All posts by Annette Fisher

Sea Gate Brooklyn NY Superstorm Sandy Progress

Sea Gate Brooklyn NY

Makes Progress from Superstorm Sandy Damages

by Harold Egeln, Jr.

Historic for being the city’s first private gated-community and home to the famous Coney Island Lighthouse, Sea Gate, with about 5,000 middle class residents in one and two family homes, is recovering in steps after super Hurricane Sandy damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes, sea wall fences and beaches in late October 2012, amounting to $45-million in damages.

sea gate brooklyn ny entrance annette fisher
Sea Gate Brooklyn NY Main Entrance July 2014 Copyright Annette Fisher 2014-2015

In September 2014, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $2.8-million plan to rebuild the Sea Gate Lundy Gate bulkheads that Sandy damaged. “Advancing the project will help Sea Gate and Coney Island continue to recover from the storm and help to defend against ones in the future,” Cuomo said in his statement.

Armed with a $25-million plan provided through the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a “Navy Sea Wall” plan. Strong timber piles will be placed along the affected beaches, with timber piles rising 10 feet above the ground and 15 feet under the ground. Much of the damaged fences and piles remain on the beachfront.

Previously, not long before Sandy struck, the federal government secured $130-million in funds for beach sand replenishment and protection. The work in the gated community that was founded in 1892 by Alrick Man on the site of the Norton’s Point Casino and incorporated in 1899, all comes from the direction set by the Mayor’s Resiliency Plan to accomplish that goal.

Sea Gate, dominated by Victoria Era-type houses, has its own police and police station, which was damaged by the storm, and home owners pay dues to the Sea Gate Association that help maintain the community. Former Community Board 11 District Manager Howard Feuer was a longtime resident and moved out a few years before Sandy.

For eight weeks after Sandy struck, Sea Gate was without electricity and gas. Repairs on roads have been slow, but the light at the end of tunnel of trouble is getting brighter with a long way to go, according to media reports within the past year.

According the Trulia real estate website, 83 homes are currently for sale. The Sea Gate Association (SGA) real estate firm, at 3700 Surf Avenue and West 37th Street, manages the property. The new SGA community manager is Joanna Croe, who succeeded Tami Maldonado, and the SGA president is David Wayne.

The median age of residents is about 38 years and the median income was $41,660 as of the 2000 U.S. Census. Among several famous residents were Met Opera singer Beverly Sills, Isaac Bashevis Singer and the late NYS Governor Al Smith, according to Wikipedia, and actor George Reenes, famous for his star role in the 1950’s “The Adventures of Superman” TV series lived for one summer at Sea Gate.

Sea Gate, sometimes referred to as “Hampton’s West,” has a Sea Gate Garden Club and Beach Club, two parks, and was home to the Atlantic Yacht Club until it burned down in 1933.

                        THE SEA GATE LIGHTHOUSE AS A MUSEUM?

sea gate light house - sea gate brooklyn ny annette fisher
Sea Gate Light House- Sea Gate Brooklyn NY Circa 2007. Annette Fisher Copyright 2007-2015

The 75-foot Sea Gate Lighthouse, opened in 1890 on Norton’s Point at the west end of Sea Gate during Sandy had sea water pounding its base and its companion house, once home to the light station’s families, that latest which was the Schubert family.

Frank Schubert was the last lighthouse keeper, and he passed away in 2003 at age 88, 14 years after the lighthouse was automated in 1989. Shortly after his death, his son said, “The pipes in the (light station’s) house froze over in the winter, and the house was flooded and damaged. Eventually the Sea Gate Association did start to fix up the house and it is actually in much better condition now. When Sandy hit, the house was luckily not really damaged except for the outside.”

The first lighthouse keeper was Thomas Higgenbotham from 1890 to 1910, and the Adrien Bousvert with a family of seven children was keeper in the1940’s and 1950’s. Frank Schubert, who lived 65 years in Sea Gate, was keeper from 1960 until his death in 2003, and he was known as “the last of the country’s civilian lighthouse keepers” and was featured in National Geographic magazine in 1986.

A video was made in 2014 about him by Columbia University journalism school students – “The Last Lighthouse Keeper of Coney Island” and it can be seen on Scott Schubert’s Lighthouse website at www.coneyislandlightstation.com.

“Since it is the lighthouse of Brooklyn, and because of the rich history of Coney Island and New York City’s maritime history, I think it would be amazing if we could turn the lighthouse into a museum,” said Scott Schubert, and the Coney Island History Project Executive Director Charles Denson concurs.

That would shed even more bright light on historic Sea Gate and its valuable land, on the rebound to full recovery from Sandy.

Old Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

‘Old Bay Ridge & Ovington Village’ Book Tells of Vibrant Community’s Residential and Business Dynamic Rise

By Harold Egeln

 

How Bay Ridge rose from a rural land of farms and forest to urban fame and fortune to become a fertile Brooklyn engine that drives this dynamic and thriving community of businesses and residents is excellently articulated by local historian Matthew Scarpa in his new book, with many vintage photos, “Old Bay Ridge and Ovington Village.”

old bay ridge ovington village

His book, published by The History Press, may make readers feel like living witnesses to history and should make them understand why people settle and work there.

On March 18, Scarpa gave a presentation on his new book at a monthly meeting of Bay Ridge Historical Society, of which Scarpa is the second vice president and his grandfather Peter Scarpa is a former president, in the Shore Hill Community Room on 91st Street and Shore Road, once the site of a hospital founded in the 19th Century that became Lutheran Medical Center in Sunset Park.

“Between the years 1850 and 1915, great change occurred in By Ridge,” he wrote. “This was a crucial period in Bay Ridge’s historic past and bridges two distinct chapters in the course of its history: its ‘ancient past’ and its present.” Real estate, in this still continuing vibrant venture, boomed as, he wrote, “By the 1920’s, much of Bay Ridge’s past began to dwindle.”

Among factors of Bay Ridge’s early boom years almost a century ago, Scarpa noted, was the start of trolley service in 1891, the Fourth Avenue subway line’s extension in 1916 to Fourth Avenue and 86th Street and a few years later to 95th Street, Brooklyn’s industrialization and urbanization, and, above all, the influence of Ovington Village. It was established as an artists’ community in 1850 in what was then the Township of New Utrecht, along and around Ovington Avenue.

Ovington Village’s founding 165 years ago, wrote Scarpa, ”sowed the seeds for the development of a greater community. As a result of its establishment, the village’s surrounding area gradually increased and expanded, becoming more populated and developed.” The wider community around it was officially named Bay Ridge in 1853 in place of its old name Yellow Hook.

Among the influences was the building of two community and social enters in Ovington Village, the Bay Ridge Antheneum in 1871, with its Great Hall and the community’s first public library, on Second Avenue (Ridge Boulevard) between Bay Ridge and Ovington Avenues, and the Ridge Club of Bay Rudge, an athletic and social institution, on Second Avenue between 71st and 72nd Streets in 1894.

The Bay Ridge Theater, on Third Avenue and 71st Street, opened in 1915, and was called “the most palatial amusement building in New York,” and served Bay Ridge until it closed in the 1960’s.

Among prominent nationally-known residents of Ovington Village were Otto Heinigke, a stain-glass manufacturer and artist, and George Schlegel, a lithographer and horticulturalist. They, Scarpa said, “left indelible marks on New York and American art history,” and “made a significant impact on how art was viewed and displayed” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the most impactful residents was historian, lawyer and statesman Henry Murphy (1810-72), among prominent citizens who laid the groundwork for Bay Ridge’s growth, Scarpa noted. He was a founding editor of the “Brooklyn Daily Eagle” newspaper in 1841, was elected City of Brooklyn mayor in 1842, and after that a state senator and then a U.S. representative. He was a Democrat.

Photographer Samuel W. Thomas, who lived on 75th Street (Bay Ridge Parkway) took hundreds of photos of Bay Ridge during its transition years, and are now in the photo trove of the Bay Ridge Historical Society.

During his time in the late 19th Century and early 20th, Bay Ridge hosted several mansions, including one on a hilltop that would become Owls Head Park, and places such as the Crescent Athletic Club, on Shore Road and 83rd Street, which closed in 1931 and moved to Huntington, Long Island.

Bay Ridge is not known for its brownstones, such as Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope, but the few it has are remarkable, Scarpa stated. “The (20) brownstone houses on Senator Street between Third and Fourth Avenues are the only stretch of brownstone homes other than those on Ovington Avenue between Ridge Boulevard and Third Avenue.” They were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, which happened when the street’s block association worked for that goal.

Jamaica Bay Gateway National Park Advocates

‘Jamaica Bay Advocates’ Effort Aims at ‘One Unified Voice’ for Jamaica Bay Gateway National Park
By Harold Egeln

The huge Jamaica Bay Gateway National Park Recreation Area, encompassing over 9,155 acres mostly in Queens and also in Marine Park in Brooklyn, has seven million visitors annually, and lots of friends and fans within and outside its 32-square mile area, and many advocates, now with the additional big boost and voice of the Jamaica Bay Advocates, an initiative that began in late 2014.
“Working together, we aim to network with and help mobilize the community for our goal, which is to create one unified voice for Jamaica Bay. Our role is for action and advocacy,” said activist Elizabeth Bowler and organizer of the initiative, which had a launch party celebration in February. “Our purpose is the help further empower local residents, business people and civic organizations.
Bowler is the Northeast Program Manager for the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the organization that proposed and launched the advocacy project initiative. Helping Bowler is Cortney Worrall, Regional NPCA Director, and working right along with NPCA Regional Director Bowler is Loren Cosgrove un charge of the NPCA “Find Your Voice” project.
The advocates’ goal, Bowler said, includes involving local elected officials, merchants and residents. The three areas for the advocates are: to build awareness about park issues, seek more park funding and help explore ways to enhance the park experience for its visitors. The advocacy group, she said, is working to help “strengthen, protect and restore the park for future generations.”
The strategic plan to accomplish this goal is fourfold, she explained. There will be advocacy workshops such as one already set, the “JBA Civic Voice Lessons Workshop” to provide skills training for young advocates, arranging meetings with local elected officials whose districts include Jamaica Bay, working with the Wounded Veterans Project that includes an upcoming paddling tour of the bay, and involving Floyd Bennett Field, the historic early aviation airport.
“We are working to immerse ourselves with this incredible community, and its riches of resources in both the park area and its people,” said Bowler. For the past six months, the JBA, as essential to its public outreach, has been introducing themselves and sharing ideas for cooperative work at local community meetings and centers, and before civic groups.
Already in motion before the Jamaica Bay Advocates began and on which to build connections, is the Jamaica Bay Greenway community-based planning project for creating a 28-mile network of paths for bicyclists and pedestrians, the Jamaica Bay Greenway. The proposed greenway’s purpose is to enhance people’s use and enjoyment of the park, with destinations that include Floyd Bennett Field, the Canarsie Pier, Fort Tilden, Rockaway Beach, Jacob Riis Park and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.
“We are not part of the national gateway park itself. But we are gladly working with it in a support and watchdog role,” explained Bowler. “It is our job as advocates to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and communication in concert with the entire Jamaica Bay community, and to include local activists in our work as advocates and help empower young people as skilled advocates for this wonderful parkland, bay and wildlife refuge.”
This is a landmark decade, because a century ago the National Parks System started in 1916, followed in 1919 by the National Parks Service, laying the structure for the national parks existing at that time, and the many more to come, up into the creation of the Gateway National Park and Recreation Area , an area molded in history by the War of 1812, early pioneering aviation and World War Two.
Meanwhile, the Jamaica Bay Greenway project is holding its final round of workshops, in Howard Beach and Ozone Park (May 13), Rockaway Park and Broad Channel (May 21), Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park (June 3), and Canarsie and Spring Creek (June 10).

Coney Island Beautification Project CIBP Brooklyn NY

Coney Island Beautification & Mermaid Ave. Greenway Projects in Spring Swing

By Harold Egeln

The Mermaid Avenue Greenway is blooming and the Coney Island Beautification Project, Inc., CIBP, is making that, and much more, happen, thanks to work of volunteers, children and adults alike working hand in hand with their green thumbs up in action. And that makes civic activist Pamela Pettyjohn, merchants, residents and children happy as they spring into action.

“Children and merchants have adopted blocks along Coney Island’s Mermaid Avenue Greenway in this all-volunteer project,” said Pettyjohn, president of the Coney Island Beautification Project, who has also been involved with civic groups and Community Board 11.

The year’s first spring clean-up project on March 28 launched a new year of activity in the storied neighborhood. Mermaid Avenue, Coney Island’s main street and once the home area of famous folk singer Woody Guthrie, was designated as a greenway as part of the Mayor’s Clean Streets Project. In a local Coney Island way, it puts action to the words of Guthrie’s famous song, “This Land Is Your Land.”

“The children, who are students from local schools, enthusiastically embraced the project, designed the tree beds and planted the pansy flower seeds and 5,000 daffodil bulbs, which were put in around the trees last year,” Pettyjohn said. “The kids have so much fun doing this work!”

The daffodil bulbs’ planting was coordinated with the citywide New Yorkers for Parks’ Daffodil Project, led by famous parks advocate and New Yorker for Parks Executive Director Tupper Thomas, well-known for her volunteer leadership work at Prospect Park.

New Yorkers for Parks was founded in 1908 when Theodore Roosevelt, a former NY State governor and NYC police commissioner, was president and the first president to focus national attention on natural resources conservation, creating many new national parks.

On April 2, the Mermaid Avenue Greenway was again filled with school children volunteers along with local merchants of the Greenway’s adopt-a-block program, a continuing year-around effort.

The children are from local schools that include P.S. 90, P.S. 188, P.S. 288 and I.S. 329, and Lincoln High School, and from the Girl Scouts in the all-volunteer effort, backed by several avenue merchants and businesses, part of the Coney Island Beautification Project, Inc. organization.

It was formed in the aftermath of Super-storm Sandy in October 2012 with a destructive flooding in Coney Island. It advocates for and works with the city and community promoting gardening, parks improvements, street tree plantings, green public areas, cleanups and greenways.

“Tree bed plantings are not only functional, but they are also beautiful,” she said at a recent meeting. “Beauty as well as resiliency are both important.” With her love for nature and putting that love into action, Pettyjohn, herself, is a longtime volunteer at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. “We need Nature in our lives.”

Brooklyn NY Dutch Houses

Disappearing Old Dutch Farmhouses and Brooklyn’s Housing Boom

by HAROLD EGELN

Once farmhouses built by Dutch colonial settlers and their descendents dotted the flatlands of southern Brooklyn when their fortunes thrived with their farms until the housing boom in the 1920’s forever changed the landscape, putting chickens out and real estate in business. “In the 1940’s there were over 70 old Dutch houses in Brooklyn. Now there are only 14.”

Citing that fact was urban archeaologist Dr. Chris Ricciardi, standing before a crowd recently at the historic New Utrecht Reformed Church, itself an historical and functioning Dutch artifact on 18th Avenue between 83rd and 84th streets in Bensonhurst. The parish was founded in 1677, and the present church and parish house date to the 1700’s and early 1800’s.

The Dutch houses in the old Town of New Utrecht, built mostly in the 1600’s and 1700’s, are rare today and need to be preserved, said Ricciardi, who is principal of the Chrysalis Archealogy Research Center [www.chrysalisarchaeology.com] consulant-client service based in Midwood.

His topic “Disappearing Dutch Brooklyn – Where Have All the Houses Gone?” was hosted by the Friends of Historic New Utecht, a grassroots activist membership organization founded in 1997, that has received help, through grants, the city Department of Cultural Affairs, and government restoration funds secured by Council-members Vincent Gentile and Domenic Recchia. The group holds popular events, lectures, school children tours and concerts to highlight its history and celebrate the neighborhood [www.historicnewutrecht.org].

The old Dutch farms throughout south Brooklyn were the region’s breadbasket, Ricciardi noted with his powerpoint presentation. The land of south Brooklyn below what is now Eastern Parkway was Ice Age glacial soil, perfectly fertile for farming with very few trees. Trees were abundant above the Eastern Parkway line.

A real estate heaven quickly blossomed in the late 1920’s into the 1930’s, when there was a housing and commercial building boom, bringing with it a huge influx of new families causing the rise of schools and many commercial business centers, triving on the boom, Ricciardi noted.  The urbanization of Brooklyn made it into a triving New York City borough, which it became in 1898, and is at a zenith today.

BUILDING BOOM MAKES DUTCH HOUSES DISAPPEAR

The spark for that housing boom starting in late 1927, said Ricciardi, was the installation of a sewer and water pipe system for running water throughout Flatbush (founded in 1652), the Flatlands (1636), Gravesend (1645) and parts of Bensonhurst, boosting real estate and greatly increasing the population. “As soon as the sewers were in place, developers bought up land,” he said.

The old Dutch farmhouses were usually one-story high structures with slanted roofs, Ricciardi said, many with lean-to additions, as well as barns for farm animals such as chickens and cows. “With the destruction of the Dutch barns, most barns are gone forever,” said Ricciardi.

Of the rising city buildings preservation movement that first stirred in the 1960’s and the focus on the old Ditch houses in Brooklyn, Ricciardi said, “The New York City Landmarks Commission took action, such as ensuring that the Henrick Lott house was preseved, despite faults in the house.” The Lott farmhouse, at 2138 McDonald Avenue, is under restoration.

Up to four of the remaining 14 Dutch houses, he added, are protected by the City Trust of New York. Very little has been written about the disappearing Dutch houses in literature, except for a book published in 1998, he said.

Among other remaining old Dutch houses are The Peter Claeson Wyckoff House, built in 1652, now a museum, at 5816 Clarendon Avenue, the city’s oldest remaining house and first official landmark; the Wyckoff-Bennett House built in 1766; and the Dyckman Farmhouse at 4110 Quentin Road.

Also, the Dyckman Farmhouse at 4110 Quentin Road, and the Nicholas Schenck House built in 1776 in Canarsie. The latter has not stood on land for over 80 years because it was moved inside the Brooklyn Museum. The Van Pelt Manor House, built in 1686, was in Milestone Park one block north of New Utrecht Reformed Church, with its iconic milestone still in place.

The Old Stone House at Fourth Avenue and Third Street in Washington in Park Slope is a reconstruction of the Vecht-Cortelyou Stone House built in 1699. It serves as a museum marking its role in the American Revolutionary War.