For people living in small to mid-size hometowns, it is easy to write about their towns. However, for someone like me who was born and raised in New York City, it is rather difficult. Therefore I will look upon the borough of Brooklyn as my small town away from the teeming streets of Manhattan and the other boroughs. If you know about Brooklyn and find a neighborhood missing it is just that I wrote about all the ones I knew and where I have been. I was born in a very quiet corner of Brooklyn called Bay Ridge so I began my tour there. Flatbush in Brooklyn, New York is a neighborhood with many immigrants, Prospect Park South is another neighborhood within the community of Flatbush as is Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, the jewel of the community is Prospect Park and Kensington lies to the south of the park. As I continue I will paste the links for the neighborhoods I have written about below.
The community of Flatbush consists of several neighborhoods. The name itself is derived from the Dutch language and means “flat woodland” or “wooded plain”. Many immigrants have settled in this area coming mostly from Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Grenada, Guyana, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Belize. There have also been Indian and African immigrants coming from Ghana, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, and Kenya. The largest ethnic group in Flatbush is Haitians.
In the early days, Flatbush was chartered as the Dutch Nieuw Niederland town of Midwout in 1651. Now Midwood is an area that is located to the south of Brooklyn College and consists of Orthodox Jews and Irish Americans. In 1664 Flatbush and five other towns were given to the English. Later in 1898, Flatbush became part of the City of New York, and in 1894 part of the City of Brooklyn.
Most of the population of Flatbush consisted of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Jews in the early 20th century. It became a working-class neighborhood. In those days many people from this area closely followed the Brooklyn baseball team the Brooklyn Dodgers and Duke Snider became known as the “Duke of Flatbush”. It was in the 1970s and early 1980s that Flatbush slowly became predominantly a Black, West Indian community. Abandoned or semi-abandoned buildings could be seen by the mid-1980s. More and more lower-income residents moved into the area and crime was on the rise. An area around what is known as the Parade Grounds became a place for drug dealing and shoot-outs started occurring between street gangs. In 1974 some of the scenes for the movie “The Lords of Flatbush” were shot in the area and in 1979 CBS came out with a sitcom called “Flatbush” which was somewhat based on the 1974 movie.
Today Flatbush has mainly African American and West Indian residents and while the area is mostly working class there are also middle-class and wealthier residents living here. The main commercial strips are Flatbush, Church, and Nostrand Avenues. The restaurants in the area offer Caribbean, Soul food, Chinese, Mexican, and South Asian cuisines. Small businesses mix with larger ones there are some well-known stores like Stop & Shop.
The area consists mainly of apartment buildings but also has row houses. Older Victorian-style houses can be seen in Prospect Park South and in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens brownstones. Well-known institutions in the area include Erasmus Hall High School, the Parade Grounds, the Flatbush Dutch Reformed Church, and Brooklyn College. Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and the Mirrer Yeshiva. Flatbush contains the communities of Prospect Park South, Beverly Square West and East, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Ditmas Park, Fiske Terrace, and Albemarle-Kenmare Terrace. The area also has many transportation routes. It is served by the Brighton Line –B and Q trains and has six different bus lines.
East Flatbush whose residents are mostly African-Americans has three major hospitals within its borders – Kings County Hospital, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. It is also home to the Congregation Beth Israel which is now known as Mt. Zion Church of God 7th Day and since 2009 has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Prospect Park South is an area of notable homes that was developed in 1899 by Dean Alvord. His motto for this development was rus in urbe or country in the city. Along the property lines of the houses, trees were planted to give the illusion that each house was alone and totally separate from the others. Alvord had a house built here for his family the Alvord Mansion was located at 1522 Albemarle Road but after it was sold to Israel Matz who was the founder of Ex-Lax Company the house burnt down in 1955. In 1979 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Prospect Park South as a historic district. Many notable residences in this area are worth seeing most of them are found on Albermarle, Buckingham, and Marlborough Roads.
Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is a residential neighborhood that was settled by a Dutch family in 1660. In 1893 James Lefferts divided the Lefferts estate into 600 building lots which are now known as Lefferts Manor and they were sold to developers. Lefferts made sure that the homes in this area would be notable and made restrictions that required that each home be a single-family residence of brick or stone and be at least two stories high. These houses were constructed in the late 19th century. In 1979 the houses in Lefferts Manor were granted landmark status by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission and in 1992 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Lefferts Manor Historic District.
Prospect Park is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. This public park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux both of whom also designed New York’s Central Park. Within the park, one can find the Long Meadow which consists of 90 acres, the Picnic Houses where you can rent a hall for parties, and see the pre-existing house of Edwin Clark Litchfield who was a developer of the area and formerly owned the southern part of the park. It is called Litchfield Villa.
Here is also the Prospect Park Zoo which is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The zoo has a wide variety of wild animals as well as a wonderful carousel.
At the Boathouse by Prospect Park Lake (60 acres) is the visitors center and the Audubon Center. In the summer people come to the park for free outdoor concerts at the Prospect Park Bandshell. If one is into sports the park offers seven baseball fields located in the Long Meadow, the Prospect Park Tennis Center, basketball courts, soccer fields, and the New York Petanque Club in the Parade Ground.
As if that weren’t enough there is also a private Society of Friends Cemetery on Quaker Hill which is near the ball fields. Actor Montgomery Clift is buried here.
When we look into the history of Prospect Park we find that the Wisconsin Glacier’s terminal moraine formed Long Island about 17,000 years ago and formed hills and kettles in the northern part of the park and an outwash plain in the southern part. Near the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Eastern Parkway is a hill that rises 200 feet above sea level called Mount Prospect or Prospect Hill and is the highest among the other hills within the park. The others are called Sullivan, Breezen, and Lookout Hills.
Previously forested after European colonization became open pasture. Some stands of trees such as chestnut, white poplar, and oak have been preserved in Prospect Park’s Ravine and are known as “The Last Forest of Brooklyn”. This was the site of the Battle of Long Island during the American Revolution. The Continental Army didn’t win the battle but was able to hold British troops back long enough for George Washington’s troops to retreat to New Jersey. By the Prospect Park Zoo are plaques that honor this event.
Kensington is a neighborhood that has a mix of brick rowhouses, one-family Victorian-style houses, and pre-war brick apartment buildings that line Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue. The main commercial streets of this area are Coney Island Avenue, Church Avenue, and Ditmas Avenue. The residents here are Ukrainians, South Asians mostly from Bangladesh and Pakistan, Chinese, Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic, Irish, Polish, Italian, Albanian, Russian, Latino, Mexican, and Caribbean. As of 2010, more than 300 immigrants from Darfur settled here.
The Dutch were the first to colonize this area in the 17th century. In 1737 came the British. When Ocean Parkway was completed Kensington was developed in 1885. It was named after a place and borough in West London. Ocean Parkway consists of landscaped malls, benches, chess tables, and walking and biking paths. It links Prospect Park to the neighborhood of Coney Island and is part of the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. The area is served by the IND Culver Line F and G subway trains. There are six bus lines and four express bus lines to Manhattan.