See the neighborhood with Brooklyn’s prettiest canal — I don’t mean the Gowanus — and streets in alphabetical order
Eye on Real Estate: This is a story about Brooklyn’s other canal — the pretty one — and the neighborhood where it’s located.
If you’re old enough to read, you know all about the Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site with poisoned waters that’s nevertheless deeply loved.
The 1.8-mile-long Gowanus Canal is often in the news because a rezoning proposal has been drawn up for the neighborhood through which it runs. Also, the Gowanus Canal got a lot of attention last fall when a floating statue of President Donald Trump suddenly appeared in it.
Shell Bank Canal, which is around one-third of a mile long, runs right down the middle of Gerritsen Beach. This waterfront residential neighborhood is on Brooklyn’s southern shoreline, on a peninsula across from Sheepshead Bay (by which I mean the neighborhood called Sheepshead Bay, not the body of water with that name).
The banks of Shell Bank Canal are lined with houses and boat docks. There are a couple dead-end streets where you can glimpse the canal when you stroll through the neighborhood. Walk with me, and I’ll show you the canal and tell you a little bit about Gerritsen Beach’s history.
Head for Fane Court
The B31 bus runs down Gerritsen Avenue. Get off at the Gotham Avenue stop. This is the street you should walk down to find my favorite spot for viewing Shell Bank Canal.
Before you start your stroll, go inside Gerritsen Beach Library for a moment. It’s located across from the bus stop. The library, which opened in 1997, underwent 11 months of repairs after Superstorm Sandy.
The head of Shell Bank Canal is located right behind the library. You can catch a glimpse of the calm waters through the library windows. The canal ends at a body of water called Shell Bank Creek.
When you go back outside, walk down Gotham Avenue. By the way, Marine Park (meaning Marine Park the public recreation area) is located on the opposite side of Gerritsen Avenue from the library. New nature trails opened in the park last year. You should come back another day and check them out.
As you walk down Gotham Avenue, you’ll see winterized bungalows and stand-alone houses with small front yards. The backs of the homes with even-numbered addresses are on Shell Bank Canal.
About halfway down Gotham Avenue, you’ll find Fane Court, which is where you turn left. This street dead-ends at the beautiful canal.
‘Artificial pleasurecraft waterway’
A developer called Realty Associates created Shell Bank Canal in the 1920s as an amenity for Gerritsen Beach, the neighborhood the firm brought into being on a salt marsh it filled in with sand.
The Brooklyn Eagle’s electronic archives from the 1920s and 1930s — which can be accessed through a portal the Brooklyn Public Library maintains — contain numerous articles about the development of Gerritsen Beach.
A story the Eagle published in July 1924 referred to the canal, where bulkheads had recently been installed, as an “artificial pleasurecraft waterway.” The canal is 145 feet wide and 1,500 feet long, this story said.
If you decide to search the Eagle’s archives for stories about the neighborhood, you need to know that in some of them, its name is spelled “Gerrittsen Beach” with two T’s.
By the way, it’s worthwhile to walk to the end of Gotham Avenue so you can get a look at Shell Bank Creek. There are lots of boats docked on the creek, even though it’s winter.
Whatever direction you choose to walk, this neighborhood is scenic. When I was there the other day, I focused mostly on the Old Section of Gerritsen Beach, which is south of Shell Bank Canal.
Gotham Avenue is north of the canal in Gerritsen Beach’s New Section. When I was done strolling down that street, I doubled back and headed for Gerritsen Avenue, where I turned right. I passed St. James Lutheran Church, which was built in 1924 and 1925.
A September 1924 Eagle story that mentioned the construction of St. James also said Realty Associates sold a site on Gerritsen Avenue to Bishop Thomas Molloy for the Catholic Parish of the Resurrection’s construction.
I walked down to Bartlett Place, which is on the south side of Shell Bank Canal, and turned onto the closest side street, which is called Abbey Court.
The side streets are laid out with their names in alphabetical order. The streets are very narrow, which is part of their charm.
After that, I walked along Lois Avenue, and also Noel Avenue. The houses on both these streets are especially beautiful.
Realty Associates built Gerritsen Beach with astonishing speed because the developer used factory-cut lumber and standardized construction plans and deployed a corps of 500 laborers, historian Thomas Campanella wrote in a 2018 City Lab story.
Many of the side streets in the Old Section dead-end at Plumb Beach Channel. Gain Court properties on the Plumb Beach Channel shoreline are especially pretty.
A Realty Associates advertisement published in the April 6, 1930 edition of the Eagle used a little poetic license in describing Gerrittsen Beach — the ad spells it with two T’s — as “an ideal all-year home community at the seashore in the city.”
If you’re going to be literal about it, several things stand between Gerritsen Beach and the Atlantic Ocean seashore: Plumb Beach Channel, then Plumb Beach, then Rockaway Inlet and then the Rockaway Peninsula.
The advertisement offered houses for sale priced at $4,550 and up.
West of Noel Avenue, there’s a cluster of short, picturesque streets between Seba and Cyrus avenues.
These sweet streets — Nova Court, Melba Court, Lester Court and Keen Court — dead-end on Shell Bank Creek, where you can get good looks at docked boats in the serene water.
The view of Shell Bank Creek from the end of Cyrus Avenue is pretty great, too.
By the way, William Greve, who headed Realty Associates, is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in a tomb that looks like a miniature Classical temple.
North of Cyrus Avenue, there’s another grouping of short streets you need to see: Merit Court, Landis Court and Kay Court.
And just north of them, the end of Bartlett Place affords yet another good view of Shell Bank Creek.
You’re either a big fan of Gerritsen Beach, like me, or you’ve never visited the neighborhood.
If you fall into the latter category, you possibly know about Gerritsen Beach anyway because of news stories about the damage Superstorm Sandy inflicted on the neighborhood in October 2012.
Residents have worked hard to renovate and rebuild their homes after the killer storm.
The city mistakenly classified Gerritsen Beach as a Zone B area before Superstorm Sandy blew into town, which meant that evacuation wasn’t mandatory in the neighborhood.
The experts wrongly assumed the nearby Belt Parkway would protect Gerritsen Beach from inundation. Instead, a 10-foot storm surge flooded nearly all of Gerritsen Beach’s approximately 1,800 houses.
In Superstorm Sandy’s aftermath, residents had to do mold cleanup as well as home repairs. Gerritsen Beach’s volunteer fire department, Gerritsen Beach Cares and the Gerritsen Beach Long Term Recovery Project played major roles in reviving the neighborhood.
Some houses had to be torn down.
Many property owners constructed new foundations to raise their homes several feet above the ground to comply with flood-protection regulations. The city-administered, federally funded Build It Back program and the state Project UPLIFT program have channeled rebuilding funds to the neighborhood.
And the work continues.
In September, the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development decided to buy three flooded Gerritsen Beach properties so affordable one- or two-family homes could be built on them, Clifford Michel reported in THE CITY, in a story the Eagle republished.
More alphabet soup
I took so many photos in Gerritsen Beach’s Old Section that I ran out of time for a full-scale walk through the New Section, which is north of Shell Bank Canal.
The side streets in the New Section are also laid out in alphabetical order. But the names are completely different from the ones in the Old Section.
There’s Aster Court, Bevy Court, Celeste Court, Dictum Court, Ebony Court and others in the New Section — charming names for charming, narrow streets.
I did get a chance to watch the sunset over Shell Bank Creek at the end of Devon Avenue, which is in the New Section. It was a sight worth seeing.
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you. Click here to read about some of my favorites — for instance, the apartment building Charles Pratt constructed in what is now the Greenpoint Historic District.