City Line: a neighborhood boxed in

“The highway is planned essentially as a business road. It would provide for quick transportation of Long Island farm products into the heart of the city.”

– Automobile Club of America on the proposed Conduit Highway, 1921

It would also cut off City Line from the rest of Brooklyn. But more on that later; first, some venting.

Looking for information on this neighborhood was a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. The name is so generic that it could show up anywhere, although most commonly for the actual boundary between the City of Brooklyn and Queens County before consolidation. Take this excerpt from the Brooklyn Eagle, for example, in which no “City Line” refers to what I need it to:

The issue is not that I can’t figure out what this means – it’s that a search for “city line” in the Eagle archives returns far too many results*, even with some qualifiers thrown in. So I tried to narrow my scope a bit.

The area now called City Line was part of the Town of New Lots, which broke off from Flatbush in 1852. New Lots remained independent until 1886, when it was annexed by the City of Brooklyn, and became Brooklyn’s Twenty-Sixth Ward. Brooklyn and Queens were united under the New York City flag in 1898.

I feel comfortable assuming “City Line” came into use at some point during this twelve-year span. Otherwise, it would probably be known as “Town Line” or “Borough Line”, right? (Luckily for us, it’s not called “County Line”, because that would be almost impossible to pin down.)

Not much going on in the future City Line in 1873. “J. Drew” lives just over the border in Jamaica. (From the F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island New York)

This was still not enough restriction. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on to other things. This was one of those times. Maybe someday I’ll have time to click through thousands of articles. Or not.

So my focus turned to figuring out the proper location of the border between Brooklyn and Queens. The older atlases I frequently refer to at the Brooklyn Collection suggested the border ran diagonally across blocks.

Excerpt from the 1920-1922 E. Belcher Hyde desk atlas, rotated to preserve a natural orientation.

This was the fault of the grid, of course, not of the boundary. The border had been drawn centuries earlier to accomodate farmland. Cutting properties in two, however, causes problems ranging from determining which borough should provide services to where and in which districts people should vote. I suppose this is why the city didn’t bother moving the border around Franklin K. Lane High School, or through the cemeteries. After all, dead people don’t vote, do they? …

According to this 1999 New York Daily News article, the border was moved to match the grid in 1931. I couldn’t find contemporary information on the change, but I was able to find a description of the border as it is today. If some night you can’t sleep, crack open the NYC Administrative Code. I had a look through its 3,000-some-odd pages (and I managed to stay awake!). This information comes from § 2-202, ”BOUNDARIES OF THE CITY: Division into boroughs and boundaries thereof”.

… thence westerly along the center line of Dumont avenue to the center line of Ruby street; thence northerly along the center line of Ruby street to the center line of Liberty avenue; thence westerly along the center line of Liberty avenue to the center line of Drew street; thence northerly along the center line of Drew street to the center line of Ninety-fifth avenue; thence westerly along the center line of Ninety-fifth avenue to the center line of Eldert’s lane; thence northerly along the center line of Eldert’s lane to a monument at the intersection of such line and Atlantic avenue …

Thence I inserted a map into this post, because you probably skipped the preceding paragraph.

Then there’s City Line’s physical separation from the rest of Brooklyn. It had always been south of the Long Island Rail Road, which is now under Atlantic Avenue. To its west was the conduit that moved water from Long Island to a pumping station at Atlantic and Fountain Avenue; from there, a “force tube” would push the water up to the Ridgewood Reservoir.

General outline of how water got to Ridgewood Reservoir. The purple outline represents the original four pumping stations (built 1860-1882). In blue is the site of an additional station added in the 1890s.

The conduit was underground, so the grid continued as normal over it. But this city-owned property was perfect to pacify the needs of a car-loving public.

Bill No. 1065 of the 1921 Legislative session provided for the construction of the “Conduit Highway“, now known as Conduit Boulevard in Brooklyn and Conduit Avenue in Queens. Originally 30-40 feet wide, subsequent “improvements” (thanks to Robert Moses, of course) brought it to its present size, with three lanes of traffic in each direction and a large grass wasteland median. It became a major thoroughfare upon the completion of the Shore Parkway, to which it connected Atlantic Avenue. Maybe it should have kept its original name.

Looking south from the corner of Pitkin Avenue and N Conduit Boulevard. The shops on the other side are adjacent to S Conduit Boulevard. (from my trip to East New York)

Some have made attempts to reclaim at least some of this space from the automobile. A 2000 proposal by the Departments of City Planning and Parks sought a new Greenway following the length of Conduit Boulevard/Avenue, down to the Shore Parkway, and up around Queens all the way to Long Island Sound. It has yet to come to fruition.

Bound sources:

The power broker: Robert Moses and the fall of New York by Robert A. Caro (Vintage Books, 1975).

The neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Kenneth T. Jackson, Ed. (Yale University Press, 2004).

Brooklyn’s East New York and Cypress Hills communities by Brian Merlis and Riccardo Gomes (Gomerl Publishing, 2004).

*Don’t worry, I know how spoiled I am, not having to sort through actual physical copies of old newspapers.

This entry was posted in History and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to City Line: a neighborhood boxed in

  1. chickenunderwear says:


Leave a Reply