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.
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.