A Photographic History of Newkirk Plaza

NEWKIRK  PLAZA, 1878-2019

1890: Land Around Brighton Line, Foster to Newkirk, Owned By CHESHIRE IMPROVEMENT, Subsidiary of Butterick Publishing, Oldest Clothing Pattern Retailer in the US.  CHESHIRE's Dairy Farm Supplied Most of Brooklyn With Milk Until 1892 Fire Destroyed Barns (Bottom Left) and Livestock.

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How Did Newkirk Plaza Become An Express Stop?

When Newkirk Plaza was born in 1910, it became the first open air shopping mall in New York. Generations of urban planners have cited it as a unique strategy for serving mass transit and commercial needs. But how did it come to be? Who was the Father of Newkirk Plaza? The answer is Mr. Necessity, also known as the Mother of Invention. To explain, we need to present a short history of the railroad that lies beneath the stores.

When it began operating in 1878, the Brighton railroad had few stops in the rural area south of Prospect Park. One of them was a station that consisted of a small shack on Newkirk Avenue,  named after the nearest village, Parkville. 

1901: Parkville Station at Newkirk Ave. Note Trolley Wires.

1901: Grade Crossing at Newkirk Ave Looking West
But as the population grew, shacks were added at Beverly Road, Cortelyou Road, Fiske Terrace and other points south.

1901: Beverly Road Station 

1901: Looking North to Beverly Road Crossing. Note Sign for Prospect Park South Homes by Dean Alvord

1903: Beverly Road Looking East to Brighton Rail Crossing 
By 1905 the Parkville station had been renamed South Midwood, reflecting the booming Germania Real Estate company's development adjoining Foster Avenue, which was now much closer than Parkville. 

By 1905 "Parkville" Was Renamed South Midwood Station
And as new streets and trolleys intersected with the Brighton line, there were more accidents and more delays. The solution proposed was to eliminate all the grade crossings between Church and Foster Avenues by depressing the railroad into a ditch 1.2 miles long and using the excavated dirt to create a raised embankment from Avenue H south to the Bay. The new overhead trolley wires, often disabled by strong winds, would be taken down, replaced by electrified third rails. And two express tracks would be added, emulating the new IRT Lexington Avenue subway which had become wildly successful in Manhattan.

1900: Hotel Alongside Brighton Tracks, Marlborough Rd at Newkirk Ave, Looking SW

However, there was a problem. The right of way south of Prospect Park was only 50 feet wide and the additional express tracks would require a wider path. The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) which owned the railroad threatened to abandon the express tracks and build an ugly, noisy, and much cheaper elevated line instead. Negotiations ensued and Flatbush property owners abutting the railroad agreed to give two foot surface easements on each side of the right of way if the BRT would agree to the trench. Inasmuch as  the Brooklyn Grade Crossing Elimination Commission was paying half the cost of the project out of City coffers, the BRT consented. 

1906: Trench Excavation Began at Glenwood Rd Dec 1905
This 1906 Photo Shows Work at Foster Avenue
But there was a second problem. To add an express stop, the railroad would need an additional 20 feet on each side of such a station. South Midwood was the only practical location available because in 1906, there were few structures between Newkirk and Foster Avenues. 

1906 Work North of Newkirk Ave

1906 Work Near Newkirk Crossing 

1906 Excavation of South Midwood Station

When the BRT agreed to restore the land to the property owners there by constructing a concrete pavement – level with the surface of the ground above the cut, forming a partial roof over the local tracks below – they had a deal.

Enter the Interborough Development Company. Formed in April of 1906 by seven otherwise unremarkable realty entrepreneurs, Interborough realized that the unroofed center above the express tracks would not leave enough room for a sidewalk AND wagons/trucks/autos to access the front of the commercial buildings they wanted to build. So it would have to be a pedestrian-only venue. What to do? Enter a local resident, C. F. Bond.

T. B. Ackerson
 Charles Francis Bond was the brother-in-law of T.B. Ackerson, who built large swaths of Beverly Square West, Fiske Terrace and West Midwood. Bond himself had become active in the Newkirk area, erecting a number of homes on East 18th Street in Fiske Terrace and his own home in Ditmas Park on East 17th Street, all of which were later landmarked by the City. Bond was trained as an engineer and worked for several railroads before forming his own construction business. And he had a solution for the Interborough landowners because if there was one thing he knew more than construction, it was railroads. Newkirk Avenue will be an express stop? Then why not leverage the pedestrian traffic that it will attract?

And so, in February of 1910, an advertisement appeared in Brooklyn newspapers. Interborough was selling 12 attached brick buildings, three stories high, their basement walls forming the eastern wall of the new underground express station at Newkirk Avenue. But these weren’t just ordinary buildings with stores on the first floor and apartments above, oh no: “This Development is Unique! Nothing Like It In Greater New York!” 

1910 Feb 12 Ad for 9 of the 12 New Buildings, East Side of Plaza

1910 Apr 3 C F Bond's New Buildings on East Side of Plaza

1910: Post Card Looking South from Newkirk Avenue

1910 Nov 6 Ad by C F Bond

1910 Nov 27 Ad by C F Bond for the Apts Over Stores
 Indeed, its uniqueness was perhaps best illustrated by how much the ad struggled to describe it. At one point it claimed the stores “front directly on the surface platform,” and at another point the stores are said to “front on the station platform.” In breathless fashion, the ad continued: “There is no rear to these buildings—instead each building has two fronts!” It described one front was for a store, opening at the station, and the other front was on East 16th Street where the apartment dwellers and deliveries would enter. Another major feature which made these buildings so attractive: “By contract of the BRT right of way, there can be only one entrance to Newkirk Avenue station…where it is now, opening directly on these properties where 2,000 persons are passing every day.” 

1912: Newkirk Station North from Foster Ave
Bond’s genius was to realize that by eliminating residential doors and staircases, wider storefronts could be built, allowing the owners to charge higher rents, but also making the streetscape more attractive. Indeed, the new shopping plaza was an instant success. By March of 1910, ads upped the estimate of daily passers-by to 4,000. 

1910 Aug 1 4,000 Pass Newkirk Station Daily
Even discounting realtor hyperbole, it was clear the new stores had dramatically increased the number of visitors to the Plaza, independent of the commuter traffic. 

The word “Plaza” was never used in the first few years of its existence, because the west side was slow to develop. Nearby apartment buildings that sprang up across Marlborough Road referred to the station area as “Newkirk Park.” In 1911, some merchants referred to their location as “Store, Newkirk Station Plaza” while others preferred a more exact “Store # 9 at Newkirk Avenue Station.” In fact, the term “Newkirk Plaza” did not appear in print until 1914.

1911 Apr 13 "Newkirk Park" Apts on West Side of Marlborough

2012: East Side of Newkirk Plaza Station House

2019: Plaque on East Wall Commemorating End of Grade Crossing Elimination on Bighton Line in 1908

In 1921, the construction of the Plaza’s present configuration was completed when a large apartment house was built on the west side, again following the same template: residential entrances on Marlborough Road with numerous storefront entrances on the Plaza side. At that time, an arcade was formed, connecting the northwest Plaza to Marlborough Road. Eventually, over 30 storefronts were created as business thrived. Some merchants took advantage of basement windows and recesses created in the retaining walls at the platform level by placing signs there – some lasting into the 1980s – to lure more transit customers. 

Merchants plying their trades in the Plaza have changed many times over the past 119 years, becoming more diverse with each decade until now the shop owners represent virtually all races, ethnicities and cultures. Reflecting the profitability of the location, some businesses have had remarkably long lifespans. Almac Hardware (named for its original proprietors, Al and Mac) and Newkirk Station Wines & Liquors have been in business under a succession of owners almost from the beginning. Lindeman Florists was a mainstay for 80 years before closing in 2007. 

1940: Lindeman Florist Truck on E 16th St

1958: Lindeman Storefront Far Right
Banks have anchored the two corners at the southern end since 1930, both expanding their footprints over the years to reduce the number of storefronts, while other merchants split up their stores to form two businesses. 

1940: Brooklyn Trust Eventually Morphed Into Today's Chase Bank, SW Corner of the Plaza, at Foster Ave. 

The Plaza has also served the larger community over the years. It was a “Liberty Loan” location during WWI, a “Bundles for Britain” drop-off center in 1941, a Civil Defense Council Office during WWII, and featured a post office until June 11, 1971, when teenage arsonists burned it down in a fire that took out three adjoining stores on the west side of the Plaza.

Plaza in the 1970s, East Side Looking North 

1971: Arson Fire, West Side of Plaza
The fire accentuated a decline in the appearance of the Plaza and the surrounding neighborhood, just as the overall City economy was in a tailspin. Banks were redlining huge swaths of  the area, property disinvestment was increasing and by 1975, the City itself needed a financial bailout from the State. At the same time, Congress decided to make available to localities community development “block grants” to assist redevelopment. Enter the Flatbush Development Corporation, which was formed by local residents to combat the spreading deterioration. Thanks to the efforts of FDC Chairman Mike Weiss of West Midwood and merchants association president Edward Fox, Flatbush was designated a Neighborhood Strategy Area by City Hall, resulting in a $20 million investment to restore Newkirk Plaza to its former glory. 

1982: FDC's Mike Weiss. Buddy Buzzer 
The surface was repaved, wrought iron fencing, planters, benches, and canopies were installed, storefronts cleaned and painted. In addition the Transit Authority spent almost the same amount to strengthen the understructure of the Plaza. By 1982, the refreshed Plaza and the work of the FDC to stabilize the entire area by increasing bank investment and restoration of the housing stock was being cited in national news stories as a model for struggling urban centers. And the number of daily visitors to the Plaza continued to grow, mushrooming from 6,600 in 1993 to 10,000 in 2010.

The FDC over the years has continued to partner with the Newkirk merchants to keep the area vital and thriving. After a multi-year major facelift of the station and the Plaza that included the installation of decorative paving stones, a huge clock and lampposts that would have felt at home in 1910, the Newkirk Avenue stop, once again spruced up by the MTA, was finally renamed Newkirk Plaza in August of 2011. About time.

2019: Newkirk Station North from Platform Under Foster Ave

Interesting Factoid:
The stores on Newkirk Plaza have addresses numbered consecutively, starting from 1 Newkirk Plaza ("Newkirk Plaza Deli") at the NE corner of the Plaza (at Newkirk Avenue). 2 Newkirk Plaza ("Almac Hardware" aka 3 Newkirk Plaza) follows to its immediate south, then 4 Newkirk Plaza ("Fisherman's Cove"), and so on until the Santander Bank building at 18-24 Newkirk Plaza (aka 1525 Foster Ave) at the southeastern end is reached.

The consecutive numbering scheme then continues -- directly across from Santander -- on the WEST side of the Plaza at the Chase Bank, which is 25 Newkirk Plaza (aka 1509 Foster Ave), with its neighbor to the immediate north, Gyro King, being 26 Newkirk Plaza, followed by numerous other storefronts until the last address is reached at the northwestern end, 45 Newkirk Plaza (Metro PCS).

Plaza Address Current Store Past Store1 Past Store2 Past Store

EAST Side of Plaza  19 Stores, including 1 Vacancy

1 Newkirk Plaza (aka 1508 Newkirk Ave)
Newkirk Plaza Deli Urban Taxi & Limo (1974) Newkirk Touts (1974)
2 Newkirk Plaza (aka 3 Newkirk Plaza) Almac Hardware                                       (Al & Max Serota original owners; Paul Goodman then owned until his death Spring 2014) Semon's Hardware (1940s) Eisenberg Radios (1931)  Singer Sewing Machines (1930)
4 Newkirk Plaza Fisherman's Cove Pinball Parlor (1980) Moriarity's Bar & Brill (1960s) 1st Ad: Carpenters needed at 4 Newkirk Plaza, April 14, 1911. 
5 Newkirk Plaza Don Burrito LaSalle Restaurant (1970s) Bar &Grill (1960s) Primrose Shop Ladies Wear (1920s)
6A Newkirk Plaza Veyana Optical Waldell Hobbies (1953-1970s)

6B Newkirk Plaza Plaza Wireless Waldell Hobbies (1953-1970s)

7A Newkirk Plaza Al's Gold Market Furs by Maxims (1960s) George K. Ormond Co Irons (1919) Arthur S. Robbins Electrical Contractor (1914)
7 Newkirk Plaza  Leon's Fantasy Cut (Owner: Leon Kogut, 1990-Present) Paul's Barber Shop (1912-1980s) Owners: Paul Pasqualicchio; John Messina (1960s-1990)

8 Newkirk Plaza Kings Court Drugs OTB Parlor (1974-1980s) Walker's Beauty Salon (1955-1970s)
9 Newkirk Plaza Malik & Son 99c Store

10 Newkirk Plaza Dunkin Donuts
A. Linneman's Ladies' and Gentlemen's Furnishings (1913)
11 Newkirk Plaza  Newkirk Station Wines & Liquors (Moved here from #18 Newkirk Plaza) Plaza Radio

12 Newkirk Plaza Plaza Gourmet Deli Lindeman Florist (1927-2007 )

13 Newkirk Plaza Newkirk Grocery Golden Grocery Store Plaza Luncheonette (1970s) Electric Sockets Store (1920s)
14 Newkirk Plaza Lo Duca Pizza (Owners: Giuseppe, Vincenza, Salvatore & Daniele Lo Duca, 30 years) Lipton Chemists (1950-1991) Reid & Watmough Drug Store (1917-1940s)
15 Newkirk Plaza Bank of America Game Enterprise Inc. Art-Way Shoe Store (1960s) Himmelreich Furnishing (1916)
16 Newkirk Plaza T-Mobile
Patio Restaurant (1950s)
17 Newkirk Plaza Newkirk Fruit Inv Lin's Market Frederick H. Tucker Realty (1914)
18-24 Newkirk Plaza (aka 1525 Foster Ave) Vacant (Prior: Santander Bank; Sovereign Bank; Independence Bank; South Brooklyn; Irving Trust opened 1930) Multiple Bank expansions eliminated 5 storefronts, 1960-1987. Grillos Seafood, 1930-1987; Newkirk Station Liquors Wines, 1946-1977; Myra Fashions (1960s) Plaza Restaurant (1950s) Fire kills firefighter, Oct 1953;  spreads to 3 other stores; Unique Hand Laundry; A&P Tea Co (Opened 1920) (1920s) Krinsky and Kaplan Bar, 1960s; Elizabeth Beauty Shop, 1919; Plaza Realty, 1917.

WEST Side of Plaza  15 Stores, including 2 Vacancies

1509 Foster Ave Chase Bank (Prior: Manufacturers Trust; Brooklyn Trust opened 1930) Newkirk Plaza Valet Service (1930s) Shoe Repair (1925) Elizabeth Beauty Shop (1919)
26 Newkirk Plaza Gyro King (Owners: Mohammad Shoaib & Zeak Kahn) Hot Bagels

29 Newkirk Plaza Geo Medical Care Rand Cleaners (1950s, 27 Newkirk Plaza) Foto-Finish (1950s, 28 Newkirk Plaza)
30 Newkirk Plaza Coffee Z Alex's Shoe Repair

31 Newkirk Plaza Four Square Convenience Corp Beauty Supply Kings & Queens Hair Studio

32 Newkirk Plaza N K Nail Salon (aka New Nails) Civil Defense Office (WWII)

33 Newkirk Plaza Prestige Convenience Corp (Tobacco, Beer) Bundles for Britain Aid Office (1940-1942) Benjamin Garfinkel Wines &Liquors (1930s)
34 Newkirk Plaza Vacant Minar Food Market (Bangladeshi Grocery) Deli Treats (1970s) C. F. Hughes Optical (1930)  Beauty Salon (1920s)
35 Newkirk Plaza Yank Brothers Enterprises (aka 99c &Up Gift Shop) Holiday House Books (1950s-1970, aka 36 Newkirk Plaza)

37 Newkirk Plaza Plaza Fruit & Grocery Corp         (aka Plaza Grocery) 

39 Newkirk Plaza W&L Sister Laundromat (aka 38 Newkirk Plaza) Photo Stamp Co (1940s, aka 40 Newkirk Plaza) Liberty Loan Booth (WWI, aka 40 Newkirk Plaza)
41A Newkirk Plaza Double Dragon Post Office (Until June 1971)
Burned Down June 1971 Arson
41B Newkirk Plaza Vacant Newkirk Sandwich ACME Video and More. Prior AKA 42 Newkirk Plaza: A & N Diner; De Sica's Pizzeria (1960s) Burned Down June 1971 Arson
43 Newkirk Plaza Pablo's Restaurant (Owner: Pablo Muniz, 17 years) Newkirk Donut (1970s) Tea & Coffee Shoppe (1925) Burned Down June 1971 Arson
45 Newkirk Plaza Metro PCS Dream House of Cards & Creations Bernhardt Florist (1920s) Knickman Florist (1920s)

TOTAL 34 Storefronts, including  3 vacancies