Brooklyn Crossroads Under The El
What attracted me to these three buildings at the corner of Dahill Road and 37th Street was their amiable but awkward designs in an unamiable and awkward neighborhood. Two houses and Congregation Bnei Torah Sanz, in Kensington, one of Brooklyn’s many Jewish/other neighborhoods.
What dazzled me the first time I saw this—and what my sad little iPhone camera couldn’t capture—was the drama of the subway (F line) passing behind the houses at dusk.
In the alley between the two houses, hovers a succah, a temporary hut built for the Jewish festival of Sukkot, decorated with branches and harvest themes—I always thought of it as the Jewish Thanksgiving. This one is decorated with drywall from Lowes.
Nearby, a number of parked cars displayed this bumper sticker—Hashem literally means “the name”—used because saying God’s real name is “a very powerful and serious thing.” I find this both moving and comical. Read more here.
Another powerful and serious thing is the neighborhood’s arterial logic, a jostle and scramble of hardworking souls—mostly immigrants—eking out lives from businesses, mostly construction, along this strip of McDonald Avenue. Google skyview hints at the industrious swarm: Dahill Rd, 37th Street, Cortelyou Rd, McDonald Avenue.
The triangular Shell station services mainly TLC drivers—yellow and Uber—as of 10/19/19, gas was roughly $269/gallon (cash). I’m amazed any gas station survives these days in NYC—I know three in Brooklyn that have recently closed.
Adjacent to the gas station is Window Palace—according to its website “your resource for everything beautiful when it comes to the architectural finishes in your home.” Then why, when it’s closed—as it obviously is here—are there no windows? And why does it look like a White Castle?
Across the street is the permanently closed Nationwide Auto Sales Inc., now a school bus parking lot.
Nearby is the underutilized Dome Playground, named after community activists Charles and Jessie Dome, but a sad little place when I was there. According to Bklyner.com, the playground was renovated at a cost of $4 million—but it still looks bleak.
The train that comes in mightier than a Ginsberg poem
Ditmas Avenue Station, F line. This rusty stub was once part of the single-track Culver
Shuttle. Because of low ridership, the shuttle stopped running in 1975 and most of the structure was demolished.
A block away is this fruit stand/deli underneath….
…the Ditmas Avenue elevated train station—so many of these glorious elevated stations in New York—so elegant and fun.
A few feet away, I spotted this old building—I shudder.
Kensington is a rich ethnic mix—along with the Jews, you have roughly 25% Asian, many Bangladeshi, many served by the Jamie Masjid Bangladesh Muslim Center, a local mosque.
A few blocks north: the $119 million MTA signal relay building.
Which fronts the Avenue C Plaza…
…a fledgling hangout spot with a few nice plants.
William H Whyte, in his seminal work “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces,” defined what kind of public space works:
"A good plaza starts at the street corner. If it’s a busy corner, it has a brisk social life of its own. People will not just be waiting there for the light to change. Some will be fixed in conversation; others in some phase of a prolonged goodbye. If there’s a vendor at the corner, people will cluster around him, and there will be considerable two-way traffic back and forth between plaza and corner."
Good luck, Avenue C Plaza!
Sign on the wall of Shalmoni auto repair shop a few feet away says it better. I’m assuming the adage refers to Israel.