Greenwood Heights

Come stroll Fifth Avenue in Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park

Eye on Real Estate

June 13, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The landmarked entrance to Green-Wood Cemetery. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

It starts with an arena and ends with a quasi-cathedral.

We’re talking about Fifth Avenue, the commercial and residential corridor that runs from Barclays Center at the edge of Park Slope to big, beautiful St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Bay Ridge.

The five-mile street passes through Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park, too.

A stroll down the full length of Fifth Avenue will give you a feel for the old-fashioned architecture in these four neighborhoods.

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It will take around two hours — not counting stops you’ll want to make at various shops, restaurants and parks. If you take photos, like we did, you’ll spend multiple days there.

Last week, we focused on the Park Slope section of the avenue. Now, we head south.

Green-Wood’s landmarked gateway

The most dazzling sight on Fifth Avenue in Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park is a graveyard’s gateway.


This isn’t just any graveyard. It’s Green-Wood Cemetery, which has been a major visitor magnet pretty much since its 1838 founding.

In the 19th century, New Yorkers took carriage rides, picnicked and partied in the hilly 478-acre burial ground. Though the setting around it has become urban, it still looks bucolic today.

The brownstone gates — which the city landmarked in 1966 —  are located at Green-Wood’s main entrance on Fifth Avenue at 25th Street in Greenwood Heights.

Architects Richard Upjohn and his son Richard Michell Upjohn designed these Gothic Revival-style arches in 1861.

You’ll see them as you head south through Greenwood Heights and Sunset Park, where Fifth Avenue is lined with mixed-use rowhouses a century old or more. Mingled in among them are financial institutions, religious buildings — and a popular hilltop recreation area that, like the neighborhood, is named Sunset Park.

The park extends along Fifth Avenue from 41st to 44th streets.  

Weir admiring this renovation project

On the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue at 25th Street, across from Green-Wood Cemetery’s main gates, there’s another stellar sight.

The newly renovated octagonal copper dome on the Weir Greenhouse rises above a construction fence. If you sneak a peek through the fence, you’ll also see the greenhouse’s structural framework is starting to look good.

The cemetery is renovating the landmarked Victorian commercial greenhouse at 750 Fifth Ave., which was built in 1895.

The cemetery, which owns the greenhouse, plans to turn it into the nucleus of a much-needed visitors’ center. It doesn’t have one, although some 250,000 people — live ones, not burial candidates — come to the famous cemetery each year.

Green-Wood bought the Weir Greenhouse and a neighboring building for a combined $1.625 million and purchased an adjacent property for $1.5 million, city Finance Department records indicate.

The Jackie Gleason Depot

How Sweet It Is!

Eleven blocks away from the Weir Greenhouse, the first building you’ll find in Sunset Park is the Jackie Gleason Depot.

It’s a 919,000-square-foot NYC Transit System building.

In 1988, the MTA named it after the late comedian. He played Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden in the 1950s CBS-TV series “The Honeymooners.”

The depot is located at 847 Fifth Ave. on the corner of 36th Street.

As you proceed south, you’ll see that old-fashioned rowhouses with storefronts are sometimes book-ended by more elaborate corner buildings.

Such is the case with 889 Fifth Ave. which houses the Sunset Park Diner. It’s on the northeast corner of 39th Street. A curved turret is a nice touch.

At this intersection, the numbering system changes for avenue addresses.

Up to this point, the numbers have continued as they began at Fifth Avenue’s origin at Flatbush Avenue in Park Slope, with addresses advancing by increments of two from building to building.

But starting on the south side of 39th Street, address numbers are four digits long, with the first two digits corresponding to nearby cross streets. So after 889 Fifth Ave. comes 3901 Fifth Ave. — where you’ll find Guadalupita II, a grocer with marvelous Mexican spices.

Which way to Bay Ridge Savings Bank?     

One of Sunset Park’s grandest Fifth Avenue buildings is the former Bay Ridge Savings Bank, which is made of limestone and has Ionic columns flanking its front door and high arched windows.

The Classical Revival-style bank at 5323 Fifth Ave. on the corner of 54th Street was constructed in 1926. It now houses a JPMorgan Chase branch.

Bay Ridge Savings Bank, founded in 1868, originally served sailors, dock workers and their families, architectural history expert Suzanne Spellen wrote in a story.

Another dramatic Sunset Park property is 5424 Fifth Ave., which houses a clothing store called George Michael Suit Outlet.

It’s at the intersection of 55th Street. As corner buildings with turrets go, this one’s especially charming. It’s topped by a pointy roof shaped like a witch’s hat.

According to a Historic Districts Council posting, J.H. Nadigan designed the Queen Anne-style brick building, which was constructed in 1897.


The immigrants’ basilica

On the south end of Fifth Avenue in Sunset Park, there’s another dazzling sight — the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

The granite Romanesque Revival church is located at 526 59th St. The property extends along Fifth Avenue to the corner of 60th Street.

The basilica’s construction began in 1907. It was designed by Swiss-born Franz Joseph Untersee, who settled in the Boston area and specialized in ecclesiastic architecture.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help has a long tradition as a refuge for immigrants. It offers masses in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese as well as English.

One of the church’s ministries is the Juan Neumann Center, which provides Sunset Park residents free and low-cost legal aid for immigration issues.

By the way, it’s a big deal for a Catholic church to be a basilica.

The Pope designates a church as a basilica if it has special historic, architectural, artistic or spiritual significance.


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