Early Chronicles of West South Midwood Part 6 - Oak Crest A Co-Op and Four Corners in Old Brooklyn

From The T.B. Ackerson Brochure--West South Midwood in 1903. 
Oak Crest Is On The Horizon.

Early Chronicles of West South Midwood  

Part  6: Oak Crest, A Co-Op and Brooklyn's Four Corners

In researching the history of our small enclave here, I came across Germania realty maps from 1900 to 1910 that contained a name I had never seen before.  While the area south of Foster Avenue from Flatbush to Coney Island Avenues was familiarly labeled “South Midwood”, from Avenue H southward the name “Oak Crest” appeared. 

1906: Note "Oak Crest" (Upper Right)

Note the LIRR Manhattan Beach Excursion Line Tracks in Upper Right Corner. The Four Digit Numbers Are The Block #s Assigned by the City's Building Department Which Have Remained The Same Since 1900.

"Hiawatha Road" Appears as AKA for Ave H on This 1908 Bromley Realty Map
Book Excerpt References Above Map But Perpetuates Myth of The Oak "Hotel" (Built as a luxury apartment house, it was only converted to a hotel during the Depression.)

According to the trusty archives of the New York Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Oak Crest” was coined by Wood, Harmon & Company in 1898 to describe their development which straddled the Long Island Rail Road freight tracks, just west of the Brighton line down to Coney Island Avenue.  Did the name derive from the abundant oak trees that dotted the land – many of which still survive – and the fact that the land gradually sloped upwards from Newkirk Avenue (27 feet Above Sea Level) to the LIRR tracks where it crested at 40 feet ASL?  Or did they pick the name because it suggested trees on a hill, or simply because it sounded good?  In any event, Wood, Harmon & Co. struck gold because when Germania bought the neighboring Lott estate the same year and began developing South Midwood, land values sky-rocketed.  Leveraging their Oak Crest profits, Wood-Harmon purchased nearby farmland that they shaped into East Midwood and became filthy rich.

Sales In Oak Crest Were Often Reported by The Times

Oak Crest Was A Hot Location in 1907

The Times Ran This Photo on June 11, 1911, Calling A Stretch of The Brighton Tracks near Glenwood Road "Oak Crest". Tsk, tsk.

Maps in 1906 show homes dotting either side of the freight line and larger apartment buildings along the south side of Avenue H at the corners of Westminster, Argyle and Rugby.  But then the LIRR was ordered by the Brooklyn Grade Crossing Commission to depress its tracks, which originally ran on an embankment in this stretch.  Creating that trench 1907-1909 effectively cut off the residents on the north side of the railroad from their Oak Crest neighbors.  Only bridges that spanned East 14th (Rugby Road) and Coney Island Avenue provided access. 

Signalman's Cabin On the Brighton Line Near the Intersection at Grade With the LIRR (In The Background), Circa 1905.

1905: 2 Track Brighton Line Looking South. Originally Ran Under LIRR Until Grade Crossing Elimination, 1907. 

1925: LIRR Rail Bed Crossing Under Brighton Line  (Just South of Avenue H)

The Pedestrian Bridge on East 15th in the 1950s

1961: Ave H Looking West from BMT Entrance

In 1912,  the community homeowners formed the Oakcrest Association (dropping the space between Oak and Crest).  In their first year, they successfully lobbied for the creation of a postal sub-station at the corner of East 14th and Avenue H but they fared poorly in their major effort to have the borough build bridges over the cut at East 12th, East 13th and East 15th Streets.  In the end only the pedestrian bridge across East 15th was built and over time, the northerly members of Oak Crest had less to do with their southern neighbors until eventually, Oak Crest was lost to history, surviving only in old real estate maps, partially in the naming of the Oak Hotel in the 1930s, and finally in this boring article. 

1910 Postcard Showing Luxury Apartment House at Avenue H and East 12th Street 
(Featuring a Roof Garden)--Converted Into the "Oak Hotel" During the 1930s.

East 13th Street, aka Argyle Road, Ends at the LIRR trench.
A Couple of Freight Trains Still Rumble Through Daily Below This
Green Canopy.

Manhattan Terrace Lives!  Appears BELOW Midwood!  Huh?
Oak Crest south of the tracks occupied an area that was first known as Manhattan Terrace, the name of the station at Avenue J where the Manhattan Beach excursion line and the Brighton line converged and thereafter ran parallel to the sea.  Part of Manhattan Terrace became the site of the East Midwood development, east of Ocean Avenue from Avenue J to Avenue K.  Gradually, the terms Manhattan Terrace and Oak Crest disappeared entirely as the whole area north of Kings Highway starting calling itself Midwood.  

There are vestigial references to Manhattan Terrace that can still be found on maps - oddly enough on the NYPD's CompStat 2.0 map, it is used to describe the area around Avenue M that was once called South Greenfield, per our earlier Chronicles (as late as 1960, one can find references to the Greenfield Civic Association of Midwood). But Manhattan Terrace has ceased to be used in common parlance for two generations; the last reference I found was in 1975 when the last president of the Manhattan Terrace Civic Association lived on E. 19th St and Avenue I. As I have argued before in these historical musings, I believe “Midwood” was the “Heights” of its day – embedding the word “Midwood” in a neighborhood's name instantly made the area more desirable.   

Before the  Oak Crest Association disbanded, however, they prevented the erection of a movie theater “on Rugby Road between Avenues H and I, in the heart of the Oak Crest residential section”, as the Brooklyn Eagle reported on September 29, 1912 in a story entitled “Rugby Road Fights Moving Picture Man”.  

East 14th Off Ave H in 1963: Oak Crest

The theater was planned by the Postal Realty Company which submitted a petition signed by local residents to the Board of Licenses to support its application. The Oak Cresters investigated and found most of the signatures belonged to children and successfully challenged the license by submitting a petition signed by every resident of the block and 175 other local citizens.  A far more appropriate location was found 27 years later when the the Kent Theater opened next to the cut on Coney Island Avenue.


Also back in 1912, Oak Crest  residents were asked by Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park organizers to buy shares in, or at least frequent, the “Glenwood Co-operative Stores”Therein lies another tale.  On Friday, May 3rd, 1912, a cooperative grocery store opened in a one-story building on the corner of Newkirk Avenue and East 16th Street, proudly displaying a "motorized delivery van" parked in front.  The co-op would later expand to include a butcher's shop in an adjoining storefront.  

Blurred 1912 Photo of Glenwood Co-Op 
at Newkirk Avenue and East 16th Street

Open from 7:00am to 9:00pm (and later on Saturdays) the "Glenwood Co-operative Stores", as they were called, did surprisingly well, taking in over $1,500 from 500 shoppers on its first day.  However, only 60% of those purchases were made by the Fiske Terrace residents who formed the co-op.  A whopping 200  shoppers were "outsiders".  As time passed, area residents who had subscribed an average of $50 each  frequented the store less and less until, by the Fall of 1914, fewer than 50 members were still regular  customers.  Moreover, the store did not offer lower prices than nearby grocers, thus its transient trade declined steadily as well.  And so, on Saturday, October 10, 1914, the first Flatbush co-op closed and its lease and goods were assumed by private parties.  A C-Town supermarket now occupies that land. 

Finally, if one stands by the stanchions on the corner of East 17th and Foster Avenue, you would be standing where four of the towns of old Brooklyn once intersected: 

This Is A 1890 Map of What Was Our Neck of the Woods. The Only Developed Area Which Slants Up Against The Grid - From Left to Right - Is The Old Village of Parkville.

This Is An Enlarged Version of the Same Map Above. 
My Poorly Drawn Red Circle in Upper Right Is The Corner of
Foster Avenue and East 17th Street where the Four Town Lines

Another Larger View With A Better Drawn Red Circle. Color Codes Delineate The Four Towns. We Are Mostly Pink. Notice Paerdegat Creek in the Upper Right Corner, Looking Like a Greenish Snake.
Flatbush lay to the north of Foster, and Flatlands to the south and east.  To the west it got a little complicated: a line marking the boundary between the towns of New Utrecht and Gravesend extended in a southwesterly direction, cutting diagonally through Marlborough Court, Dekoven Court, and to the corner of Rugby and Glenwood Roads.  The boundary then ran west along Glenwood to Coney Island Avenue, and then south along Coney to Avenue H whence it ran west again down to Gravesend Avenue (now called McDonald Avenue).  Thus, all of West Midwood between Glenwood Road and the LIRR tracks was part of the Town of Gravesend, while north of Glenwood was in the Town of New Utrecht (except for that sliver of Rugby south of Dekoven, which was also part of Gravesend).  All of these map lines mattered very little after the four towns were annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1894, four years before Brooklyn was swallowed up into New York City in what many later called “the mistake of (18)98”

Flooding From a Category 5 Hurricane Would Subside at 
Rugby and Glenwood Roads According to This 2008
It is curious however, that modern hurricane impact maps prepared by FEMA and the City indicate that the only section of our neighborhood that would sustain flooding from a Category 5 hurricane would be Marlborough, Rugby and Dekoven. The flood water, emanating from Jamaica Bay and flowing down Foster Avenue, would ebb at the corner of Rugby and Glenwood.  Indeed, maps as late as 1910 show that Paerdegat Creek flowed from Jamaica Bay all the way to Nostrand and Foster Avenue (where Flatbush Water Works supplied terrible tasting water to Flatbush until its forced closure in 1947).  This would tend to indicate the importance of topography in establishing rural boundaries and suggests that this topography still has importance when dealing with biblical events like catastrophic flooding. 
1906: Note Paerdegat Creek, The Snake-Like Form in The Right Center of This Map, Terminating Near Nostrand Avenue.


1912 Map With Red Indicating Populated Blocks. The red solid line extending from Bay Ridge up through Greenlawn Cemetery then along Prospect Park West and thence east out to Queens represents a natural ridge line - essentially where the glacial advance stopped - and is roughly 180 feet above sea level. The ridge boundary slowed development south of it, which had been farm and woodlands. West South Midwood is dead center on the map.

A 1907 Guide To Flatbush Contained This Photo

1900: A "Cottage" Near the Corner of East 13th and Avenue I --   Identified as in "Oak Crest" When Sold That Year

Source: New York Times, 1911

1924 Aerial View
of South Midwood.

Tiny Red Star is Corner of Rugby & Glenwood Roads. 
Brooklyn College Was Then an Open Field. 
The Paerdegat Creek is at Extreme Upper Right.

Great Source For Old Brooklyn Maps - Republished With More Maps In 1907

Sources: Elevation data at https://www.daftlogic.com/sandbox-google-maps-find-altitude.htm;  the LIRR trench: "History of the work of eliminating grade crossings by the Brooklyn Grade Crossing Commission”, 1918; Oak Crest: Dozens of stories and realty notices in the New York Times, 1900-1914, and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1899-1923; blurry photo of the Glenwood Co-Op: the Inter Ocean Chicago Magazine, May 4, 1912;  old maps: New York Public Library where the “Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn” was found.  Also the Brooklyn Historical Society had old photos of the neighborhood.


COMING NEXT: The First Immigrants of West South Midwood

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