve never seen another letter in any window.

 

Banners on lightpoles at the Plaza tout Victorian Flatbush. Technically, neighborhoods like Caton Park, Beverly Square East and West, Prospect Park South, Fiske Terrace, Midwood Park etc. aren’t actually in Flatbush, unless you count their former status in the town of Flatbush that was ultimately absorbed by Brooklyn.

 

Among the goods offered at Alex’s Medical Supplies, another venerable Plaza business, must be orthopedic shoes.

 

A view of one of the Plaza’s Type B’s, which give a white light, and the high fence protecting the tracks.

 

Looking north from Foster Avenue along the west side of the tracks.

 

When I crossed the Foster Avenue bridge over the railroad cut, I was disappointed to learn….

 

…that the old Newkirk Plaza signage, in Garamond Italic pressed metal lettering, one of my favorite fonts…

 

…was no more. The fence was repainted, but replacing the letters must have cost too much dough, and the neighborhood youth would simply resume pulling them off. In the future, these sort of signs will be vandal-proof holographic images.

3/3/13





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44 Responses to NEWKIRK PLAZA, Midwood Park

  1. fred phillips says:

    These pictures bring back great memories. I lived on Newkirk Avenue between Argyle and Rugby from 1970-2 while attending Brooklyn College. I would walk to school most days, often through the plaza. I rode the Brighton line a lot, but can honestly say, I don’t think I ever did much shopping at the plaza itself. Thanks for the wonderful pictures.

    • David Ferraro says:

      I lived at 1212 Newkirk Ave from about ’57 to ’63. Attended PS 217 and remember Newkirk Plaza so well. My first crush was on a classmate, Claire, that lived above one the stores on the plaza. I used to look for her when my Mom went shopping at the A&P around the corner. I got my first pair of glasses at the Optometrist’s office and opened my first bank account at the Dimes Savings Bank. Seeing these pictures brought back so many memories and tears to my eyes. Thank you

    • Karen Holman says:

      Did you have a sister by the name of Sharon? I lived on Newkirk Ave.

  2. Karen Mac Donald says:

    I enjoyed the walk down memory lane. I lived in the neighborhood from the early 60′s until 1979 when
    I was married and then moved to Queens. Brooklyn will always be home.

  3. Alec says:

    Anyone remember Grillos? It was a pretty well known seafood restaurant on the plaza that my family patronized a couple of times when I was a kid in the 70′s. The only thing I remember about the place was upon entry we had to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining room to be seated. Been gone since the mid 80′s I believe.

    • vintagejames says:

      Grillos also had a fantastic fresh seafood market–the very best in this area of Brooklyn. Shopped there very often. They were displaced when a bank expanded and they settled on an avenue in another neighborhood. They couldn’t make it there and soon disappeared. It’s a shame.

    • Tom says:

      Grillos was great. There was a back entrance off E16th St. but the stench of the dumpsters back there made it
      rough. The back door brought you right into the dining room. I have a friend that worked there as a waitress
      in the early 70′s. Actually though you walked through the fish store to get to the little dining area in the back.

      • Laurie says:

        I remember Grillos. My brothers Bobby and Allen would go fishing off the boats in Sheepshead Bay and sell their catch to the store owners.

  4. Allan Rosen says:

    Two points. I doubt it if that picture with the Standards was taken in the 1960s. Could have been 70s or 80s during a fan trip. The standards never looked that good in service during our lifetime. They were dirty grey all over from the steel dust in the tunnels because they never we’re washed, and forget about a silver or white roof. Also in the 1960s, it was the D types that rode the express tracks. The Standards were always used in local operation.

    Second point, in the 1970s, the Department of City Panning when trying to beautify Newkirk Plaza was trying to get the shop keepers adopt uniform signage. I think that would have given the Plaza an entirely new look and it really would have looked like a mall. Guess they didn’t want to splurge for the extra bucks and the city couldnt come up with the funds due to the budget crisis.

    • Keith R. says:

      Yes, the silver-topped roofs are a give away that the photo shows a fan trip set of Standards, long after their retirement. However, the Standards did see service from time to time operating as Brighton Beach Express trains on the express tracks. I remember their being used as Chamber Street express trains, as well. Also, during the summer run of the Franklin Avenue shuttle to Coney Island, the Standards operated on the express track once south of Prospect Park.

      Back in the day (1956) I would go regularly to Waldell Hobbies. It was located at the north side of the passageway just a few strides west of the station house entrance.

      • Correction Allan and Keith.

        The picture of the silver roof BMT Standards were not on a fan trip, but in revenue passenger service. In the late 1950′s. One set of Standards were repainted green with silver roofs. As museum cars, the Standards were never painted with silver roofs.

        Also note that the third rail is the old elevated style without wooden protection boards. The reason why it was called elevated style was because wooden elevated cars with overrunning contact shoes ionce traversed this line. Chicago Transit Authority uses this same stlye today. The dangerous elevated style thrid rails were replaced in 1959, so that picture predates that year.

        • Keith R. says:

          William, you are so right. I should have noted the lack of third rail covering. Another tipoff would’ve been the fact that many of the men are wearing hats. However, I do not remember seeing any Standards with the green and silver combination.

          • “I do not remember seeing any Standards with the green and silver combination”

            These were the only Standards that were painted that way. Back in the 1940′s,some were painted tan with silver roofs. Three hundred eight nine Standards were rehabbed between 1959-62, and their exteriors were not painted. The last Standards ran on the Myrtle-Chambers line on August 4, 1969.

        • Bill says:

          Yes, the third rails are the tipoff. But to be clear, subway-style third rail is also overrunning, as distinct from under-running third rail used on the former New York Central (now Metro North).

          The reason that el-style third rail had to be uncovered was that the contact device from the el car’s wheel trucks contacted the eletrified rail directly from above and would have been blocked by protective covering of the rail. Subway-style contact “shoes,” on the other hand, extend out from the wheel trucks like a tongue and slide along the top of the electrified rail but under the protective boards.

          • Glenn Simpson says:

            the platform appears to be made of wood, which means the photo was likely taken prior to the platform lengthening project undertaken in the mid 1960s.

        • Harry Eisenberg says:

          Hi William,

          I believe I know your brother, Mike. All the best to you & him!

          Harry Eisenberg

      • Glenn Simpson says:

        I remember Waldell’s at the southeast corner of Cortelyou and Rugby Roads, across from PS 139. I bought all my Matchbox cars from Mr. Waldell.

  5. chris says:

    That shoe sign is the greatest.

  6. Al Trojanowicz says:

    A Post Office on the west side of the Plaza had a very serious fire in the early 1970s.

    • The fire occurred in June of 1971. De Sica’s pizzeria and the post office were heavily damaged. The archway over the arcade was teetering, ready to fall after the fire. A Daily News article back then stated the fire was caused by arson, started in the pizzeria.

      • Tom says:

        It was arson. Post office is where it started, not pizza place. I knew both of the kids involved with it. They were neighborhood kids. Post Office, dress shop, pizza place, shoe repair. For years after the fire, the partially melted sign of HOLIDAY GREETINGS AND CARDS hung as it was. I sold fruit on the plaza in early 1970s a couple of doors down from Almac.

        • John says:

          The Newkirk fire was prior to March of 1971. my mom took me there the day of the fire when I came home for lunch from PS 217. She passed in March 1971. I also knew one of the kids involved. I do remember the site was empty for a very long time with just the floors of the burned out stores remaining and a steel column or two.

          • Connie Bolger says:

            My family owned the Pizzeria in the 1960′s. I used to help out. My parents were Jack and Jean, brother Jim and me Connie. The fire happened after they sold the store. If anyone has any pictures please let me know. Thank you.

          • Steve Lieber says:

            Just want you to know that this was my first ever taste of pizza. It was after a class trip around 1960-61! Wonderful memories!

      • Connie Bolger says:

        My family owned De Sica’s Pizzeria in the 1960′s. I also help out at the store. Wonderful memories. My parents were Jack and Jean. Fond Memories. If anyone has a picture of the store please get in touch with me. The fire happened after they sold it. What became of it and the dress store right across the street? Thank you.

        • Richard says:

          Connie I remember you so well. Had a giant crush on you. I would stop for pizza with my dog and you would always feed him cheese. Great memories

        • John says:

          Connie, when it was finally rebuilt the space occupied by De Sica’s became a newsstand/candy store. I don’t know what’s there now. There is a NEWKIRK AVENUE page on facebook wit 250 members. The fire and De Sica’s are mentioned often. If you do facebook you should join. Just request entry and tell them your connection to De Sica’s. I’m sure there are many who remember you. So far the only pictures are 1 or 2 of the burned out post office.

    • It wasn’t the Post Office. It was a pizza place. The Post office moved out before then to Newkirk. The Pizza place was burnt down by John Lianetty, and then the Te Amo was built by the Hussen Family, who are the only family that remain on Newkirk Plaza with another deli accross on the East Side, They have been there since 1974

  7. Tom says:

    The corner :”Law Office” in the photos is Marlborough and Newkirk. That used to be the Plaza Lounge, a neighborhood pub.

  8. Ken Wolman says:

    I loved the Brighton line precisely because it felt “old-time.” I grew up in the Bronx, on the No. 6 line, but that had none of the romance of an old-time train. It was efficient, that was all. I don’t recall how I got there, but one Saturday I took the Brighton to wherever I changed for the train to the 95th Street line, and from there onto the ferry to St. George. Pure heaven.

  9. Glenn Simpson says:

    the barber shop was owned by John Messina in the late 60s early 70s. He took it over when Paul retired. Got many haircuts there as a kid growing up on East 16th Street.

    • Karen Holman says:

      My father (Rudy) Anthony Fischetti had the barber shop on Newkirk and Marlbourgh Rd…we lived upstairs over the shop..also lived over Almacs in the early 50s…went to PS 217…this was in the 50s.

      • Banyarola says:

        Karen, I remember you from the barber shop…
        I used to hang out there with some others because we were all collecting coins, including your father.
        There was a table in the back of the shop where we all sat..

        I think I was younger then you.

        I have a house upstate now and a grown son….

    • John Messina owned the place until the 1990s. Leon was one of his barbers, and Messina sold it to him in late 90s,

  10. Ed Fox says:

    Concerning the Newkirk Plaza. I owned the Lipton Chemist Pharmacy at 14 Newkirk Plaza from 1959 to 1977..
    The heavy metal sign that you show hung over our doorway. The Pharmacy was originally opened 1n 1907. It had the most popular soda fountain in the whole area. It vanished in early 50s when all those aerosol products hit the market and the space was better used for display. The remodeling of the Plaza was the idea of the then active Newkirk Plaza Merchants Assoc. I made speeches all over town to get support and finally got funding from Washington D.C.. We had the buildings steam cleaned,put up fancy lights and spruced up in general. That was in mid 1970s.There is more but I have run out of space. Yes Grillos was great, I still miss it. What a meal for $3.75

  11. Pingback: Newkirk Plaza: New Blogs Falsely remember Its Vibrant Past | INANDAROUND620.com

  12. Mr. WALsh there are many corrections aboUt the Plaza, Like the camera store before the Bagel store. which then became a camera store and video place with she store inside. In the aerly 90s, the Bagle store bought out the camera store, and the camera store was reduced to a small shop next too the bagel store up until 2002, when the shoe store was all that remained. Also no one mentions Moriarty’s pub, or Feldbaum’s restaurant or the Jewish deli.

  13. Banyarola says:

    Boy, did this bring back memories…

    I spent most of my childhood on that plaza.
    In the late 50′s I worked for Almac Hardware and also at Grillos as a dishwasher.
    My mom worked at the Ebingers for years, I think until they closed..

    At the end of the alleyway on the plaza was a pizza place and then it was a hobby shop.
    The slices were 15 cents.. So was the subway…

    Near Grillos was a big shoe repair place that had those booths where you could sit and wait while the repaired your shoes.

    We used to solder a nail to a nickel and then bang it in the wooden step to the train station and watch people trying to pick it up..Great fun at the time.

    • Liz says:

      I still live in the house on Ditmas Avenue that my parents bought in 1963. I took the subway my school in Manhattan every day for the next six years and now take the Q from Newkirk Plaza every day to work. I remember with fondness all the places mentioned in this lovely article and in the nostalgic comments. Grillos was great and I also remember the deli that James Sullivan mentions. That was where I learned how good turkey and corned beef tasted together, a favorite combination to this day. On a sad note, I thought that the people who enjoyed this article might wish to know that Paul Goodman, who owned the Almac Hardware store, died suddenly and much too soon this past Spring. He gave so much to the neighborhood and will be sorely missed.

  14. Pingback: Newkirk Plaza-Part I | Internet Questioner

  15. Howard Bernier says:

    I lived aqt 625 Marlborough Road from 1942 to 1958 when I married. What I remember wojuld fill at least hundreds of volumes I was a friend of ( among others) Carl Cirillo who, if I remember correctly was the son of the owner of Grillos. I went to Erasmus and Brooklyn College and I had most of my social education at Pauls on the Plaza which was on Newkirk Avenue close to the Plaza..the bull sessions there lasted until the wee hours of the morning and you could learn more at those sessions than if you were a reporter for the Times. Remember 7 or 8 newspapers per day including the Sun, Journal American,Herald Tribune, Daily Mirror,The Forwards,Italian American as well as the Times and News What about Ruttas bakery , Feldbaum Bar and Grill?? More stuff if interested..,

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