Tag Archives: P.S. 95

Sally Gil’s Gravesend

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Fire Engine Company 253 (center), New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church (second from right).

Riders of the N train (a.k.a. the Sea Beach line) in southern Brooklyn have been tortured since 2015, when the MTA began work to revitalize the system’s nine crumbling, open-air platforms and station houses. Constructed between 1913 and 1915, the line remained largely untouched for a century, with maintenance limited to slathering on layers of beige paint in futile attempt to mask decades of exposure to vandals and the elements.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform.

To “expedite” renovations, the line shut down in stages, first the Manhattan-bound platforms, then the Coney-Island bound side. After nearly four years of being forced to ride several stops in the wrong direction to catch a train running the opposite way, things are finally nearing completion. At Avenue U both platforms are open once again and both station houses are looking better than ever, although the one at the southern end is not quite finished as of this writing.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Magen David Synagogue (upside down, at left), P.S. 95 (center).

I knew the MTA planned to include artwork as part of the Sea Beach improvements, as it had when it renovated the West End (D), Culver (F) and Brighton (B/Q) lines. Those stations are all elevated in this part of Brooklyn, so their artwork has taken the form of translucent panels that filter daylight through images and abstract patterns. Similar installations, but in mosaic tile, have started appearing along the N line, like the botanical-inspired splashes at 86th Street, and the big blocks of color at Bay Parkway, reminiscent of the Max Spivak mural uncovered at 5 Bryant Park in Manhattan.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform.

Imagine my happy shock one recent morning when, after boarding a Manhattan-bound N train at 86th Street and snagging a seat, the doors opened at the next stop, Avenue U, and I looked up to see Lady Moody’s House on the wall! The doors closed, leaving me slack-jawed and straining to see what else was there as the train sped away.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. 62nd Precinct station house (center).

That night I couldn’t wait to get home to see if I hadn’t imagined it all. The station had no artwork the day before. But now, miraculously, it had fourteen mosaic tile panels, seven on the Manhattan-bound platform, and seven on the Coney Island side. Those on the Manhattan side show blue skies swirled with clouds and sparkly stars over a dark, asphalt-colored ground. On the Coney Island side, the sky is black and the ground a shimmery blue.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center (right).

Sitting along the horizon on each panel, sometimes at ground level, sometimes floating askew, and occasionally upside down, are familiar buildings from Gravesend and the greater neighborhood. It’s fitting that I spotted the Moody house first, but I instinctively knew so many more sites. They’re all so realistically done that it’s hard to believe they’re fashioned from small tiles and not painted on canvas.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Manhattan-bound platform. Van Sicklen (a.k.a. Lady Moody) House (right of center).

The places I recognize include

  • Van Sicklen House (a.k.a. Lady Moody House), 27 Gravesend Neck Road, built early 18th century, (a designated landmark).
  • Fire Engine Company 253, 2425-2427 86th Street, built 1895-1896 (a designated landmark).
  • New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church, 18th Avenue, built 1828 (a designated landmark).
  • Rear of the house at 2066 West 7th Street between Avenues T and U, as visible from Coney Island-bound platform of the Avenue U Station.
  • P.S. 95, 345 Van Sicklen Street.
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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Antonio Meucci monument (center), Stryker House (right).

  • Magen David Synagogue, 2017 67th Street, built 1920-1921 (a designated landmark); depicted upside down.
  • 62nd Precinct Station House of the New York City Police Department, 1925 Bath Avenue.
  • Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center, 2015 64th Street, as visible from the Manhattan-bound platform of the 20th Avenue Station; depicted on two panels.
  • Top of the house at 2076 West 7th Street between Avenues U and T.
  • Top of the house at 30 Village Road North; depicted upside down.
  • Monument to Antonio Meucci (1808-1889), inventor of the telephone, in Meucci Triangle, at the intersection of Avenue U, 86th Street, and West 12th Street.
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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Hubbard House in silhouette (center).

  • Top floor and tower of the Stryker house, 346 Van Sicklen Street, opposite P.S. 95.
  • Hubbard House, 2138 McDonald Avenue, built circa 1830-1835 (a designated landmark); depicted in silhouette on three panels.
  • Avenue U station house of the Sea Beach Line.
  • Top floors of the houses at 71 and 75 Avenue U.
  • New York State Education Department sign (1938) at the Gravesend Cemetery (the original of which reads: GRAVESEND | SETTLED IN 1643 BY ENGLISH | QUAKERS [sic] UNDER LADY DEBORAH | MOODY ON LAND GRANTED TO | THEM BY THE DUTCH | GOVERNOR OF NEW AMSTERDAM).
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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Avenue U station house (left of center).

Architectural fragments–awnings, grill-work doors, and rowhouse cornices–are scattered among the panels, as are cups of coffee, a rainbow cookie, and loaves of bread. Tulips and other blooms breathe life into it all.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Houses at 71-75 Avenue U (right).

If you have not been to the Avenue U station for a while, go examine these whimsical mosaics for yourself. Go early and plan to miss a morning train. Or linger when you get home at night. I promise it’s worth it. See if you can pick out the images I’ve listed. And tell me if you spot others I’ve missed.

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Masjid Al-Iman Islamic Center (left), New Utrecht Reformed Dutch Church (center).

The artist, Sally Gil, who calls her work “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” was commissioned by MTA Arts & Design to create this permanent series using “found” places from the neighborhood to represent the diversity of its residents, present and past. She placed them along the horizon because that is where “the business of living happens.” As she explained by email, the objects in the mosaics “reference meaningful, mundane, iconic things and places in the neighborhood, all there for people to slowly (or quickly) realize they know.”

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Hubbard House in silhouette (left of tulips).

Gil’s original, small-scale, mixed media pieces were enlarged and fabricated in glass by Mosaicos Venezianos de Mexico. The artist hopes her work will remind us how “every day we are making our place in the world, and the subway is the conduit that transports us. We live on a physical plane while dwelling in our thoughts and imaginations–the world of our own stories.” We all have the same goal, Gil continues, “To live peacefully, with what we need and want.”

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Sally Gil, “Edges of a South Brooklyn Sky,” 2018. Sea Beach line, Avenue U station, Coney Island-bound platform. Hubbard House in silhouette (left), Gravesend Cemetery sign (left of center).


Copyright © 2018 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Greetings from Gravesend

There are picture postcards of virtually every community in the country, however small. In some cases they provide the only photographic documentation of a place. Many older views have become scarce and command high prices from collectors. The six Gravesend scenes below were published between 1907 and 1911 by “F. Johnson,” who was very likely Frederick Van Kleek Johnson (1875-1930), keeper of a general store. It’s hard to imagine such a countrified institution existing in Brooklyn, but Gravesend remained a quiet, rural neighborhood into the 20th century, as these postcards attest. You may have seen some of them separately, but here’s the complete set.

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[1] Village Road [North], Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[1] Frederick Van Kleek Johnson’s general store occupied the building at the left in this view of Village Road North looking east from Van Sicklen Street towards McDonald Avenue. It stood where Lady Moody Triangle is today. The street names “Village Road North,” “Village Road East,” and “Village Road South,” were not set in stone early on; they were often lumped together under the directionless “Village Road.” Today’s Village Road North was once called “Ryder Place” for the many Ryder family members who lived there.

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[2] Firehouse and Town Hall, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[2] Gravesend’s last town hall, at 2337 McDonald Avenue (southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road), went up in 1873. The building held an auditorium on the second floor, a courtroom on ground level, and four basement jail cells. After the City of Brooklyn annexed Gravesend in 1894, the structure housed the predecessor of Fire Engine Company 254. It was demolished in 1913.

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[3] M. E. Church, Neck Road, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[3] This small wooden chapel at 14 Gravesend Neck Road began life as the Sunday School / lecture room of the Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church (GRDC). It was built about 1854 near the northwest corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road, just south of the 1834 sanctuary of the GRDC. When the congregation moved to 121 Gravesend Neck Road in 1893/94, it took the lecture room to the new site to house services while the new church was under construction. In 1899 the little building was sold for one dollar to the fledgling Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church (GMEC) and moved — for the second time — to the southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road and Van Sicklen Street. After the GMEC disbanded in 1914, the building housed the Coney Island Pentecostal Church, which replaced it in 1937 with the current stone structure on the site. The latter building is now the First Korean Church of Brooklyn.

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[4] Public School No. 95, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[4] Gravesend’s first school opened in 1728 near the southeast corner of McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road. In 1838 it moved to the east side of Van Sicklen Street, north of Gravesend Neck Road, and has remained there, in changing buildings, ever since, eventually coming to be called P.S. 95. The 1888 schoolhouse seen here stood opposite Lama Court, just beside the modern (1915) brick structure of P.S. 95 (at 345 Van Sicklen Street). It survived until a 1939 addition to the newer building forced its demolition.

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[5] Van Sicklen St., looking North [from Avenue T], Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[5] An item in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of July 30, 1899 described two newly-completed houses on Van Sicklen Street, near Avenue T, “costing $1,700 each and standing on plots 55 x 111 feet.” They were very likely nos. 194 and 190 Van Sicklen Street, seen at the left in this view looking north towards Avenue S from Avenue T. They were constructed by the carpenter Peter Wyckoff Johnson (1833-1900), who, incidentally, was the father of Frederick Van Kleek Johnson, publisher of these postcards. No. 190 Van Sicklen (second from left) was recently demolished and replaced by a monstrous McMansion. (I’m sorry if it is your monstrous McMansion, but it has no place on this historic street!)

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[6] Sts. Simon and Judes [sic] R. C. Church, Gravesend, N.Y., ca. 1907-11 {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

[6] The first mass of the Roman Catholic parish of Ss. Simon and Jude was celebrated in a barbershop at 321 Avenue T on Christmas Day, 1897. In 1898 the cornerstone for a permanent church was laid at the northeast corner of Van Sicklen Street and Avenue T. That sanctuary was consecrated in 1899. The current church went up in 1966 on the site of the adjacent rectory (northwest corner of Avenue T and Lake Street), and the old building was demolished for a parking lot after the new one was dedicated in 1967.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Filed under Avenue T, buildings, churches, Gravesend Neck Road, Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church, postal history, Ryder family, schools, streets, Village Road North

That Time Lady Moody’s House Was In a Movie

It absolutely floored me. It was Sunday, seven years ago. Or maybe eight. I lay slumped on the sofa thumbing a book. TCM murmured on the television. I dozed more than I read, and only half-eyed the screen. Whichever classic film was on had ended, and some black-and-white short followed it to fill the hour. I yawned and counted the pages left to go. Suddenly, a tenor, warbling the sappiest ballad I’d ever heard — words about truth or love or hearts or death above a trembling piano — snapped me awake. I often wonder what made me focus when I did. Thinking back, it could only have been the ghosts of Gravesend whispering “Look up. Look up, and see.” Behind the singer pictures flashed, still images of bathers in the surf, drinkers in a bar. They looked like magic lantern slides, those photographs on glass that Victorians projected on parlor walls. And this is the one that floored me:

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The image glowed for all of four seconds before the next slide popped up. By the time I realized what I’d seen it was gone. But through the magic of DVR I rewound the film and paused on the image. There was no doubt: it was Lady Moody’s House, the building still standing at 27 Gravesend Neck Road (currently for sale and due for designation review by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on October 8, 2015). What the heck was it doing in this movie?

I started the film from the beginning and learned it was “The Nickelette,” a 1932 Warner Bros. production poking fun at the early movie-going experience of the nickelodeon: “When movies were silent and money talked, a nickel bought an evening’s entertainment. Let’s enter one of these ancient nickelettes.” Eddy Gilligan, the “silver tone tenor,” belts out the melodramatic 1913 hit, “The Curse of an Aching Heart” (music by Al Piantadosi; lyrics by Henry Fink), to underscore fifteen appropriately old-fashioned, if unrelated, pictures. The Moody House slide comes twelfth.

Vitaphone_Cavalcade_DVD_setAt the time, I managed to find the film online. I saved it and shared it with some fellow Gravesend fanatics (we’re a small but noble group). But then I put it out of mind. That was several computer crashes ago. I lost the file and the emails in which I had shared it. (I since back up regularly to that white, puffy cloud.) I even forgot the title of the film.

Recently I recalled one of the people with whom I shared the news and he had, incredibly, preserved my message. The link to the online version of the film is defunct, but now it is available on DVD, part of a six-disc set in the Warner Bros. Archive Collection called Vitaphone Cavalcade of Musical Comedy Shorts. I bought it, naturally, and captured the screen shot seen here (for which I pray the Warner Bros. honchos won’t sue me!).

P.S. 95 does not appear to the left of the house; it was constructed in 1914-15, so the image had to have been made earlier. Still, it must date from after 1905, by when William and Isabelle Platt, owners of the house, had added dormer windows to the second floor. Compare the screen capture with a positively identified view of the building in the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society, taken at a slightly later date, and you’ll agree it’s the same house:

But the question remains: How did this picture of Lady Moody’s House wind up in a movie? I have a theory. One of the early twentieth-century occupants of the house was an actress, Carlota Cole — sometimes spelled “Carlotta,” and sometimes known by her stage name, “Charlotte Townsend” — who lived there with her brother, Bert, between 1912 and the early 1920s. (Bert M. Cole bought the house from the Platts.) As this write-up from the Brooklyn Eagle attests, Carlota enjoyed some popularity, and even worked with John Drew Jr. (1853 – 1927), uncle to John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore (hence Drew Barrymore’s name):

I haven’t found evidence of it yet, but it is entirely possible that Carlota also worked for Vitagraph Studios, the pioneering movie company founded in Brooklyn in 1897. The Vitagraph lot was in South Greenfield, a forgotten neighborhood in the vicinity of Avenue M and the Brighton Line (today’s B/Q subway). In her history of the Wyckoff-Bennett HomesteadLiving in a Landmark (Francestown, N.H., 1980, p. 116), Gertrude Ryder Bennett recalled how the “dunes, beaches, woodlands, quiet lanes and country homes” of southern Brooklyn served as locations for Vitagraph films:

One year, the company built the fronts of several houses on the shore of Gerritsen’s mill pond. Time disintegrated them[,] but while they stood, the people in our neighborhood walked there with box cameras after the actors had finished work, and posed in doorways pretending to be popular movie stars. . . . Around these little false-front shacks the mill pond made an exquisite wilderness background with its great willow trees close to the water’s edge and miles of meadow land stretching beyond the pond. Today that site, filled in, is the baseball field of Marine Park on the north side of Avenue U surrounded by an urban community.

Vitagraph even shot a scene on the porch of the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead (Gertrude believed it was from The Prisoner of Zenda). Isn’t it possible that they also used the Lady Moody House as a backdrop for some other project? Warner Bros. bought the Vitagraph Company in 1925. Could this lantern slide have been among the stock? A leftover promotional still from some forgotten flicker? And just the sort of nostalgic image needed for making “The Nickelette?”

Carlota Cole does not appear in the “Vitagraph Family” list of actors in Anthony Slide’s The Big V: A History of the Vitagraph Company (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., revised edition, 1987), so maybe that isn’t her, dressed in white, on the arm of her beau at the picket fence. But these are clearly actors, posed, perhaps, as newlyweds about to cross the threshold. (Or maybe he’s trying to stop her departure?) And it is unmistakably the house. In any case, isn’t it wonderful that I looked up when I did to catch it? Who else would have noticed?


Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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