The Stories Your House Could Tell: 716 Argyle Road

1983 Tax Photo for 716 Argyle Road
In 1905, John R. Corbin assembled two dozen wooden frame homes atop natural stone foundations on Argyle Road north of Avenue H. They all featured attractive interiors with pier mirrors, mantels, pocket doors, wainscoting, bay windows, multiple bathrooms, gas-lit sconces and wondrous parquet floors. Corbin used five basic models, each of which had additional details to set them apart from their neighbors. The age of rugged individualism was in full throttle. Boring ticky-tacky attached brownstone row houses were out. Space, light and air were in. And everyone wanted a home like no others. Even so, all the Corbin houses had front porches. Until a new owner might yearn for an extra year-round room. Enter the enclosed porch. Almost half of the homes on the block have such enclosures, including 716 Argyle Road, which has been occupied by the Givner family since 1979.

716 Argyle (Left) & Church (Right)
At some point, the front of their house was completely rebuilt, without extending an inch beyond the home’s original footprint, to create an open patio on the second floor, and a cottage-like exterior below, with centered bay windows. All of which was covered with a brick façade, mirroring its immediate neighbor, the church on the corner of Glenwood & Argyle Roads. Many have wondered whether the look-alike brick work, which extends along a wall leading to the recessed front door, was an indication that the property was formerly associated with the church.  Photos of the church whilst it was under construction in 1913, and again in 1920, showed the wooden porch for 716 Argyle still intact, as did a 1940 NYC tax photo.

1913: Argyle at Glenwood Looking Southwest
Ergo, the work was done some time between 1940 and 1979. But by whom? It’s time to play “Let’s Find Out!”

1920: Argyle at Glenwood Looking Southwest

The first owner of the house was Harry Palmer (born 1869), then a printer with a shop at 74 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan.
Palmers Moved from 90 Lewis Ave 
in Bedford Stuyvesant in 1905 

He would soon become the wealthy co-owner of one of New York’s largest print shops, Palmer & Oliver, located for many decades next to the FDR Drive on East 37th Street. The 1907 Upington Directory of Brooklyn, an alphabetical list of residents and their occupations, showed Harry’s brother, George, resided at “716 E. 13th St” while Harry was at “716 Argyle.” Hmm. I wonder if they disagreed a lot.

1910 Census 716 Argyle Road
In 1906 David Smith, a 22-year-old chauffeur residing in the home, was arrested for driving while intoxicated after speeding past the Parkville Police Station at Foster Avenue and Ocean Parkway. He was fined ten dollars ($250 in today’s cash). Smith had moved out by the 1910 census, leaving more room for Harry, George, Lillie Palmer (Harry’s spouse), a step-daughter, Minnie Engel, and an 18-year-old African American maid born in Virginia, Agnes White. Agnes was hired via a personal ad offering $18 a month (worth $460 today).

The Brooklyn Eagle frequently reported on Lillie’s hosting card parties with her female pals (particularly on slow news days), leading to her election as President of the Long Island Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1919, the Palmers relocated to Rockville Centre (Harry died there in 1938) after selling their house to the Dalsimer family.

1920 Census 716 Argyle Road

Nathan Dalsimer, born in Louisiana in 1879, was a liquor store salesman living in an apartment on West End Avenue. Then he became a stock broker and moved the family to what the press referred to as “suburban West South Midwood.” Dalsimer was proud of his heritage, forming “an association for Jewish residents in Flatbush” immediately upon arriving. He also advertised in the Eagle for “a white housekeeper” and later “a white cook” but ironically, this racism did not rub off on his son, Samuel, age 9 when he first roamed these streets.

1930 Census 716 Argyle Road
1969: August Obituary, NY Times
Sam Dalsimer’s interest in the media was apparent even as a child, winning contests and engaging newspaper columnists in opinionated dialogue on such matters as comedy routines. He eventually rose to become an executive in the advertising industry and used his position to combat black-listing of former Communists in the 1950s, and to promote religious tolerance and racial integration. As a board member with the Anti-Defamation League, Sam created educational videos on Judaism for Catholic schools, and aligned the ADL with the Civil Rights movement. In 1969, only months after becoming Chairman of the ADL, Sam died of a stroke and although he had long since relocated to Manhattan, his funeral was held at Riverside Chapel on Coney Island Avenue.

June 1936
Meanwhile back in Brooklyn, Sam’s father died in 1935, and his mother, Carrie, sold the house in 1936 to John Schroth, a “master butcher” who had become a realty speculator.

Schroth then immediately flipped the property to William C. Cook and his wife, Lillian (if you’re keeping score, that’s two spouses named Lillian).

1940 Census 716 Argyle Road

In 1930 William C. Cook, then a patrolman, was awarded a medal for bravery. The citation read: “On patrol duty Cook pursued on foot and on the running board of a taxicab a bandit who had held up a storekeeper at 35 Whitehall Street, Manhattan. Shots were fired by both during a long and circuitous chase, and terminated in an alley where the bandit was killed.” Cook was thereafter promoted to Detective, earning $3,900 a year, based on a 50-hour work-week. After being assigned to downtown Brooklyn, he bought 716 Argyle Road for approximately $10,000 ($180,000 today).

1937: Sara Heath Brothers
An interesting footnote to the Cooks' ownership: In 1937, their housekeeper, Sarah Heath Bottoms, was one of a dozen folks honored as one of the first patients in Methodist Hospital, which opened in 1887.

1942: Mrs. Bergere
During World War II, the house changed hands again, passing to Louis Bergere of 1421 Ditmas Avenue. A photo of his wife serving on the local draft board indicates large ornate hats were very much in fashion. In March 1943 the Bergere’s daughter Vivian wed James Costello but not much else was found for the family.

The next known owner was Elvira Iside who immigrated from Italy in 1923 and was naturalized in 1944 while residing in an apartment in Sheepshead Bay.

1944: Elvia Iside's Naturalization Card

Sometime in the late 1940s, Elvira bought the property, then sold it in 1959 to Roberta A. Wendel.

1979: Roberta A. Wendel
Roberta, a widow, was then a 36-year-old nursing home administrator. In 1976, she married a 71-year-old Park Slope native, Tony Catrupi, who served as an Army Warrant Officer during World War II. Three years later, Roberta and Tony sold the house and moved to Bay Ridge, where they passed away in 1985 and 1990 respectively.

Prior to the Givners’ 1979 arrival, they had been renting an apartment on Parkville Avenue. The move cut Howard’s commute to Brooklyn College in half and gave Laura a quiet environment to copy edit while she reared her two daughters. Later, when she taught at James Madison, she was happy to have a short drive to work and her own driveway. Laura recalled that “when we moved in, some of our neighbors said our driveway would last forever because the previous owner was really good with cement.”

Hmm. That’s what I call a clue. The Department of Buildings offered another clue: an unspecified “building notice” was issued in 1971. Hmm. After a lot of digging, I discovered that Tony Catrupi, a life-long bachelor, owned a construction company on 20th Street in Park Slope during the 1970s. And in 1975 Catrupi built a corporate headquarters and distribution center for Hamsley Inc., a steel fabricator fleeing Bush Terminal.

36 Brunswick Ave, Edison, NJ
Built by Tony Catrupi's Construction Company
Online photos of the building in Edison, New Jersey, show lots of cement and a brick façade that extends forever. Finally, Tony and his father listed the same occupation on four different government documents over the years: bricklayer.

Waiter, check please! My theory: Roberta hired Tony to enclose the porch in 1971 and by the time he finished, the widow and the bachelor were madly in love.

Argyle Heights (aka West Midwood) In the News!

                                                                                                   Ron & Diane Russo

Click on caption above for wonderful Brooklyn Eagle article about my beloved homeland.

The Stories Your House Could Tell: 37 Dekoven Court

The call came on a cold snowy February morning in Brooklyn, but I was in Florida. Damn you, cell phone! “Joe, this is Tori, your new editor.” I was stunned. “What happened to Laura?” The response was grim. “New ownership. And they’re really cheap. Anyway, I’ve got an assignment for you.” 

I was ready. Baked to a crisp, I needed some indoor activity to keep me occupied while my skin healed. “We want you to begin a 220-part series by profiling the history of every house in West Midwood, one per issue.” I whistled. By my calculations, that would take 55 years to complete. Lucky thing I was in good health. “Got it, Chief. Where do I start?” The reply was immediate. “Do the Newman-Bilofsky house on Dekoven. I think it’s kind of fishy.” But what if I can’t find anything, I fretted, what will I do if a deadline arrives with no copy to submit? “Get a grip,” Tori ordered, “and get busy!”

1906 Map: Empty Lot in Red Is Today's 37 Dekoven Court. 
Marlborough Court and Foster Avenue Still Empty Lots. 

(Only Structure a Sales Shack for John R. Corbin Co.)

Same 1906 Map: Larger View. The Red Diagonal Line Represented the Boundary Line Separating Flatlands, Flatbush, Gravesend and New Utrecht

1903 Transportation Map: Note the "Fiske Place Station" Situated Smack on Top of 37 Deloven. Bad Map!

After compiling a ton of data on the original settlers of 37 Dekoven Court – based on census records, maps, obituaries and news accounts full of crime, pathos and humor – I learned that the City re-numbered several Dekoven Court houses on both sides of the Brighton tracks, thereby invalidating all my marvelous research. 

Oh well. I should have spoken to Ellen Bilofsy and Dave Newman first, because when they bought the house 36 years ago, they learned their land belonged to former neighbors who had the house built in the 1920s. Confirmation for this comes from a Certificate of Occupancy issued in 1927, and the fact that Ellen and Dave came across newspapers and a Collier magazine, all dated 1927, serving as their attic’s insulation. Their home was the last to be built on the block, since the rest were completed between 1905 and 1910. Ellen and Dave also point to the house’s construction/design, which marks it as appreciably younger than its neighbors.

Mid 1980s NYC Tax Photo

Present Day Tax Map: 37 Dekoven in Orange

So. The first true occupants of today’s 37 De Koven Court were seafaring people (perhaps that’s what Tori meant by “fishy”). Peter and Mabel Simmons were born on the tiny Dutch West Indies isle of Saba, located due east of Puerto Rico. Saba is still a Dutch possession and consists of a large active volcano (its peak is listed as the highest elevation in the Kingdom of the Netherlands) and today is occupied by fewer than 2,000 hardy souls. Peter, born in 1878, was a fisherman, like all his fellow islanders. He emigrated to the U.S. as a teenager, becoming a citizen in 1895. He returned to Saba often and married Mabel there in the early years of the 20th century, when Mabel was 23. Their two sons were born four years apart in Saba and Mabel emigrated here with the boys in 1907. 
1927 Certificate of Occupancy

1930 Census

Soon thereafter, Mabel's name could be found in press accounts of Brooklyn society balls while Peter continued to ride the waves as a ship's captain. They originally shared a two-family home with Peter's brother, James--also a boatman--and his Saba family in a two-story brick house on Newkirk Avenue near East 23rd Street. The boys flourished in Flatbush. The older son, Ellis, graduated as his high school class president and attended the University of Virginia as a freshman before transferring to Brown University. Gordon became a baseball and football star at Erasmus High School and was even offered a minor league contract with Birmingham in the Southern Association.

Ellis became a banker, married a Brooklyn piano teacher named Irene in 1934 and shortly thereafter the entire Simmons clan pulled up stakes and moved to two houses in Garden City. There, Gordon married Margaret Bennett in 1937 and after service in the Army Corps of Engineers in Europe during World War II, spent 25 years as a Trust Officer with Morgan Guarantee. In the mid-1970s the Simmons brothers and their wives all retired to Palm Beach County where they lived to a ripe old age. Ellis died in 1992 at age 96 and Gordon followed him in 1999 at age 92. Both were survived by their wives, with Irene taking the longevity prize, passing away in 2002 at age 102.

Meanwhile, back in West South Midwood, the Depression had tanked the housing market and the best the Simmons could do was rent the home to another islander family for $75 a month (a little over $1,000 today). Thus the 1940 Census found the home occupied by a 62 year old widow from the British West Indies, Hylda Lyon, and her 37 year old widowed son, Donald Lyon, born in Jamaica. Also in the home were four of Donald’s adult siblings, his 12 year old daughter and Hylda’s 63 year old sister. Donald, employed as an office manager at a Manhattan customs brokerage, died in 1963 at the age of 60 and his mother Hylda died in 1975 at age 97. Both were life-long Flatbush residents. 
Donald Lyon & Daughter in 1940s Flatbush

There then occurs a gap in the records. Although I can not verify it, I believe the next known owners, Frank Lewand (born 1906) and his spouse Kathleen, took possession in the years following the Second World War. Prior thereto the Lewands had lived for more than a decade in an apartment building just off Grand Army Plaza, at 285 St. Johns Place in Park Slope. Their son Justin was born there in 1936 in the long-defunct Good Samaritan Hospital on President Street.  

Flash-forward to the early morning hours of Wednesday, June 29, 1960. Justin Lewand was drinking in a bar at Flatbush & Newkirk Avenues and at closing left with another 24 year old, John Fahrenkopf, a seaman residing in an apartment house on East 21st Street, just off Farragut Road. Walking past a momentarily unoccupied milk truck with its motor running, John naturally decided to drive Justin home. They never made it to Dekoven Court. Police pulled them over on Ditmas Avenue and soon thereafter they were indicted for Grand Larceny (Indictment # 2527/60 for those who want to Google the sentencing minutes). John, a serial car thief, got 5 years in Sing Sing but Justin, in recognition of his first arrest, and three years of honorable service in the Navy, was fined $250 by the famous hanging judge Samuel Leibowitz in Kings County Supreme Court (Sam was the subject of a previous thrill-packed episode – read it HERE).

1960: Crime Does Not Pay

In June 1970, Frank and Kathleen Lewand retired and deeded their home to Justin and his wife Judith, who were then living on East 26th Street in Sheepshead Bay. Six years later, however, Justin, who later died on April 5, 1996 in New Jersey, sold the home to William Peters, who was residing in an apartment house on Union Street, just off Grand Plaza in Park Slope. Sound familiar? 

Wait, there’s one more. Six years later (again!), William Peters sold 37 Dekoven Court to Dave Newman and Ellen Bilofsky who were then residing around the corner from me on Fiske Place in Park Slope. 36 years later, and many miles away, I would research their home for a newsletter. What are the odds?

The Freight Cut News Volume III UPDATED MACH 2018

UPDATE (March 2018)

Proposed Triboro Rx: Light Rail Shares LIRR Cut

As a brief update to my recent series on the Cross Harbor Tunnel--the project to convert the LIRR freight train cut into an upgraded transport running to and from a new tunnel extending from Bay Ridge to Jersey City-- there have been these recent developments: 1) On February 1, the Port Authority awarded a $23.7 million contract to the same folks who did the Environmental Impact Study for the Tappan Zee Bridge and the 2nd Avenue Subway. Although the RFP specified a one-year study, the contract now stretches the work into 2021. Wheee! 2) The Regional Plan Association, which is beholden to no politicians or corporate interests, released a monumental set of recommendations on November 30th, which emphasized the need for light rail to share the Bay Ridge freight line, thereby connecting with 17 other passenger rails across the five boroughs. Moreover, they recommended the tunnel should cross the Narrows and terminate in Staten Island, not New Jersey. The somnambulant press reported only one of their many proposals, however: that the subways shut down after midnight to complete the repairs necessary to modernize the signal/control systems. Required reading -- click HERE

Community Board Concerns About The Cut

If you are new to the Cross Harbor Tunnel topic, you can catch up by clicking the video above (or paste this link into your browser: Or, God forbid you can read my two earlier exhaustive and exhausting posts on this issue here and here.

In March of 2015 Community Board 14 (aka CB14, or Community District 14, aka CD14), chaired by Argyle Heights' own Alvin Burke, provided the following concerns about the Port Authority's project which will now be specifically addressed in the final Environmental Impact Study for the Cross Harbor Freight Tunnel (hereafter CHFT - although CB 14 used the acronym of CHFP since at that time the Tunnel was only one of many options, so they used "Project" to be more inclusive.) At the time, many alternatives were then under consideration, which have since been discarded. This summary therefore will only concentrate on the issues involving the Tunnel alternative (I suppose here I should point out that an enhanced rail barge option is still officially under consideration but it has no proponents other than some tug boat dudes, while a tunnel is supported by the entire power structure of New York City and State)

In any event, here is a heavily edited presentation of their concerns:

1) Freight traveling through Brooklyn can use any of three major truck routes to get to Queens, Nassau, or Suffolk County destinations: Interstate 278, Atlantic Avenue, or NY State Route 27. The southernmost of these routes, NY27 [essentially Caton Avenue/Fort Hamilton Parkway from Flatbush Avenue to East 6th Street] traverses a densely-populated area in our District, where it borders public athletic fields, a public school and a public playground, intersects at grade level with local streets and north-south arterials, and carries a slow-moving mix of through and local traffic. According to the Project, the Tunnel could reduce truck traffic on NY 27. The Board recommended that baseline traffic data be collected at the intersection of Caton Avenue and Flatbush Avenue and also along Flatbush Avenue to enable projections of any reductions in truck traffic. Similarly, baseline measures should be taken for air quality and noise.

Proposed 4 Mile Tunnel From Bay Ridge to Jersey City

2) The Tunnel scenario would increase Brooklyn's eastbound freight-carrying capacity on the Bay Ridge Line of the New York & Atlantic Railway as it traverses Brooklyn CD14 from west to east, creating implications for land use, air quality, noise, natural resources, and hazardous materials in the vicinity of the Bay Ridge Line right-of-way.

3) The Land Use section of the Tier I Environmental Impact Study (EIS) ignores the potential for increases in rail traffic on the Bay Ridge Line to affect neighborhood character. We believe that increased train operation and right-of-way preparation would create public concern that could trigger disinvestment by local property owners, thereby lowering property values. In turn, this could precipitate a change in the character of the adjoining neighborhoods by destabilizing existing populations, and could reduce New York City's real estate tax base. Furthermore, the referenced expansion of the Bay Ridge Line right-of-way could prompt speculative changes in adjacent property ownership, and discourage development plans: another indirect effect. We are concerned about the failure to discuss whether the direct land use effects can be mitigated, and its failure to acknowledge the potential for indirect land use effects along the Bay Ridge Line.

Area Likely To Be Affected by Construction and Noise In Argyle Heights Extends to Glenwood Road on North

4) Public acceptance will be facilitated by a firm commitment to use locomotives that do not depend on conventional diesel or other internal combustion engines. The CHFT's contemplated growth in train traffic could substantially elevate local emissions levels unless ultra-low emissions engines or electric motors are used for locomotion.

5) Among the environmental effects likely to make residing, working, or studying near a rail line unpleasant, noise must rank high. Noise mitigation must be effective. All techniques should be explored. Failure to achieve substantial noise mitigation would be one of the first reasons Bay Ridge Line neighbors move away.
Larger Area to be Studied by Port Authority For Environmental Impacts, From Brooklyn College to Bay Ridge

6) With respect to noise measurement, CB14 wishes to offer some comments on techniques. First, the community board questions the appropriateness of using average absolute sound levels over extended periods, and do not directly indicate peak sound levels, as when trains are passing. Transient levels are what correlates with human sensibility. Those levels must be revealed. According to the EIS Table 6.7-2, typical noise levels for locomotive-driven freight trains are 80-90 VdB at 50 feet. Absent substantial mitigation, numerous residences near the Bay Ridge Line would be subjected to these levels. 

The same table indicates that, at these sound levels, there would be “difficulty with vibration-sensitive tasks, such as reading a video screen.” CB14 reminds the CHFT team that Brooklyn College is adjacent to the Bay Ridge Line in CD14. Moreover, the threshold for “residential annoyance” is lower. Numerous residential buildings abut the right-of-way. Mitigation must bring noise levels well below the "residential annoyance" threshold.  
Futuristic View of The Cut Starting Circa 2040 (Or Starting Circa 2140, Given NY History of Tunnel Building)

Second, the Board objects to the selection of Tier I noise measurement receptor sites within Community District 14. Table 6.7-6 identifies a site at the dead end of East 22nd Street between Campus Road and Avenue I. Here, distance to the receptor site is 55 feet from railroad cut center line. (The LIRR property apparently is 110 feet wide at this point.) The arbitrary choice of this location for noise level measurement obscures the narrowing of the railroad line west of East 16th Street to 88 feet, where, as elsewhere, residential structures abut the cut and can be as close as 44 feet to the track bed center line.1 The choice of receptor sites should be changed for Tier II.  Third, the use of a single "track bed center line" for purposes of determining distances to receptor sites is appropriate only for a single track. If the rail cut is to contain two tracks, then noise levels must be calculated based on the lesser of the distances to receptor sites from the center line of each track. Fourth, the standards must be made transparent. The EIS states that “Allowable CHFT noise exposure levels were identified based on existing noise levels, as measured for the 2004 EIS or calculated using FTA methodology.” The PANYNJ web page for the CHFT does not provide a link to the 2004 DEIS. The current measurement methodology must be specified.

Thru Truck Routes in Orange Above. A Rail Freight Tunnel Would Presumably Reduce Vehicular Traffic in 2040 (or 2140) Depending On Whether Trucks (Or Humans) Still Exist 

7) CB14 insists that noise, traffic, and dust from construction along the Bay Ridge Line right-of-way must be fully mitigated. The Tier I EIS acknowledges the potential for construction to affect quality of life. "Despite the fact that construction activity would occur largely within the existing rail yards and rights-of-way, construction work may occur near residences, community facilities and parks... Therefore, there remains the potential for construction period activities to affect neighborhood character, community facilities, and open space as a result of construction related effects to transportation, air quality, noise, and visual and aesthetic conditions associated with construction activities."  The effects of vibration must be fully mitigated. Structures close to the rail cut may be susceptible to damage. All structures within a defined distance from the cut should be inspected prior to any excavation or demolition associated with the CHFT. Building owners should be provided with the inspection results and be afforded an opportunity to comment. Finally, restrictions on hours of work must be employed. The Tier II EIS must separately analyze noise along the rail line generated by construction, and noise generated by train operation, and, based on each analysis, evaluate the mitigating value of limitations placed on work hours and operating hours.
Opossum Are Harmless 

8) The proposed depression of the tracks to accommodate higher freight cars, coupled with the required relocation of the Buckeye Pipeline, would displace fauna that inhabit the railroad cut. According to the Tier I EIS, these include rats, opossums, and raccoon, among others. 

Die Raccoons, Die

The Tier II EIS must acknowledge the need for construction-related pest control measures extending beyond the boundaries of the railroad cut to be funded through the Project. The specifications for such pest control should be determined only after consultation with the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and local community boards.
South Side of Cut At E 17th St 

9) The Bay Ridge Line rail cut currently is habitat to trees and other vegetation, which currently provide air quality benefits in the vicinity and attenuate noise emanating from the cut. The EIS process must take into account these benefits, and propose measures to compensate for their loss.

10) A search through the 14-volume Hazardous Materials appendix to the Tier I EIS (Appendix E-1 through E-14) did not reveal any target sites within CD14. Community Board 14 requests that this hazardous materials review yield a report organized by NYC community district.
Buckeye Pipeline Dates to 1960s

11) The Buckeye Pipeline currently carries jet fuel, as well as other hazardous products, to JFK Airport and other destinations. The project contemplates relocation of the pipeline to enable the track bed to be lowered and widened. Resolution of all pipeline relocation issues need to be addressed.

Conclusion: Brooklyn Community Board 14 believes that the CHFT could offer substantial benefits for regional freight transportation and resiliency. Those alternatives relying exclusively on trains could offer measurable environmental benefits for CD14 residents, businesses and institutions in the immediate vicinity of NY Route 27. However, any such benefits probably would come at the cost of the environmental and economic costs facing their neighbors to the south: the residents, businesses and institutions near the Bay Ridge Line, if rail traffic there is to be substantially increased. 

Tunnel Would Go Where No Sand Hogs Have Yet Ventured

If regional forces were to prevail, and if the CHFT were to move ahead, all adverse environmental impacts caused by construction or operation of the Bay Ridge Line would have to be fully mitigated. So would the fear caused by those impacts. Failure to do this could subject Brooklyn Community District 14 to years of economic and social instability. Unfortunately, the history of transportation projects approaching the magnitude of the CHFT suggests that skepticism is the appropriate way to view mitigation plans. 

Finally, Brooklyn Community Board 14 believes that, among the other Tier I deficiencies noted above, the absence of any Tier I hazardous materials survey at intermediate sites along the Bay Ridge Line, and the lack of an evaluation of the feasibility of relocating the Buckeye Pipeline, render the Tier I EIS inadequate.

The new Environmental Impact Study will be completed by the end of 2018 and at that point, assuming all systems are still go, the funding adventure would begin. If billions of dollars equivalent to the gross national product of New Zealand can be found, the construction adventure would then commence, which we estimated in previous posts would not be completed until at least 2040, although 2140 is also a conceivable finish line at this stage, given New York’s tunnel-building history.

In closing, thank you, Alvin Berk, for your assistance on this piece and your work on so many issues affecting our neighborhood. Also, thank you, Laura Givner, editor par excellence of the West Midwood Community Association Newsletter for more years than I can count. If you’ve enjoyed any of my articles, Laura has been a big part of their success.

And finally, happy holidays everybody. Peace on Earth.

65th Street Rail Yard: Barge Dock, Top Left

The Freight Cut News Volume II: Cross Harbor Tunnel vs. Cross Boro Rail vs. Cross Brooklyn Highway vs. Linear City

              WHITHER  THE  CUT?

As we outlined in the first excruciatingly long installment of this saga, the Cross Harbor Freight Program is the initiative to substantially increase tonnage moved on the Bay Ridge freight line along Argyle Height's southern border. The impetus has always been to decrease truck traffic clogging city arteries caused by the absence of a direct freight rail connection across the Hudson River.  

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: Another study overseen by the Port Authority will be undertaken to decide between building a tunnel from Bay Ridge to Jersey City OR expanding the use of an existing rail barge in Bay Ridge...AND to determine the exact cost and what steps will be necessary to alleviate the impacts on residents within 1,000 yards of the Cut caused by dramatically increased rail traffic. But let's face it: the fix is in. The powers that be want a Tunnel. The web site devoted to the May 2017 announcement of the new study mentions "tunnel" 10 times and "barge" once.

A 4 Mile Freight Tunnel From Bay Ridge to Jersey City Is One of Two Final Options. Above: An Artist's Rendering of the Tunnel.

The Existing Rail Barge At The Foot of 65th Street

Railroad Cars Floating on Barge Across The Harbor to Jersey City After Departing The 65th Street Pier in Bay Ridge


This project dates back to the birth of the Port of New York Authority in 1921 (renamed in 1972 to let New Jersey think it was co-equal) when building a freight rail tunnel to connect the Brooklyn waterfront with Jersey City's Greenville rail yards was an initial goal. Then stuff happened. Check out this Brooklyn Eagle story published February 5, 1935:

The Plan To Link Bay Ridge With Jersey City Is Soooooo Retro!
Note Lewis H. Pounds, the Father of Ditmas Park,
Was an Original Board Member of the PA

Flash forward to 1998 when Mayor Giuliani and Senators Moynihan and D'Amato announced the City and the Feds would look into building a tunnel. Since then we have had a "Major Investment Study" (Dec 2001) and a "Draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS)" (Apr 2004) and a "Notice of Intent" to conduct a "Phase I EIS" (May 2010) and a "Tier I EIS Record of Decision" (Dec 2015). 

Then (drum roll) on May 8, 2017, Governor Cuomo and the Port Authority announced a Request for Proposals to conduct another study....A "Phase II EIS."  

Over the last two decades these various reports have narrowed down 27 options to just the Enhanced Railcar Float or a new Rail Tunnel.  Both plans would use the 65th Street rail yards in Bay Ridge and the Greenville yards in Jersey City as the terminus points. Both would require the upgrade of freight facilities at 65th Street, Fresh Pond Yard, Maspeth Yard, Oak Point Yard in the Bronx and as yet unspecified locales east of NYC on Long Island. 

The Bay Ridge Line, Highlighting 1,000 Yards On Both Sides 

The Tunnel alternative would require two tracks to accommodate double-stacked train cars which would in turn necessitate raising six of the Cut bridges (or lowering the track) to allow for a 17'6" clearance. The Rail Barge would appear to include two tracks as well but it is not clear from what I have read whether it would also use double-stacked trains. 

The Argyle Heights Area. Yellow Indicates Residential Streets. Glenwood Road Is The Northern Border of the Impact Zone

In either event, there would be a huge increase in train traffic through the Cut. Left unmentioned is whether the Buckeye pipeline would be lowered or relocated. In both scenarios, loading would not occur along the right-of-way -- only at the 65th Street yard and at the other yards in Queens, Bronx and Long Island. Both alternatives were selected based in part on their being the least onerous to residents along the tracks: there would be no expansion of the Cut in either scenario. 

This final Environmental Impact Study, to be completed by early 2019, will answer concerns posed by CB 14 and others about noise, vibrations, pest control, etc. by measuring impacts within 1,000 yards of the Cut. In West Midwood, that would include everyone south of Glenwood Road. If the past is prologue, it would appear a decade or two will elapse before any 3.5 mile Tunnel under New York Harbor becomes a reality.

This 2001 Slide Was Prepared by the Port Authority


While various Tunnel and Rail Barge scenarios have been studied to death, an alternate use of the Bay Ridge freight line has also been advanced since at least 1996: a light rail circumferential passenger line, with or without a shared freight usage. In October 1996 the Regional Plan Association issued "A Region At Risk" describing a "Triboro Rx Project" which would mingle passenger and freight services along underutilized trackage in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn - one of many such recommendations to improve transit in the tri-state region. 
The Triboro Rx Is Highlighted in White

In 2008 the MTA's CEO mentioned the Triboro Rx project in his State of the MTA address"We need to take a close look at the Regional Plan Association’s circumferential subway line, which would convert the lightly used Bay Ridge freight line into a subway service that would run in an arc from southern Brooklyn to Queens to the Bronx,” he said.  But alas and alack the vision to connect 20+ subway lines was an idea the MTA never advanced further than this teasing reference.  

The name "Triboro Rx Project" was, however, resurrected by the "Move New York Fair Plan" (championed by former Flatbush resident "Gridlock Sam" Schwartz, among other mass transit advocates) which led to proposed legislation in the New York State Assembly in 2016 (Bill # A09633). However, the legislation also includes imposing tolls on the East River bridges, a death knell to countless bills in the past. Gov. Cuomo hasn't backed it and it has yet to find a Republican sponsor in the Senate so as of today, most politicos say it's as dead as the Jets prospects this season.

COMMENT, 8/14/2017: Governor Cuomo is now reportedly discussing legislation to implement a congestion-pricing tax much like the one proposed by Move New York. However, the sole impetus is to garner a new funding source for our deteriorated subway system. There is no thought being given to the "Triboro Rx" proposal. 50 years hence, when New York's population may well have reached 15 million, will folks look back and wonder why the City and State let its mass transit become completely overwhelmed by a lack of expansion? Will some pundits point to an under-utilized Cross-Harbor Tunnel that took 40 years to implement and wonder why its leaders, in 2017, actually thought truckers would suddenly switch to a more expensive alternative? 

In 2004, a fleshed-out version of the Triboro plan, dubbed the "CrossBoro Project," was proposed by a University of Pennsylvania study group. It envisaged 23 stations along the same shared freight trackage as the Triboro Rx. In our area, there would be stations at McDonald Avenue (Culver line), Avenue H (Brighton line), and Brooklyn College (IRT), with passenger service linking to all Brooklyn-Queens-Bronx subway lines. 

The CrossBoro Project Highlighted The Development That A New Circumferential Transit Line Would Encourage

The CrossBoro/Triboro Line Is Not Flood-Prone

Both Projects pointed to the reduced cost of using existing track-beds and the boost it would provide to development along under-served outer borough neighborhoods. Addressed as a love letter to newly elected Mayor de Blasio, the thorough U Penn study went nowhere. 

Instead the Mayor turned his attention to proposing a NEW light rail right-of-way, dubbed the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), extending along waterfront neighborhoods from Astoria to Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Dumbo, Cobble Hill, Red Hook and Sunset Park. Again the rationale for this Mayoral initiative is that the line would spur development along the route, expanding the City's tax base to offset what is anticipated to be an enormous cost.

The Mayor's Proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector

Note To Mayor: The BQX Will Run Through The Heart of A Flood Zone. Compare With the Flood-Free Cross-Boro Map Above. See

In 2016, two of the nation's largest architectural firms embraced the CrossBoro/Triboro Rx recommendations and proposed light rail solutions using the same LIRR tracks to encourage outer-borough development to accommodate the growing housing shortage. But missing in the GENSLER vision is any rail freight sharing the trench.

Proposed Light Rail At Avenue H and E 15th Street: GENSLER Architectural Firm of San Francisco (2016)

But it seems certain that any proposal to re-purpose the Cut absent a freight component would fail to receive any consideration at this point, despite the idyllic rendering above of the Cut as something of a Lo-Line.

Finally, there was another proposal for the Cut, dating back many decades, which now inhabits the trash heap of history. Curiously, it began as a highway proposal, then morphed into a covered highway and subway, with decking above supporting new housing and park land. 

First, in 1929 the Regional Plan Association proposed a Cross Brooklyn Expressway to connect Shore Parkway, Ocean Parkway and Eastern Parkway, using land bordering the Cut. In 1941 the NYC Planning Commission revived this idea and for the first time introduced the alternative of building over the Cut: "a route over or in the vicinity of the right-of-way of the Bay Ridge division of the Long Island Rail Road is suggested for further investigation." World War II put all such highway planning into hibernation.

In 1955, the great builder Robert Moses, then at the height of his power, laid out a master plan for new bridges and highways which included a Cross Brooklyn Expressway extending from the yet-to-be-built Verrazano Bridge all the way to Nassau County. The Cut would provide the right of way for most of its journey through southern Brooklyn.
1960: Robert Moses Ascendant

In the early 1960s, as the prospect of the City buying the LIRR from the Pennsylvania Railroad loomed, Moses licked his chops and the City signed off on his plan. In 1965, Mayor John Lindsay added an even more grandiose vision of the Cut for Moses to incorporate, a "Linear City" that would have included a commuter line running alongside the highway, through a multi-level tunnel, with parks, housing, and schools above it. But even Robert Moses couldn't wrap his mind around Lindsay's concept -- he thought the commuter line would discourage the use of cars. A true visionary. 

A 1965 engineer's drawing (below) of a cross-section of the new Expressway as it would appear in Argyle Heights shows a behemoth blocking out light and air rising out of the trench like a War of the Worlds Martian spacecraft. 

1965 NYC Department of Traffic: Proposed cross-section of the Cross Brooklyn Expressway over the LIRR Bay Ridge trench. A two-track railroad on the lowest level, three westbound lanes on the second level, a cross-street bridge on the third level, and three eastbound lanes on the top level. The monstrosity would have been at least 60 feet across. Note: The Cut is only 50 feet wide. Courtesy of

A rendering of Linear City near Brooklyn College attempted to put more lipstick on this pig. Speaking with locals on East 12th Street (aka Westminster Road) some years ago, Argyle Heights alum Patrick Howell elicited a memory from an old-timer that in the 1960s, there was a real fear that an exit ramp to Coney Island Avenue was going to annihilate the entire block.
1965 NYC Department of Traffic: A cross-section of the proposed "Linear City," looking north to Brooklyn College. Here two expressway decks and  two subway tracks were all to be stuffed underground with housing and parks above. Courtesy of

But then in a stunning development, Moses' seat of power, the Triborough Authority, was absorbed by the new Metropolitan Transportation Authority, formed to manage the newly- acquired LIRR, and Moses was forced to relinquish his power in 1968. And with his fall, the dream of a Cross Brooklyn Expressway, with or without a Linear City, died.

Oddly, the idea of building platforms across the Cut was envisaged again in 2008 when the City inventoried the thousands of acres it owned that presented "decking opportunities." 


Given the continuing growth of the City -- since 2010, we have gained an additional 350,000 residents, equivalent to the entire population of Tampa -- and the lack of any substantial bold planning ideas, I expect we will eventually see the above diagram again. 

Coming in Part Three: The Cross-Harbor Tunnel Update and Community Board Concerns

Coming in Part Four: "It Came From The Cut" -- The new sci-fi epic featuring rabid dogs, Bigfoot and space aliens, all in one movie!

Some Linkies: