In downtown Brooklyn, Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues meet at a triangle, with the third side filled by 4th Avenue. The triangle was formerly known as Times Plaza, after a long-defunct newspaper that folded long ago. Here’s a present-day look at it on Google Street View. The triangle is currently bordered by Atlantic Terminal and its shopping mall as well as the gargantuan One Hanson, built as the Williamsburg Bank tower in 1928; for decades it reigned as Brooklyn’s tallest building. Just to the east is Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets, with its deliberately rusty exterior.
In this view, you can fairly easily pin down what year it is if you know a bit of transit history. The Beaux-Arts style building at left was originally the terminal building, or “headhouse” as railroaders say, of the Interborough Rapid Transit Subway, which arrived here in 1908. Here, tickets were purchased for rides; admission by token wouldn’t catch on completely till the advent of turnstiles in the 1920s. The nickel fare lasted until 1948 when it doubled to a dime. The building fell into disrepair over the years and it was surrounded by newsstands and snack bars until it was restored in the early 2000s. There are no entrances in the building as it now serves as a glorified skylight.
Along Flatbush Avenue, we can see the 5th Avenue El, which came off the Brooklyn Bridge and ran down a somewhat zigzaggy route to Flatbush Avenue, and then turned south on 5th, running along 5th and 3rd Avenues to 65th Street. The el operated from the 1880s until 1940, when the city decided to end duplicate service on 4th Avenue (the BMT subway) and 5th Avenues. You can also tell we are in the summer, as open gate cars are in use, the men are wearing straw hats, and the women are in white. Thus, I think we’re looking at 1909 or 1910.
Behind the el is the former Long Island Rail Road terminal. This is the oldest branch of the LIRR, with service beginning as far back as the 1830s. For a short time, service ran as far west as the East River in one of the country’s first underground RR tunnels. This terminal opened in 1907, but just like the IRT “headhouse,” it severely suffered from urban neglect and deteriorated slowly away until the building itself was demolished, leaving an open scar for the better part of two decades until Atlantic Terminal, and anew LIRR terminal, were built in the mid-2000s.
The tracks in the street, of course, are for trolleys. Brooklyn’s last trolley, on Church Avenue, ran until 1956.
Photograph courtesy Christian Ceci.