ATLANTIC and FLATBUSH AVENUE

by Kevin Walsh

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.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”

11/10/20

11 comments

Andy November 10, 2020 - 10:25 pm

Great photo, thanks for posting. Let me take the liberty of adding some additional history.

It’s true that in 1910 passengers had to purchase paper tickets that were dropped into manned chopper boxes that canceled the tickets. Automatic turnstiles were introduced on the IRT and BRT/BMT in the early 1920s, and eliminated the labor costs associated with the chopper boxes. The fare was still a nickel then and would remain so until 1948, when it went to a dime. Tokens weren’t introduced until 1953 when the fare went to fifteen cents and a single coin would not suffice. The turnstiles remained until the mid-1990s when the MetroCard was introduced.

When the IRT arrived here in 1908, it was the end of the line. All trains changed direction and returned to Manhattan and The Bronx. In 1920-22 the extensions beyond here to Flatbush and New Lots Avenues opened as part of the Dual Contracts (see last paragraph).

BRT means Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, the original Brooklyn trolley and elevated operator. After a major corporate reorganization after 1918, it was rechristened BMT/Brooklyn Manhattan Transit Company in 1923, and continued to operate Brooklyn’s vast trolley network as well.

The Fourth Avenue subway was not really a competitor to the Fifth Avenue El; both were BRT/BMT operations. The Fourth Avenue subway opened in 1915 as part of a vast subway expansion called the Dual Contracts, but the el remained. It was closed in 1940 because NY City took over the BMT (and IRT as well) and eliminated the duplicate elevated service to save costs. After the subway opened the el operated single car trains south of 38th Street to 65th Street and Third Avenue, so demand was not high.

The old LIRR terminal building once housed a Bickford’s Cafeteria, a bargain chain that was once ubiquitous in the five boroughs.

Reply
Andy Frobig November 14, 2020 - 7:46 pm

If I’m not mistaken, there are still turnstiles at every station in the subway system. At least there were when I last took a subway in July 2019. They don’t accept tokens anymore but you have to use either a turnstile (or an emergency gate, with an attendant’s help) to get in and out of the platform.

Reply
Peter November 11, 2020 - 12:09 am

Back in the day it was a social gaffe of epic proportions for a man to wear a straw hat outside the designated season. Each major city had such a season, with the dates varying according to local climate. I believe, though I’m not postive, that wearing a felt hat during straw hat season was more or less okay, but certainly not the other way.

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Ed Findlay November 11, 2020 - 10:30 pm

It was really dictated by manufacturers and retailers, the changeover was simply an excuse to sell new hats even if it’s ridiculous and arbitrary… https://www.racked.com/2017/8/18/16113864/straw-hat-riots-summer-style-etiquette

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Christopher E. McCabe Sr November 11, 2020 - 10:10 am

Technically, the Williamsburg Bank Building was the tallest building on Long Island

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Ed Findlay November 11, 2020 - 10:38 pm

Has not been true for 30 years…there’s eight other buildings in Brooklyn alone that are taller than the bank building, another six in Queens. The longest-reigning tallest on Long Island was the One Court Square tower and it’s technically the record holder until next year when two different towers open

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chris November 11, 2020 - 7:38 pm

If Im not mistaken there used to be a “Y” at that intersection and boy was it a den of iniquity back in the ’60s.My mom used to send me there at 10 yrs old.There was drinking
and crap games going on on the stairwell landings and winos passed out everwhere and did I mention the hanky panky going on in the restrooms?Some of which involved boys
my age,so utterly gross.A real education,that Y.I told one of the guys who worked there and was met with that classic NY reply:”So whaddya wan’ me ta do about it?”

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Ed Findlay November 12, 2020 - 9:34 pm

You were close, that’s actually two blocks away on Hanson Place…it’s still standing tall but is the Shirley Chisholm State Office Building nowadays

Reply
Cesar Cruz November 11, 2020 - 9:20 pm

Please send me in more information

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William Mangahas November 12, 2020 - 7:19 am

“If Im not mistaken there used to be a “Y” at that intersection and boy was it a den of iniquity back in the ’60s.”

“Y” as in YMCA ? In the mid 60’s I attended the YMCA day camp at Hanson Pl & So. Elliot Pl. I traveled by subway to get there. One memory I have is that the day camp scheduled a bus trip to Jones Beach to go swimming. I was all set to go and anxious for the trip. The Brighton Exp consisting of Triplex’s that I was riding on broke down in the tunnel between 7th Ave & Prospect Park. I don’t know how long we were there but eventually I got to Atlantic Ave. When I arrived at the YMCA day camp, the bus has already left. Oh well !

Reply
Andy Frobig November 14, 2020 - 7:47 pm

If I’m not mistaken, there are still turnstiles at every station in the subway system. At least there were when I last took a subway in July 2019. They don’t accept tokens anymore but you have to use either a turnstile (or an emergency gate, with an attendant’s help) to get in and out of the platform.

Reply

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