Ripped From The Headlines... (2008)


On March 16th, the New York Times published a full-page story on Victorian Flatbush, stirred by the imminent designation of Midwood Park and Fiske Terrace as historic districts. Indeed a few days later the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission announced that those two areas "East of the tracks" (or East of Eden if you regard West Midwood as heaven on Earth) would be joining already-designated Ditmas Park, Prospect Park South and Albemarle-Kenmore Terrace in architectural Valhalla.

The article, entitled "Peaked Roofs, Crossed Fingers" (egads!), had a little blurb about each of the six remaining Flatbush neighborhoods not yet designated and an accompanying map contributed by Mary Kay Gallagher and Ron Schweiger (hence it was accurate for a change). As for West Midwood, there was acknowledgment that we shared the same developer (Thomas Benton Ackerson), and the same "verdant look" as our eastern block neighbors, but it said that we had never submitted an official request for landmarking, noting that "maintaining a home under the commission's standards" might be too costly for us to afford. Huh? Whatever their standards, I’m sure they’re way less expensive than my wife, aka “Honey, let’s take another mortgage and re-do the basement”. Trust me. Anyway, it is somewhat annoying that three of the eleven Victorian Flatbush neighborhoods embed the word “Midwood” in their names when none of them are actually located there. Adoption of “Argyle Heights” would help dispel some of this confusion rampant among tourists and reporters alike, while raising our property values 20%. Just a thought....

On February 3rd, the Times ran another Sunday story, complete with color photo, about the coming of Pomme De Terre "at the corner of Argyle Road and Newkirk Avenue amid countless bodegas and Chinese takeout joints...and a harsh yellow crime scene tape." The Times reporter noted that on a Sunday morning, in the hour before church goers arise and night revelers have drunk themselves insensible, somebody from East 10th Street shot somebody from Rugby Road on the same corner. The story title ("Betting on Cuisine To Marginalize Crime" -- double egads!!), seemed to suggest that fancy French eats in this crime ravaged locale was kind of iffy, but hey, good luck with that, Jim Mammary.

Too bad the same reporter hadn't attended the community meeting just two weeks before in the Mormon Church on Argyle Road with Inspector Thomas Harris of the 70 Precinct. The Inspector gave a great presentation, then answered questions for an hour, ranging from early morning raccoon sightings to mini-lovers lanes on side streets off Rugby Ridge. He told us that although crime had not been vanquished along Newkirk Avenue as much as it had elsewhere, the strip was still plenty safe, with new businesses springing up. So he decided to dramatically increase the visible police presence in the area -- by planting the flag, he thought he could help spur the revitalization even more. A shooting at 6am on a Sunday morning involving two young men who knew each other does not make the location the little house on the prairie.

By the way, the Pomme-de-Terre intersection, where Argyle Road starts its rapid ascent toward the Summit of Argyle Heights near Avenue H, was identified as "Ditmas Park" by The Times, not Ditmas Park West. Tsk, tsk. But, in a dramatic reversal, both of these stories failed to use "hardscrabble" to describe our neighborhood, hitherto the Times' favorite word for our environs....

A decidedly more upbeat take on Flatbush appeared in the free "AM New York" daily paper on May 8th. A lot of straphangers I know prefer this slim publication to the Daily News, which has become almost unreadable since it dumbed itself down to the level of the NY Post and its "New Terror Horror Sex Hostage Ring" exclusives, although frankly "AM" had me with "free". Their long spread on "Flatbush" featured a photo of the food stand at the western portal to the Heights on Foster and Coney Island Avenue and led with a quote from Argyle Heightsian Alvin Berk, who said that Flatbush “boundaries expand and contract in the minds of residents. It's a state of mind." Perfect! And instead of finding profundity in crime scene tapes, "AM New York" got the story right with: "The French bistro, Pomme de Terre, recently planted a stake here, signaling to the rest of Flatbush that Newkirk is ready for its photo opp."...

Speaking of states of mind and the like, I'd like to report that "Argyle Heights" is finally starting to gain some traction. First an old friend, Bob, who recently retired to Brattleboro, Vermont, mailed a post card from the land of maple syrup addressed to me at "Argyle Heights, NY 11230" -- and the card appeared in my mailbox two days later. Just as "Miracle on 34th Street" used the mail to prove the existence of Santa Claus, may I point out that if the U.S. government delivers a letter to a destination, mustn't it then perforce exist? Also, in March, a reminiscence about Bob Dylan I wrote to the author of the popular blog, “RightWingBob”, was acknowledged as originating from "Joe of Argyle Heights, Brooklyn" (it was also posted on the site www.newstin.co.uk/tag/uk/48598143 for those who might think I make this stuff up). So there you have it, further de facto proof of the existence of Argyle Heights....

Once we throw off our "West Midwood" colonial shackles in favor of the much more lucrative "Argyle Heights", I think we need to address the issue of Hiawatha Avenue, now known by its ghastly drab industrial-age name of "Avenue H". Hiawatha Avenue (or Avenue Health, given the many health-related businesses which have sprung up west of the Q station) could one day be a stop on a Circumferential Subway, a project the MTA revived on March 3rd in its State of the MTA annual report. The "cut", which runs from the 65th Street Bay Ridge Army Terminal through Bensonhurst, Borough Park, Argyle Heights, the Junction, Canarsie, East New York and then on through Queens up to Flushing and eventually into the Bronx, intersects with the R, D, M, N, F, Q, 2, 5, L and 3 lines in Brooklyn alone.


While the cut's present single track runs two freight trains a day, pulled by the New York and Atlantic Railway's distinctive green locomotives, much of the right-of-way in the Brooklyn section was previously designated for use by the City back in the 1950’s as part of the "Cross-Brooklyn Expressway". That was one “planning” disaster that, thank the Lord, never came to pass, otherwise, Argyle Heights might have become an exit ramp. In fact, many homes along the cut would have been taken by the State, which had envisioned an eight-lane highway connecting the Gowanus to the Nassau Expressway. In 1969, Mayor John Lindsay announced an even more grandiose vision for the cut, 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 (www.nycroads.com/roads/cross-brooklyn). Even Robert Moses opposed that one -- he thought the commuter line would discourage the use of cars. A true visionary.

A circumferential rail line, however, could probably be accomplished with no additional "taking" by the State, although I was surprised to learn that those two measly freight runs each day prevent 100,000 truck trips a year through Brooklyn. In fact, the annual traffic on the line has increased from 7,000 to 20,000 freight cars since 2005 and there is now renewed interest in making the cut a super freight line. But that might require raising all the bridges over the cut. So said a partially completed 2004 study by the City's Economic Development Corporation of a Cross-Harbor Tunnel freight-only line that would originate in Jersey City and terminate in Maspeth, Queens. Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the idea in 2005 after Maspeth went crazy and everybody thought the Tunnel was dead. But in October of last year, the City agreed to hand-off the project to the Port Authority and Congressman Jerry Nadler, who has championed the Cross-Harbor idea for a decade, promised Federal funding for new environmental/ feasibility studies by the PA. Well, now, this could get complicated.










What would be relatively easy to achieve, if the circumferential subway wins out, is a connection with the Q line, since an existing station (Hiawatha Avenue!), is directly above the cut - all that would be needed to connect the two lines are stairways and a perpetually broken escalator, of which the MTA has plenty. Anyway, the current estimate for this to occur -- even if it beats out the Cross-Harbor Tunnel proposal, gets a green light by the MTA, is funded, and hurdles community opposition -- is so far in the future that only our great-great-grand-children might have a shot at actually getting to JFK and LaGuardia by mass transit without going through Manhattan. Of course, by then, the cut might be waterfront property, what with rising sea levels and all....So forget I even mentioned it, and for now, let's just enjoy the absence of our hardscrabble-ness.

PS This just in! Victorian Flatbush ranked as one of the "Top 12" neighborhoods in the US by "This Old House" http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20207579_20472644,00.html

1 comment:

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Welcome (back?) to the blogosphere! Seriously, you have, like, 3 different posts there. Looking forward to hearing more from my neighbors to the south.