I’ve spent time both on New Utrecht Avenue and under elevated trains in my Forgotten New York years. I’m absolutely fascinated by streets that run underneath elevated trains, and New York City happens to be the epicenter of “streets under els.” Boston has now got rid of most of its el lines; the Orange on Washington Street was rerouted in the 1980s and the Green was rerouted off Causeway Street, which ran past the old Boston Garden “back in the day.” In Philadelphia, there are just three major “elled” streets, Market Street and Kensington and Frankford Avenues; while in Chicago, except for the downtown Loop, most of its elevated trains run in their own rights-of-way, with no streets underneath them at all.
Why els? Often, the streets beneath them conceal old, leftover signage and streetlighting schemes. I’m also fascinated with transit and subways and they’re an ever-present factor when walking the route of an el.
New Utrecht Avenue always featured “my” el. It was the el I passed under as I rode the B16 bus down 13th Avenue for innumerable trips to my uncle and aunt’s apartment or feared visits to my childhood doctor’s office on 49th Street. In all those years I was passing under it, or rode the M, W or D trains on it (the letter for the line keeps changing) I had never once walked its entire length. No more. I got that out of the way in September 2016. These pages will relate what I saw.
Having left off at Ovington Avenue at the end of Part Two, skipping ahead a few blocks we find Lt. Joseph Petrosino Park at New Utrecht Avenue and 70th Street. There are a number of NYC playgrounds and parks named for him:
When he joined the Police Department in 1883, Petrosino was the city’s shortest officer, at five feet and three inches tall. Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt personally promoted him to Sergeant of Detectives in 1895. While investigating anarchists in the United States, Petrosino warned President McKinley of threats against his life; however, the warning was not heeded and the President was assassinated in 1901.
Within ten years, Petrosino was named lieutenant and given command of the new Italian Squad, a unit created to combat the crime organization known as the Black Hand. Under his leadership, several thousand arrests were made, and more than 500 offenders were sent to prison. Crimes against Italian-Americans dropped by fifty percent. Petrosino was killed while on assignment to Palermo, Sicily.
When his body was returned to New York, thousands of mourners formed a funeral procession which marched from Little Italy to Calvary Cemetery in Queens. Lt. Petrosino was the only New York police officer who had died in the line of duty outside the United States.NYC Parks
If Brooklyn has a signature form of residential architecture it may be the brownstone, which is quite frequent in places like Park Slope and Fort Greene and for which a popular real estate website I used to write columns for is named. In places like Bay Ridge, Windsor Terrace or here in Bensonhurst, you find more examples of light-bricked attached houses with curving fronts or, alternately, oriels facing in three directions. You can find these at 16th Avenue and 70th Street in the shadow of the el.
Nearby on 71st Street stands this monolithic brick structure named, like many like it in NYC, “Telephone Building.” It contains relays and switches for land line telephones.
I was somewhat fascinated by this somewhat forlorn pair of lamps at an otherwise large swatch of concrete in front of a laundromat at 16th and New Utrecht Avenue. The 71st Street el station is nearby.
It was my pal cartoonist Danny Hellman who pointed out that this stretch of NUA is not macademized or asphalted but is paved in large concrete blocks. I can’t vouch for why.
A pair of classic sidewalk signs on NUA between 74th Street and Bay Ridge Parkway.
They pale, though, next to the Pastosa Ravioli wraparound sign on Bay Ridge Parkway, or as Bay Ridgers and Bensonhursters always call it, “75th Street.” It’s another indication that the Italian influence hasn’t yet deserted Bensonhurst, as the sign is in brilliant white, red and green of the Italian flag. The store is actually one in a chain originating in Mill Basin, Brooklyn in 1967, but this location is considered the flagship.
Pastosa Ravioli [Serious Eats]
“Ravioli” is derived from the Italian word for “turnip” and the hollow pasta shells stuffed with cheese or meat were probably originally thought to be turnip-shaped.
There’s a somewhat mysterious blue sign at the corner of New Utrecht Avenue proclaiming it to be “Wedding Row.” But there’s nothing on the block catering to brides at all… or there isn’t any more. As I explained on my Bensonhurst Briefly page in February 2010…
In all my years in Bay Ridge and riding my bike through Bensonhurst, I had had no inkling that the block of New Utrecht Avenue from 76th to 77th was called “wedding row.” I was aware of Kleinfeld’s on 5th Avenue and 82nd Street, but in 2005 the management came to the realization they were world-famous and a Bay Ridge address was declassé, so they decamped to Manhattan. Only one internet listing for Wedding Row appears, that one by the knowledgeable Barry Popik in The Big Apple, and that was in 2004. So, here’s the second mention online.
The thing is, at 77th I found nothing that would lend itself to the moniker “Wedding Row.” A hardware store, a liquor store, and a couple of wholesale outlets.Closer to 76th, though, I found Valentina Bridal Salon at 7603 and Phil’s Tuxedos on the corner of 76th. By 2016, only Phil’s Tuxedos remained…
… and there’s also a photography studio that has closed and is now for rent. If you want a wedding dress, you’ll have to try Kleinfeld’s, which used to be in Bay Ridge but found “the Ridge” too downmarket and decamped to Manhattan.
One of the smaller Dwarf lamps I encountered on my NUA walk, at the SW corner of 77th Street.
We’re now approaching the 79th Street el station. In the Easy 80s I was interested in a girl who lived around here who had a palindromic phone number. Did I wind up with her? Of course not — she went on a Club Med trip, met a tall blond fellow, married him and moved to New Hampshire.
Some of what I call the “casual elegance” of early 20th Century apartment house design at 17th Avenue and 78th Street. Remember, these buildings weren’t made for occupation by wealthy owners–they were made for tenants of middle-class means. I can’t vouch for the interiors, but the exteriors are rendered by architects and craftsmen who had obvious pride in their work.
On the other side of New Utrecht Avenue, you find some more examples of handsome residential architecture on 17th between 81st and 84th Streets. In particular, 83rd Street ends at 17th Avenue and enabled the long-ago developer to construct a very lengthy line of attached brick dwellings with oriel windows that allowed views in three directions. Some of these buildings had front stoops or staircases, some of which still have their ornate original railings.
Despite what you read in the magazines and online about Williamsburg or DUMBO, this is the real Brooklyn, or at least the Brooklyn of my youth that I remember.
Bay 16th Street, paved in the same concrete blocks you find on New Utrecht Avenue, diverges from NUA just south of 81st Street and runs south toward Gravesend Bay. It’s also an anomaly that I happen to find fascinating. It’s the only numbered “Bay” street in the Bensonhurst series that begins with Bay 7th and ends with Bay 54th near Coney Island (the series originally began with Bay 1st, but the Bay streets from 1 to 6 were eliminated in favor of the Dyker Beach Golf Course in the early 20th Century) that runs north of 86th Street.
Like most NYC street anomalies, there is a reason for this.
Detail, 1873 Beers atlas. What’s now Bay 16th was once a right of way for the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island Railroad, the West End El predecessor. It also traveled the surface of 84th Street, partially accounting for its own greater width. Note the Reformed Church on the right side of the map; I’ll mention that a a little bit.
In a few decades, what is now New Utrecht Avenue would be extended to 86th Street and the West End El built above it.
Greenstreets, a program developed by the NYC Green Infrastructure Plan that converts paved, vacant traffic islands and medians into green spaces filled with trees, shrubs and groundcover in an effort to capture stormwater, has done something unusual with the triangle at NUA and Bay 16th Streets — a nearly unbroken hedge.
84th Street, looking west from New Utrecht Avenue. Between 16th and 18th Avenues, 84th Street is about twice the width of its parallel side streets. The reason is twofold: it used to be part of the roadbed for the Brooklyn, Bath and Coney Island Railroad and, until the very early 20th Century, it used to be part of KIngs Highway, which originally meandered west from its current start at Bay Parkway and 78th Street as far as the current intersection of 86th Street and Fort Hamilton Parkway.
As Bensonhurst and Dyker Heights were built up and a street grid laid out, that western end of Kings Highway fell out of use and was mostly demapped, though a couple of remnants like this street widening are still in evidence.
The Heart of New Utrecht
The south end of New Utrecht Avenue is very near the town center of New Utrecht, one of the original five towns (ultimately there were six, when New Lots broke away from Flatbush) in western Long Island established by the Dutch in the colonial period of the mid-1600s.
I’ve already written about old New Utrecht in FNY, but I’ll recapitulate some of that here, along with some new photos.
The former town center of New Utrecht, at today’s 18th Avenue between 83rd and 84th Streets, is marked by the 1828 New Utrecht Reformed Church, with a beautiful Gothic style and ashlar walls. The church was established in 1677, and the first church building was built in 1700 at about the same time that New Utrecht Cemetery was established on Kings Highway about a quarter mile away at today’s 16th Avenue and 84th Street. The present church, only the second in the congregation’s history, was constructed using stones from the original church.
The adjoining parish house on 84th Street off 18th Avenue is an architectural triumph in its own right. It is a Richardson Romanesque building designed and built in 1892 by architect Lawrence Valk.
When the British evacuated NYC in November 1783 following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War, the occasion was, as you might expect, met with enthusiastic celebrations. Colonial patriots erected “liberty poles” on which the new American flag was raised. The first such pole in New Utrecht was raised in 1783 the evacuation, which happened at the Denyse Ferry in Bay Ridge in 1783 (of which a remnant is still in place in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge). Six poles have been placed here subsequently; this latest pole was raised in 1946.
The pole stands on what was Van Pelt Manor, which had been settled by the Van Pelt family in the 1670s and used as a military prison during the Revolutionary War. The manor was deeded to the city by the family in 1910, on the condition that the city preserve an ancient Dutch milestone that stood on the property. The Manor itself stood on 18th Avenue until 1952.
The pole is mounted high on a very wide base, likely to prevent vandalism.
Although there have been six Liberty Poles, the original weathervane installed in 1783 is still in place at the pole’s apex.
There’s still some historic signage in evidence on the grounds; a historic plaque, and ancient signboard and a sign advising that the pastor has the properly Dutch name of Arvin R. Ten Brink.
Having completed walking the entire length of New Utrecht Avenue it was time to kick it in the head and get back on the D train for the lengthy ride home. Since 2012, commuters here at the 18th Avenue station have had their mornings and evenings illuminated by Francesco Simati’s “Bensonhurst Gardens.”
I have used this station frequently over the years and would frequently walk up to the north end, especially at night, to see the necklace of lights on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. The view has now been compromised by a higher fence, at least from the opposite platform.
Fortunately, though, the fence’s holes are big enough to stick a camera lens through, so you may still be able to photograph the bridge from the southbound side.
One is able to see the apex of One World Trade Center from the north end of the platform, though.