Seeing the fruits of restoration in Bed-Stuy

My schedule this week forced me to split my visit in two for the first time. This turned out just fine.

I made my first trip on Friday morning, before that afternoon’s amazing thunderstorms. I took the 2 to the northbound Franklin Avenue Shuttle. The last stop, Franklin Av, drops you off in southwest Bed-Stuy. I got a good view of Atlantic Avenue on the way, and the hour was right for the station’s stained-glass windows.

I had much work to do on my very brief history of the area, and I felt spending some time in Bed-Stuy might inspire me. I picked Busy Bee Bagel Cafe, a week-old establishment I had read about on Brooklyn Exposed. Have you ever used an African drum as a table? It’s great for when you get frustrated. Outside, a guy in a Catholic-schoolgirl outfit was setting up a smoothie stand.

I was keen to get some sightseeing done, so I walked around the southwest part of the neighborhood. Here was an unexpected treat on Franklin Avenue.

I encountered three chickens (and one large metal rooster) in the front yard of a mid-19th-century house. One of the owners was outside; he told me that the chickens were owned communally by the house’s residents. They are used for eggs and for “entertainment” – mainly, “watching them build their chicken society”.

Boys High School on Marcy Avenue is stunning. Built in 1892, it was designed to be elegant and imposing. Its large tower is a beacon for the area. The grandeur of the building is better experienced in person.

Girls High was its counterpart, built in 1885.  It closed in 1964, and now houses the Brooklyn Adult Learning Center. (The combined Boys and Girls High School is in Stuyvesant Heights.)

This trip ended at the Nostrand Avenue A/C stop. Macon Street is a dividing line of sorts: to the north is peaceful residential life; to the south, a bustling commercial area.

Trip number two was designed for my Sunday best. I took an early Q train to Canal Street in Manhattan, where I transferred to a Queens-bound J. I got off at the Flushing Av stop, where that avenue connects with Broadway.

Did you know there is a humongous hospital in North Brooklyn? First stop: the 30-year-old Woodhull Medical Center. It must have taken me 7 minutes to walk its length.

The remains of the Myrtle Avenue elevated run above the Myrtle Av J/M/Z stop. The M train curves onto that old right-of-way after this station.

Northeast Bed-Stuy juxtaposes bland NYCHA projects with vibrant brownstones.

The projects here range in height from five or six stories to over twenty. There is very little notable about them.

In front of one of the projects, however, ingenuity – and tasty, healthy vegetables – sprung.

Most of the neighborhood lacks landmark status, so the legally acceptable palette for private residences is expanded. These are all different blocks.

In some cases, perhaps that palette gets taken a bit too far.

Like Brownsville, Bed-Stuy has many churches. Going on a Sunday morning was cool because I got to see people wearing their finest (complete with lovely hats) and to hear hymns and sermons streaming from the open windows.

Some churches offered Spanish,

some were of the storefront variety,

and some were historic in nature.

[Clockwise from top left:
Antioch Baptist Church (1887-92);
Bridge Street African Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal Church (1818/1938);
St. Stephen and St. Martin's Church (1868);
First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1819).]

An adolescent usher saw me outside St. Stephen and St. Martin’s and invited me in to participate in the service. Although I stayed for only ten minutes, I felt part of the community. The choir was uplifting, and the people I talked to were friendly. They invited me to a cookout they’re having next Saturday; alas, I have plans.

I had breakfast at Saraghina, at Halsey and Lewis, a charming place with the feel of a country inn. The ladies at the Hunterfly Road Houses had recommended I get pizza there; I had lunch plans, however, so I settled for a strawberry-blueberry pastry and a caffe latte*.

I ate my snack at Potomac Playground, at the corner of Halsey and Tompkins. The basketball courts were busy, and a sprinkler thing provided delight – and relief – to a few youngsters.

I came across this cool mural featuring black entertainers farther south on Tompkins Avenue. I really like the way they handled MJ.

Restoration Plaza was created as part of the original 1967 plan to improve the area. The big building is now home to many groups, including the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Milk bottles carved out of the arches remind the viewer of the building’s initial purpose. In the courtyard, there was a farmers’ market of some sort under way. It sounded like a musical act would perform later.

Daniel Berry Austin was the great chronicler of Brooklyn life and landscape in the early 1900s; his work has been a great source of material for me, usually because he captured things that are no longer around (e.g., Paerdegat Creek). It was cool to finally stand in his footsteps on Herkimer Street.

Then it was the shuttle back. I took it all the way to Prospect Park this time, making it the third line I’ve ridden end to end without stopping. (No slideshows this time, sorry.)

If you haven’t ridden the Franklin Avenue Shuttle, you’re missing a unique experience. Both directions share a single track on the northern, elevated half; the southern half, between the sunlight peeking through the plants growing alongside it and the occasional graffiti-covered wall, gives you a feeling of seclusion from the bustle of the city.

I’ve got many more pictures than I could fit here. Stay tuned.

Here’s a map:

*I had ordered a “latte”, but the gentleman serving me wisely confirmed I didn’t want just plain milk, the literal translation. In a sad sign of our times, he’s a philosopher – and clearly a brilliant dude – whose job is to pour coffee (and milk).

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3 Responses to Seeing the fruits of restoration in Bed-Stuy

  1. Anne Perzeszty says:

    I rode the Franklin Avenue Shuttle back in the early 50′s as the final leg of my 1.5 hour journey from Queens to Bishop McDonnell girls’ diocesan high school on Eastern Parkwy. How ironic that I now live almost directly across the street from the school which is now St. Francis School for the Deaf.

  2. Ivy says:

    I live a block over from Boys High School and bike past it every morning on my way to work. It gives me a little thrill knowing that Isaac Asimov AND Norman Mailer both went to school there! I try to imagine them as nerdy teenagers.

  3. So grateful for the invention that is photography. That mural will be coming down to make way for condos. What you may have walked into in the courtyard at Restoration was the annual Food and Family Day event.

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