Spring Creek: a desolate place with a dreary history

Until the 21st century, Spring Creek was a vast wasteland.

Ninety years ago, however, there were some big plans for the area – a common theme along the burgeoning Jamaica Bay. The E. Belcher Hyde atlas from 1920-1922 shows a plan for a grid. You’ll notice that some of the roads extend into Jamaica Bay and over “Mudd Creek” and “Second Creek”, natural waterways that would eventually be filled.

From the 1920-1922 E. Belcher Hyde atlas, volume 2, pages 185-186.

This plan was not to be, however. The land was considered unsuitable for building, and the location was undesirable. These attributes made it a perfect spot for its two most notable early uses: as a body-dumping site for Jewish organized-crime syndicate Murder, Inc. in the 1930s, and for the Pennsylvania Avenue and Fountain Avenue Landfills, which opened in the 1940s.

The Shore Parkway came to the area in 1940, providing an easy connection to Brooklyn and Queens. So why didn’t the area get built up like Canarsie in the 1950s?

There are a few possible reasons, which aren’t mutually exclusive by any means. For one, the development of Brooklyn in the modern era has generally radiated from Manhattan. Since Spring Creek is at the farthest reaches of the borough, it makes sense that it would come last.

Another factor: noise. The first commercial flight at JFK International Airport – then officially known as New York International Airport, and more familiarly as Idlewild – took off on July 1, 1948. As the 747 flies, Spring Creek is only about three miles from the end of Runway 31L. (I live right under the flight-path for planes landing on LaGuardia’s Runway 4; although it’s eight miles away, I know every time a plane goes overhead, even with the windows closed.)

Of course, pollution in Jamaica Bay, a City incinerator, a sewage-treatment plant, and “foul odors, underground fires, and rats” don’t make for great selling-points, either.

Late 1960s aerial photograph of Spring Creek. (from Plan for New York City, 1969)

As early as 1969, the City looked to develop this “huge land resource”. A report that year from the Planning Commission sought to make the area habitable by installing anti-pollution devices on the incinerator and by expanding the sewage-treatment facility. Starrett City (then proposed to be called “Twin Pines”) and the Brooklyn Developmental Disabilities Services Office were realized within the following half-decade; additional housing would have to wait nearly a half-century.

The 1969 plan called for a 6,000-unit cooperative housing project called Twin Pines, a mental-hygiene complex, and the development of “a major portion of the land” as a “new regional recreation area on Jamaica Bay”.

Like Murder, Inc., the Mafia also used the Fountain Avenue dump for murderous means. Roy DeMeo silenced over one hundred voices using the same procedure: DeMeo would lure the victim to a side room in the Gemini Lounge* (which DeMeo owned), shoot him in the head with a silenced revolver, drain and dismember his body, and pack the pieces in garbage bags to be taken to Fountain Avenue. With so much trash ending up in the dump and so many bits scattered, the FBI found it too costly to mount an investigation there.

The landfill was closed in 1985, nearly three years after DeMeo’s associates stashed his corpse in a car trunk in Sheepshead Bay, possibly for using “the Gemini Method” too frequently. (The FBI had been investigating the large number of DeMeo associates who had failed to return from the Club, and there might have been fears among the associates that DeMeo would turn state’s evidence.) Efforts are finally under way to restore both landfills to a natural state.

Undated (my guess: 1998) satellite photograph of the Spring Creek area. (from Savin Engineers, P.C.)

Not until the 21st century did modern conveniences — or anything meant for the public, really — arrive in Spring Creek. Gateway Center, a mall featuring only big-box stores and chain restaurants, opened in 2002. Its main charm is its proximity to the Shore Parkway. Two housing-developments, Gateway Elton Street and Gateway Estates, are under construction north of the mall.

Reminders of Spring Creek’s harrowing past have abounded. Construction of the Gateway Center unearthed a human skull. And in 2006, an unfortunate new chapter in this history was written.

Early in the morning of February 25, the body of 24-year-old Imette St. Guillen was found on Fountain Avenue, the police having been notified of its presence by an unidentified caller. Darryl Littlejohn, a bouncer at the now-closed SoHo pub The Falls, was found guilty and sentenced to life without parole in 2009. Littlejohn was a convicted felon; the incident pushed the New York City Council to pass Imette’s Law, which requires bouncers to be licensed.

*The former Gemini Lounge is now The Flatlands Church of God, which I walked by on last week’s trip, completely oblivious to its past. This is a neat reminder that the more neighborhoods I hit, the more connections I’m able to weave between them.

I took this because I thought it would make a good header image, but it didn’t work out.

Bound sources:

Desk atlas of the borough of Brooklyn, City of New York, volume two by E. Belcher Hyde (self-published, 1920-1922).

Plan for New York City: a proposal. Volume 3: Brooklyn by the New York City Planning Commission (self-published, 1969).

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One Response to Spring Creek: a desolate place with a dreary history

  1. Pipes says:

    What a wild history in Jamaica Bay. There seem to be some movie plots in a lot of these Nabes.

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