Flatbush, where I once lived, is in central Brooklyn, stretching from Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s chief park, in the north to Brooklyn College in the south and from Coney Island Avenue in the west to Nostrand Avenue in the east. It comprises approximately 1.8 square miles in which approximately 110,000 people are packed. The large, diverse neighborhood includes many smaller neighborhoods, many of which are prosaic or worse. But some of the attractive and historic ones will be explored here with the tour beginning in the south and moving north. Map of Flatbush.
First up is Brooklyn College. Its central campus comprises Georgian Revival buildings, which surround a park-like quadrangle, date to 1936, and were designed by Randolph Evans. Notable alumni include: F. Murray Abraham, Hannah Arendt, Allen Ginsburg, Abraham Maslow, and Ad Rheinhardt.
Nearby is the pocket neighborhood Fiske Terrace, which was first developed in 1905 when most of Brooklyn was rural. Pictured here is the Avenue H (formerly Fiske Terrace) subway station. The wooden structure, built c. 1905, looks more like a country train station. Of course, when it was built it basically was. It has been designated an official New York City landmark.
Here, in Fiske Terrace, is a large Victorian home with Greek Revival elements probably dating from the early 20th century. The neighborhood has many such homes.
A bit north is Ditmas Park, an official New York City historic district. Like Fiske Terrace, it includes many large homes dating from the early 20th century. Pictured here is a stately one in Queen Ann style complete with a spacious wraparound porch. Like Fiske Terrace, the neighborhood has a suburban feel and look with its lawns and quiet streets. It was hard for me to believe that I was in the middle of Brooklyn.
A bit north of Ditmas Park, is this large Tudor Revival apartment house named the Arista dating from the early 20th century. The entrance, complete with armorial details, is particularly ornate.
Prospect Park South, another official New York City historic district located in Flatbush, is north of Ditmas Park and, as its name makes clear, south of Prospect Park. Brick pillar signs, such as the one seen here, mark entrances to it. Note the monogram PSP, which stands for the name of the neighborhood. Development of the area began c. 1899.
Pictured here is an impressive home in the neighborhood. This beauty reflects the Queen Anne style complete with a prominent turret and wraparound porch and probably dates to the early 20th century.
Also in Prospect Park South is this grand home in Greek Revival style probably dating from the early 20th century. Scaffolding has been erected on its sides; presumably it is being restored. Generally, homes in this neighborhood are attractive and historic albeit on a less grand scale than this one.
East of Prospect Park South is a tiny official New York City historic district Albemarle-Kenmore Terraces. Its pretty attached houses shown here reflect the arts and crafts movement and were designed by Slee and Bryson. They were built 1918-20.
Nearby is the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church, the third church on this site. Located at today’s busy intersection of Church and Flatbush avenues, it was designed by Thomas Fardon and erected 1793-98. The congregation, however, is far older; it was founded in 1654. The site was at the center of the Dutch village Vlat Bosch (Wooded Plain) from which the English name Flatbush derives. It was founded in 1651 when it was called Mitwoud. Flatbush remained an independent town until 1894.
Also on Flatbush Avenue and very close to the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church is the former Erasmus Hall High School (later known as the Erasmus Hall Educational Campus and now closed). The school was founded in 1786 as Erasmus Hall Academy. One year later, it became the first secondary school to be chartered by the New York State Regents. The original building still stands, but pictured here is part of the 20th-century complex that surrounds it. The complex was designed in Gothic Academic style by Charles B. Snyder and erected beginning in 1905.
The list of notable alumni is extraordinary and lengthy. A brief, partial one follows: Joseph Barbera, William Duer, Jim Florio, Moe Howard, Eric Kandel, Elaine de Kooning, Susan Hayward, Waite Hoyt, Dorothy Kilgallen, Samuel LeFrak, Bernard Malamud, Marky Ramone, Barbra McClintock, Arthur M. Sackler, Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Streisand, Richard Sylbert, Norma Taldmadge, Eli Wallach, and Mae West. Whew! In addition, attendees who transferred to other schools prior to graduation included Neil Diamond and Beverly Sills. In addition, the school is even known for a famous dropout: Bobbie Fisher. More about Erasmus Hall High School at Curbed New York and Untapped Cities.
A few blocks north near the northern boundary of Flatbush is the Flatbush branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. It was designed by R.L. Daus and built in 1905, but ninety-five percent of what you see here is the result of style moderne alterations by John C. Street and John R. Petter, which were done in 1937 and financed by a grant from the WPA. The building cries out for a thorough cleaning.
South of the library is the former Flatbush Town Hall, a Victorian Gothic building on Synder Avenue. Designed by John Y. Culyer and built in 1784-85, it served the civic needs of the town of Flatbush until it was absorbed into Brooklyn in 1894. Today it serves as a public school.
A few blocks south, back on Flatbush Avenue, is the 3,200-seat Kings Theater, which opened in 1929 as the Loew’s Kings Theater and closed in 1977. However, it was restored at a cost of many millions of dollars and re-opened in February 2015 with a concert performance by Diana Ross. The theater was designed by Rapp and Rapp and includes extraordinarily rich interior decoration by Harold W. Rambusch characteristic of the era of luxurious movie palaces. Seen here is the elaborate entrance painstakingly restored with its new marquis sign. When this photo was taken the theater was obviously still undergoing work as evidenced by plywood over a front door and scaffolding. More about the Kings Theatre in The New York Times.
A few blocks south and a couple blocks east of Flatbush Avenue is the Sears Roebuck department store, which is an official New York City landmark. The impressive Art Deco commercial structure was designed by Nimmons, Carr & Wright in association with Alton L. Craft. It was erected in 1932 and expanded in 1940. Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at its opening in 1932. And, yes, the store is still in business.
Finally, here is a view of East 29th Street where I once lived. Its townhouses and attached homes, many of which have been extensively altered over the years, typically date to the early twentieth century. The street is typical of many in Flatbush.
How to get there. Flatbush is served by many bus and subway lines. To begin a tour at Brooklyn College, as I did, take the 2 or 5 train to Brooklyn College.