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Then, And Still

The title of the photo above, from 1904, is “The Circle, Brooklyn,” which threw me. There is no major feature in Brooklyn called The Circle, although there are a few planned circles, such as the pair at the southwest and south corners of Prospect Park. This doesn’t look anything like those park corners.

Then I realized that I know one of the buildings in the shot. The tallest building on the curved street is the 1891 Montauk Club, so this is Plaza Steet West, one of the pair of curved streets that define the edges of Grand Army Plaza, where Flatbush Avenue and Eastern parkway meet at the northern tip of Prospect Park. The reason that I don’t know that name was also made clear: the plaza is an oval, not a circle. The hill on the right side of the photo is not a hill: it’s an earth berm constructed to separate Plaza Street from Flatbush Avenue in terms of both sight and sound. That separation made Plaza Street an attractive place for high-end apartment houses, mansions, and at least one private club.

The first upper-class neighborhood in Brooklyn was Brooklyn Hieghts, facing the East River, but its proximity to both the docks and downtown Brooklyn, and the fact that it was originally developed in the 1810s and 20s, made it a difficult location later in the century to build large new mansions and such. The upper reaches of Park Slope, particularly Propsect Park West and its northern end at Plaza Street were developed to address this need.

Shockingly, the beautiful and well-built legacy of 130 years ago is still a very nice place to live, as well as one of the largest (in area) historic districts in the city.