Dispatches from the Urban Heartland, Part 4: District Street, Brooklyn and the Route to Modernity

This is Part 4 of a series. Check out parts 1-3 here.

 

Atlantic Avenue Station. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

 

WELCOME BACK! IF I ASKED YOU where District Street, Brooklyn is, would you know? I didn’t either until researching the history of Atlantic Avenue. In 1855, District Street was renamed Atlantic Street.  Once a dirt trail leading to the East River, developer Charles Hoyt transformed it into a main corridor.

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Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, looking north. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

We are starting at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Ave. The building to the right that currently houses Atlantic Terminal Mall and a transit terminal was the original location of the Brooklyn Station of the Long Island Railroad when the line ran to South Ferry.

Flatbush Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, looking north. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

162 years after its development, Atlantic Avenue is still a primary corridor, and it hasn’t lost its mystique. There are many interesting ghosts of Atlantic Avenue that tens of thousands of cars drive by daily without ever really knowing their awesome legacies. Still standing is the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower. In 1929 it was the tallest building in the borough, and the clock faces were the largest in the world when they were installed. It currently remains one of the tallest four-sided clock towers in the world.

Barclays Center. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Ebbets Field flagpole. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Ebbets Field flagpole base. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

When the location of the Barclays Center changed from controversy to screaming event goers, the area that once hosted protesters for years now has people waiting for buses, tourists pointing, and the like, with a single unassuming flagpole in their midst. That flagpole once stood in Ebbets Field. The shape of the Barclays seems to have hints of Ebbets Field’s design in it. Ebbets Field, which was at 15 Sullivan Place on the eastern border of Prospect Park, was one of the most legendary baseball fields. It was the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the first major league team to hire a Black American baseball player. That player was Jackie Robinson.

Atlantic Avenue looking east. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Atlantic Avenue railyard. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Atlantic Avenue railyard looking west. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Before we really get going on Atlantic Avenue in modernity, let’s look back. Whether it is famous writers like H. P. Lovecraft telling stories about Red Hook, which had within its current borders a “slum” called “Smoky Hollow," Walt Whitman referring to it in one of his stories, or endless stories of violent gang culture and workplace murder, District Street / Atlantic Street / Atlantic Avenue has had a lengthy history. Western Atlantic Avenue, west of Flatbush Avenue, greatly benefited from its existence as a major port. Yet the area experienced all the positives and negatives of rapid urban expansion--the grinding poverty of recent immigrants, living not far from riches and opulence. When researching the route I was shocked to learn that the avenue had the world’s first subway. You will find a wealth of interesting stories connected to the lore and history of this route used by inhabitants since it was a dirt trail for an untold amount of years. One would like to believe its use would go back through millennia because we as a species always have created expedient routes from the water to as far inland as possible.

Dispatches map. Image: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

As you can see on the map, Atlantic Avenue is the only road that connects all of the regions Dispatches covers. This one was especially suited for HellKraft 1 (HK1), my faithful camera in the sky. We’ll be traveling east. The transformation of the region and consistencies are quite interesting. Only a small portion of the road has been transformed by modernity. Its history peeks out for those who are looking around and open to its beauty.

625 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

630 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

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655 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

655 Atlantic Avenue, mid 1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

667 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

667 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

714 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

718 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

718 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

733 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

733 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

555 Washington Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

ON THE FIRST STRETCH of our journey to Washington Avenue, the change is quite striking, yet some of my fave buildings on the block remain. In 1916, 555 Washington Avenue was Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception. It was transformed into a condo complex in 1988, three years after the school moved to its current location in Elmhurst, Queens. FYI - My apartment was on the northeast corner of Underhill Avenue and Sterling Street from 2000 to 2002, which is only 5 minutes south of Atlantic Ave. I loved riding and walking around the area because its architecture is so amazing. Built like someone took great care while building them, wanted them to last, and wanted to make them look beautiful.

809 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

811 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

 815 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

815 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

850 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

860 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

892 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

922 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

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924 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

924 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

927 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

927 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

927 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

960 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

980 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

980 Atlantic Avenue looking southeast. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

980 Atlantic Avenue looking southwest. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

984 Atlantic Avenue, circa 1940. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

984 Atlantic Avenue, mid-1980s. Department of Finance collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Here we run into another substation. Long Island Railroad Substation No 1. They became the backbones of our electric-powered transit system after steam and coal were no longer used. The LIRR tracks between Atlantic Avenue Terminal and Jamaica Station were the first on the line to be electrified. Substation No 1 shared the responsibilities of powering the line with Substation No 2 in East New York on Snediker Avenue. No 1 is still in operation. No 2, which has been out of operation for decades, is being considered for a massive redesign into a modern mixed-use maker space for artisans, location for cultural gatherings / events, and public space. It is a massive facility. The opportunities are really endless.

1020 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Another of the incredible structures on this route is the Atlantic Amory. Completed in 1895, it has gone through numerous iterations, and is now soon to be transformed beyond anything that could have been imagined by its original architects. Sadly, it served most recently as a homeless shelter. A number of people from there walk over to the area where I live. It hurts to see people who in a more empathetic society would be in a facility receiving care. We’ll have to see what the promised mixed-use community development plan becomes in 30 years.

1190 Atlantic Avenue, the Atlantic Avenue Armory, looking southeast. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Traffic towers along Bedford Avenue at Atlantic Avenue, 1924. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Atlantic Avenue at Bedford Avenue looking west. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Here we get a glimpse at how the society functioned in 1924. Note the police tower on the northeast corner of Bedford Avenue at Atlantic Avenue. The 2017 HK1 image facing south provides a perspective showing how the dramatic changes of the region’s height, skyscraper density, and building design collectively invoke a sense of awe. The changes over time in language on the signage and billboards on the stretch of the avenue we just traversed are also worth noting.

As we cross Bedford Avenue moving into the industrial region, we begin to see the beauty of how the elevated train tracks interact with the surface below in relation to light and sound.

1260 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1259 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1352 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

2 Alice Court. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Tucked away here is 2 Alice Court. It turns out it was built in 1899. The border of residential on the north and industrial / commercial on the south side of the street really becomes clear here.

1392 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Atlantic Avenue at Schenectady Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

The Department of Street Cleaning workers of the early 1900’s who worked on the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Schenectady couldn’t imagine the world we live in. The area was proudly working class, which is now a phrase that seems to be in question.

Department of Street Cleaning housing station under construction, Atlantic Avenue and Schenectady, 1922. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Department of Street Cleaning housing station, Atlantic Avenue and Schenectady, 1922. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Inside completed Department of Street Cleaning housing station, Atlantic Avenue and Schenectady, 1923. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

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Be sure to note the ornate elevated railway supports from the early 1900’s that have now given way to structural supports that hold much more weight than the ornate supports.

Harmony Park. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Harmony Park looking northwest. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

This is a section of the route where the elevated railway has such an imposing aura. The roadway underneath, between the two main roads, was a place I freestyled because it had long spans that didn’t get used. I still see people freestyling and skateboarding here, which always makes me smile.

1454 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1470-1476 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1512 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1515 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1545 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1620 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1654 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1709 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

 

MOVING INTO THE FINAL STRETCH of our journey, I wanted you to feel the change of energy. Now it feels like somewhere in Queens or deeper Brooklyn. Lower height buildings with more sky. Not to mention, beyond Schenectady Avenue going east, remains a working class region.

1729-1773 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1917 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

1885 Atlantic Avenue. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

At a time when gas stations have found New York City to be inhospitable for their businesses, including the western portion of Atlantic Avenue, this route’s eastern portion seems to be holding on to theirs. But its new buildings are increasingly huge dwarfing structures...the same structures that have created the real estate environments that have driven out gas stations.

Antique car. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

We couldn’t have been luckier than to have this car drive up, waiting in traffic as it has for generations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE IMPACT OF ATLANTIC AVENUE on Brooklyn is beyond articulation. This road has served as a lifeline and palette that millions have traversed to make their mark on the region, as they still do. Even looking at the transformation of the corner of Atlantic and Howard Avenues makes one think, who went to that church? Where did the congregants go? How did their plan to build a playground turn out? Was it built and later removed, replaced by another idea, like painting a canvas with another base coat, rendering its former perspectives and ideas into an unrecognizable texture whose energy remains for the very perceptive?

Site of proposed playground near Atlantic and Howard Avenues, 1924. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Site of proposed playground near Atlantic and Howard Avenues, 1924. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

Howard and Atlantic Avenues. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

Site of proposed playground near Atlantic and Howard Avenues, 1924. Bridges, Plants, & Structures collection, NYC Municipal Archives.

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This journey helped me see the region I cover and live in by a slightly different light. Some gems appeared that I had previously passed by without noticing. I hope they provoke you to seek out your own, wherever you may be. Atlantic Avenue maintains its status as a trail of dreams and commerce, pockmarked with parts of its proud past firmly intact.

Atlantic Avenue at Sackman Street looking west. Photo: Darryl Montgomery, 2017.

This stretch of roadway was once an open LIRR railroad with a road on each side. The original roads have been repurposed as local roads while the elevated road moves four lanes of traffic back and forth over the LIRR trains, to and from some of Brooklyn’s most legendary buildings and regions.

 

In peace…till our next journey,
Darryl