Speaker gives colonial club key to past
By Paula Katinas
Bay Ridge — When he was a Boy Scout many years ago, Jim Clark and his fellow scouts would do a favor for the congregation of Bay Ridge United Methodist Church by climbing up to the clock tower and resetting the giant clock.
Clark and his buddies helped out the congregation because the church didn’t have a Boy Scout troop of its own. Clark is now an influential business leader in the community, serving as president of the Bay Ridge Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District.
Clark’s clock tower climbing was one of the fascinating tidbits shared by writer and historian Ted General during a presentation he gave to the Colonial Club on May 3. The members, who met at Gino’s Restaurant on Fifth Avenue, munched on a hot antipasto as they enjoyed General’s talk.
General opened the door to Bay Ridge’s history and shared his knowledge with Colonial Club members. He was there to promote Bay Ridge Inc., a book he co-wrote with Peter Scarpa and Jack LaTorre. All three men are members of the Bay Ridge Historical Society.
General offered his tidbit about Clark’s boyhood during the portion of his presentation dealing with the history of famous churches in the area. Bay Ridge United Methodist Church, on the corner of Fourth and Ovington avenues, was built in 1899. It was torn down in 2008. A new elementary school, P.S. 331, is under construction at the site.
General said the oldest Catholic church in Bay Ridge is Saint Patrick’s Church, at 9511 Fourth Ave., which was established in the 1850s.
“St. Pat’s is one of the oldest Catholic churches in Brooklyn,” General said. “Archbishop John Hughes came by rowboat to dedicate the church.”
The Knights of Columbus chapter headquartered at 1305 86th St. is named after Archbishop Hughes.
At the time it was founded, St. Patrick’s Church was considered part of the Archdiocese of New York. The Diocese of Brooklyn had not yet been established.
The oldest church in the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst area is the New Utrecht Reformed Church, established in 1677. The congregation originally held services in a building on what is now the corner of 16th Avenue and 84th Street. In 1828, a new church was constructed on what is now 18th Avenue and 84th Street, two blocks from the original.
The oldest bar in Bay Ridge is Kelly’s Bar, on Fourth Avenue and 94th Street. Three Jolly Pigeons, on Third Avenue and 68th Street, is another old establishment that is still in business.
Lento’s Restaurant, which stood for many years on the corner of Third and Ovington avenues, was rumored to have been the site of a speakeasy during Prohibition, General said. Lento’s closed a few years ago. The Yellow Hook Grille is now located there.
Many of Bay Ridge’s most well-known institutions have interesting histories, according to General.
“The Visitation Monastery is the former site of a treatment center for alcoholics,” he said, referring to the monastery housing the Sisters of the Visitation, a Catholic order of nuns, on Ridge Boulevard and 89th Street. Visitation Academy, a school for girls, shares the property.
Bay Ridge got its name in 1853, General said. Prior to that, the community was called Yellow Hook. When an outbreak of yellow fever took place, prominent local residents were concerned about the community’s reputation being damaged because of its name, General said.
“On Dec. 16, 1853, a group of community leaders met in a school house on Ovington Avenue to come up with a new name,” he said.
A man named James Weir was among those present.
“He came up with the name,” General said.
The name “Bay Ridge” was inspired by the community’s topography, according to General, who said it is a ridge next to the bay.
“There was no formal government decree,” General said.
The civic leaders simply took it upon themselves to rename the community.
Bay Ridge enjoys another distinction. The section of the community on Shore Road and 84th Street is the westernmost point on Long Island, General said.
The Colonial Club, headed by President Ruth Berg, meets twice a month. The club is composed of business leaders, who enjoy getting together, said Jim Clark, a founding member.
“It’s a good way of sharing information,” he said.
Meetings usually feature a guest speaker, Clark said.
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