FULTON STREET: East New York to Woodhaven, Part 1

I’ve been on Fulton Street a lot. Over a decade ago I learned that the classic restaurant Gage & Tollner, at Fulton and Smith, had just closed, so I did a piece on it that evolved into a survey of ancient stuff to be found in the stretch between Adams and Flatbush Avenue.

Not to be content with that, in 2004 I authored a piece on Fulton Street from the East River waterfront and continuing with its guise as Cadman Plaza West as far as Joralemon and Adams Streets. THis part of town has been a FNY staple over the deca…ah, over the years.

Later that year, I walked Fulton Street from Fort Greene to East New York and posted a page about all that in October 2004.

It’s taken a full eleven years but I’m finally ready to complete the Fulton Street saga from East New York to the borough line with Queens and beyond. I actually had to shoot this whole page in its entirety twice. I walked the route in the fall of 2013, but my hard drive swallowed those photos in its death agony in December. Your webmaster, who is sometimes known as “Mr. Loser,” had failed to check if my backup, called Time Machine by Apple Computers, was still working; it had turned itself off for whatever reason some time before, and poof! went my work for about ten months. Easy come, easy go, as they say.

I was determined to finish Fulton, though, so I revisited it after a few months when the route was newly fresh in my mind. I took the subway to the Broadway-East New York complex, went down Fulton, circled around in Woodhaven for awhile and staggered to the J train on Jamaica Avenue and headed home.

After you have ridden underground all the way (as I did to get here on the A train) staggering outdoors, and yanking the baseball cap even further down the brow than usual, to shield the sensitive rods and cones from the ever-burning solar disk, you blink and marvel at the tonnage of metal that has been erected to support the borough’s mass transit. At this junction, the Canarsie El carrying the L train meets and intertwines with the Brooklyn Broadway El, which has carried the J train across the Williamsburg Bridge. Both trains can transfer to the IND A and C lines, which are the babies of the litter, having been built in the 1930s. The Canarsie and Brooklyn Els can also combine routes, though they don’t do that in regular service these days.

Another el train used to converge with the whole mess here, as well, the Fulton Street El, which was built in the 1880s. The IND Fulton Street line was built by the city to compete with it, and it killed it in a slow, laborious fashion… it was cut back from west to east until by the 1940s, most of it west of East New York was gone.

The city has retained a short bit of its trackage above Fulton Street at Van Sinderen Avenue, to maintain structural integrity with the other two massive els, but trains will never use it again. The ghosts of subway lines lurk here, too — the JJ, KK and MM trains ran here at different times of the day before the new connection to the 6th Avenue in 1967 enabled some reroutes and elimination of some other lines.

GOOGLE MAP: Fulton Street to Woodhaven

 

Defying the shadows, the Paphos Diner somehow manages to avoid the elevated trains that shroud most of the streets in the immediate neighborhood. on Fulton Street where it makes a slight curve between Van Sinderen Avenue and Broadway. Like most diners, the reviews run the gamut. Since I try all diners, I’ll go in one day.

 

The junction of Broadway, Fulton Street, Jamaica Avenue, and East New York Avenue is officially known as Jewell Square, or it used to be, since I didn’t see any signs indicating thus. A couple of blocks away is another very busy interchange where Jamaica Avenue meets Bushwick Avenue, Pennsylvania (Granville Payne) Avenue, and the Interborough (Jackie Robinson) Parkway, the first of Robert Moses’ vehicular parkways constructed in the 5 boroughs (1932). Jewell Square first appeared on maps in 1905.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s East New York Yards offices are accessible on Jamaica Avenue east of Jewell Square. The trainyard handles J,Z, M and L trains; currently (March 2015) the most varied rolling stock in the system can be found on the J/Z, which uses new R-143 and R-160 cars as well as much older R-40 and even a few R-32 cars.

 

The stretch of elevated track over Fulton Street for a few blocks east of Jewell Square dates back to the 1880s and is some of the oldest remaining infrastructure still used in the MTA. This is part of the Broadway El that was built out between the Williamsburg Bridge and downtown Jamaica.

 

As I’ve emphasized through the years on Forgotten New York, older forms and outdated forms of street lighting can be found under elevated trains, where nonstandard equipment isn’t as obvious. When octagonal shafted lampposts first appeared in 1950, mastarms were curved and employed a thin brace. By the end of the 1950s, straight mastarms had overtaken them and the curved nmastarms were no longer produced. However, there are still a few dozen scattered around town, such as here at Fulton Street and Georgia Avenue.

Several north-south streets in East New York are named for states, such as Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont. That seems to be the extent of the trend, and older maps I’ve researched don’t expand on their number. All but Alabama and Vermont are original 13 colonies that became states. Why these particular states were selected for ENY street names seems destined to remain a mystery.

 

A short detour south on Georgia Avenue, about halfway to Atlantic Avenue, reveals what appears to be a small country chapel, complete with bell tower and arched windows, facing away from the street. It is not marked, and appears not to have hosted any services in recent times. What could this be about? The answer lies in the stone building seen behind the chapel.

The chapel was used by residents in the Wartburg Lutheran Home for the Aged, whose building still stands on the southwest corner of Fulton and Sheffield Avenue.

 

The retirement home is referenced in typically succinct fashion on the Belcher-Hyde 1929 Brooklyn atlas. Wartburg, whose name ultimately references the nearly millennium-old Wartburg Castle in Thuringia, central Germany, was established in 1874 and the building still standing under its name seems to have been constructed some time after 1929, because it doesn’t take up the entire plot as depicted on the map.

Today, what was the Wartburg Home seems to have fallen on hard times, as it seems to be a drug rehabilitation center adjacent to the Bushwick Center at #50 Sheffield, though I’m not sure if it’s a part of it. Amazingly the old chapel is still in place, and is shown on the map.

 

In 2003, a community board proposed that Fulton Street in its entire length from Adams Street east to the Queens line be renamed for Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), the abolitionist and Underground Railroad heroine. The measure was passed in modified form, and today only a few lampposts bear a second sign naming Tubman underneath the main sign. The original proposal called for a straight renaming.

Tubman, though, has her moment in the sun in Harlem, where there is a statue in her honor on Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Though we’re still in East New York, as you get further east you enter the neighborhoods of Highland Park and then Cypress Hills, which I judge to be east of Euclid Avenue. Nevertheless, these signs are found on lightposts along Fulton Street all the way from Pennsylvania Avenue to the city line. I really should feature these neighborhood signs in a FNY piece, because many of them are nicely designed, such as this one showing a cypress tree.

The neighborhood was formerly called Union Place, after the mid-19th Century racetrack located just east of what was the Brooklyn “City Line” (some residents call the neighborhood by that name).

 

I  had an eye for detail on today’s walk. I noticed that the elevated train stanchions had been newly painted green, with black and white stripes at the base. I also noticed that on the back of these pedestrian control lights at Pennsylvania Avenue, the manufacturer was Peterco. These signals have a number of different makes, such as Marbleite and Winko-Matic.

 

Some attached, bay-front brick buildings on New Jersey Avenue south of Fulton Street.

A short detour north on Wyona Street reveals the twin-peaked Christ Lutheran Church, built in 1894 as the Christ Evangelical Reformed Church, now home to a Latin congregation.

 

Also on Wyona, there’s a truck that’s been parked there a long time bearing an old logo of the Red Ball Company, a trucking firm established in 1919. A separate Red Ball Express trucking operation was established during WWII to supply Allied forces, staffed primarily by African Americans.

 

This stretch of Fulton Street is, oddly for a street running under an el, lined on both sides with freestanding houses large and small. 2747 Fulton, at Bradford Street, appears to have been built as two separate buildings that are now joined. There is a parking lot with several individual spaces on the corner. I’d like to know a bit more about the story here.

There’s a lot going on with this light post at Fulton Street and Miller Avenue. For one thing it’s one of the older posts installed in the 1960s (the whole stretch was replaced with brown-L-shaped posts in the 1980s).

It also has two species of street signs, a traditional one in Highway Gothic from the 1980s and another one in the Clearview upper and lowercase font installed in the mid-2010s.

The two one-way signs use different styles of Highway Gothic type.

The original orange fire alarm light is still affixed to the apex, though it’s no longer likely in use. The newer red signal is not on the post.

The post has received a recent paint job, so it’s likely going to stay for awhile.

 

A newer building built with a handsome brickface presents some storefronts on Fulton between Van Siclen Avenue and Hendrix Street.

Meanwhile, a block away at Hendrix Street, a multifamily building constructed early in the 20th Century features a goddess above every window. Meanwhile, the same goddess can be seen above a blocked-up door.

 

No doubt at #2822 Fulton, east of Hendrix, about what’s sold here.

The walls of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corp., on Schenck Avenue, are decorated with depictions of people tied up in red tape. I’m sure that’s not the intent. The ribbons are inscribed with encouraging epigarms in English and Spanish.

This won’t be the last time somewhat baffling, but engaging, artwork will be seen raveling east on Fulton Street.

The name “Schenck” turns up on 4 different Brooklyn streets, in neighborhoods as far-flung as East New York, Canarsie, and Gravesend. The name “Van Siclen” or “Van Sicklen” is on three. The names are Dutch settling families from centuries ago.

 

Imaginative store signage on No. 2, haberdashery at #2843 Fulton east of Schenck Avenue.

An apartment building at Fulton and Jerome Streets contains a couple of panels of interesting ecclesiastical art depicting New Testament scenes.

The first depicts a crowned, haloed woman overseeing a baby with a red-cloaked older woman (or man — I’m not sure if the figure is drawn with a  beard)  in the background. This may depict Mary’s presentation of Jesus 40 days after His birth at the temple in Jerusalem, where prophets Anna and Simeon foretold of His future.

The second image is of a stylized Christ child, also with a crown.

Meanwhile there are some arresting images painted on the walls of the C-Town supermarket on the opposite side of Fulton and Jerome. Two female figures kiss a haloed child (possibly Christ?), a polar bear, rearing steed with American flag on the Jerome Street side, with an African elephant, anchor and a flag of the Dominican Republic. What could this all mean? Does it mean anything?

Jerome Street is named for the same man the Bronx’ Jerome Avenue is named for: Leonard Jerome, the 19th-Century financier and horse racing buff who built the Jerome Park in the Bronx (where Jerome Park Reservoir is now). He was the grandfather of Winston Churchill.

What else am I going to find in Highland Park, Cypress Hills and Woodhaven on and around Fulton Street? Find out in Part 2.

3/29/15

 


14 Responses to FULTON STREET: East New York to Woodhaven, Part 1

  1. Susan says:

    Descendants of the Van Sicklen family still reside on Long Island. Edgar was a photographer and his family donated, to our historical society, many of his photos from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.

  2. Andy says:

    Great photos and great history! Thanks for posting.

    May I add some additional transit-specific information:

    The large NYC Transit facility on the north side of Fulton Street at Jamaica Avenue is the headquarters for the citywide bus system, and also houses a large bus depot and major bus overhaul facility.

    Some additional history about the elevated train routes overhead:

    Broadway El, prior to 1967: #14 and #15 trains ran between Lower Manhattan and Jamaica-168th Street, Broadway Junction, or Canarsie (not shown on post-1940 maps but on roll signs of some cars). In November 1967 BMT routes officially adapted letters when the Chrystie Street Connection united it with the IND division. The #14 and 15 routes morphed into the JJ, RJ, and QJ. Beginning in July 1968 the QJ, operating between Coney Island (weekdays) or Broad Street (weekends) provided the basic Broadway El service At the same time the second part of the Chrystie Street project (under Chrystie and Delancey Streets) opened and allowed through service between the Broadway El and the 6th Avenue subway. Provided by the KK train, the service lasted until 1976. After that, only the J operated, between Jamaica and Lower Manhattan. Today’s M train, since 2010, resumed revenue train service between the Broadway El and 6th Avenue using the 1968 connection at Chrystie and Delancey. .

    There never was an MM although roll signs were printed with this designation. It might have been reserved for the Metropolitan Avenue-6th Avenue service that the M now provides.

    Canarsie Line: originally was #16 line (also not shown on post-1940 maps but on roll signs of some cars). Through service first ran between 6th Avenue Manhattan and Rockaway Parkway in 1924; to from/8th Avenue since 1931. Officially became the LL in 1967, then L after 1976 as part of a policy to eliminate double letter routes.

  3. Seano says:

    The first panel depicting the Holy Family is Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia (Our Lady of High Grace), the Protector and Queen of the hearts of the Dominican Republic. The depiction of Christ in the second panel is el Divino Niño (the Divine Child), a popular portrayal of JC among Dominicans (and others).

  4. joe bernstein says:

    The old Lexington el also fed into Broadway Junction-I rode the C units on the Fulton el as a kid-my uncle was a conductor on that line and the Myrtle in the gate car era.
    C units looked homemade-and they were!!

  5. BST says:

    None of your many followers/fans would ever refer to you as Mr. Loser!

  6. Jane says:

    Re: FULTON STREET: East New York to Woodhaven, Part 1

    The stained glass windows on the apt. house on Fulton & Jerome was interesting. I thought it might have something to do with St. Michael’s on Warwick near Liberty. (This was my mom’s parish in the 30’s). I looked at them in street view and the first thing that came to mind is “funeral home”. They are too far from the church to be a convent or rectory.

  7. steven says:

    My dad owned a business on Fulton St, and when I was a kid I often walked ENY flyering homes. Lots of beautiful old school homes and interesting things for sure. Unfortunately in the 80’s that area was saddled with high amounts of drug addicts and criminal behavior.

    It’s nice to see that the area seems to be bouncing back a bit.

    Great work, I look forward to the next installment.

  8. Edward says:

    At least two other states were in the area. Liberty and Glenmore Avenues were once North and South Carolina Avenues.

  9. Paul Nolting says:

    My parents were both from Cypress Hills. My mother lived on Hemlock Street and Atlantic Avenue, my father on Nichols Ave between O’Brien Place and Etna Street. They both went to Blessed Sacrament school on Euclid Avenue, just off Fulton Street. My parents bought a house in South Ozone Park (OLPH parish) in 1945 which is where I grew up, but we visited my grandmother and my aunt, uncle and cousins on Nichols Ave most Sundays. I can remember going to Blessed Sacrament church, and when I was a little older, to wakes at Donnelly and Purcell’s funeral home around the corner on Fulton Street. My father’s friend when he was a kid was Charlie Coughlin. My brothers and sisters and I knew him as “Father Charlie” because he became a priest. Fr. Charlie’s mother lived for many years in an apartment above the stores on Fulton Street. We would visit her sometimes and my brother Gerard and I were amazed to see the trains passing by right outside her windows. One time my brother embarrassed my parents by telling the elderly Mrs. Coughlin that he didn’t know how she could stand living with the noise from the trains. She just laughed and said she was used to it. Those were the days, as the saying goes.

  10. Gene Murray says:

    We lived on the southwest corner of Fulton Street and Schenk Avenue in the mid-to-late 1950s above Joe Lapazano’s candy store. I went to P.S 76 which is no longer in existence. The site is now occupied by the George Walker Jr. Park. My mother used to shop at the nearby Bohack store across Fulton Street. My grandmother lived in the apartment building directly across Fulton Street from our apartment. We used to walk up to Highland Park on nice summer days. We followed Jamaica Avenue east and moved to 175th Street between Hillside and Jamaica Avenues where I attended P.S. 95, Van Wyck Junior High School, and Jamaica High School. I went to Queens College and then the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. My wife and son and I now live in Aurora Colorado.

    Kevin, you’ve done an amazing job documenting, street-by-street, the areas of my young life from Brooklyn to Queens. If I’m ever back in New York again, I sincerely offer to take you to dinner to thank you.

  11. Cathy says:

    Loved this tour of Fulton Street. I work 63 Pennsylvania Ave and you have a nice photo of my patients house on NJ Avenue and Fulton.
    The old map, shows where I work. Have been there 25 years. How would I look into the history of that area.
    Also, Fortunoffs stated on New Lotts off Pennsylvania. The ad is still on an apartment building. Will have to take a photo.

  12. Steven Gembara says:

    Peterco was founded in Brazil and provided signals to New York City for a short time. The 16″ pedestrian signals, like what are in your picture, are identical to the Winko-Matic VI 2L units that also exist. The quality was average, and the DOT installed many Peterco units throughout the five boroughs primarily in the late 1980s. If you look closely at the back of a housing, the year of manufacture is directly below the company’s name.

    NYCDOT also installed some 12″ and 8″ vehicular heads produced by Peterco. They aren’t as common as other variations, like Marbelite and General Traffic Equipment.

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