Explore the shore and see Victorian houses in Bath Beach
I hadn’t strolled around this charming Brooklyn neighborhood in the longest time.
When the sun came out the other day, the idea of taking a long walk by the glittering waters of Gravesend Bay, then looping through quiet streets looking for modernized Victorian houses, was irresistible.
An escape into the fresh air, where I found fab scenery, flocks of seagulls and a view of one of my favorite bridges, cheered me up immensely. Isn’t that what everybody needs these days — a little cheering up?
One of Bath Beach’s most alluring features is a pedestrian and cycling path at the edge of the neighborhood, right on the shoreline, with the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge rising high above the water.
So yeah, the Belt Parkway is there too, on the other side of a barrier. But I’m a very finicky person, and I don’t find the highway’s proximity too troubling. The sound of the passing cars is like white noise.
Bath Beach’s waterside pathway is an extension of Bay Ridge’s popular Shore Road Promenade. I’m a big fan of the Bay Ridge end of the promenade, and I’ve published photos of it many times, in sunshine and in fog. The Bath Beach end of the path is pretty great, too.
America’s longest suspension bridge
Before you head for Bath Beach, I should mention that you’ll need a heavier jacket than the day’s weather report suggests. Gravesend Bay’s waters are cold this time of year, and the breeze that comes off them is chilly.
If you don’t live in Bath Beach, the easiest way to get to the shoreline promenade is to ride the R train to its terminus at 95th Street and Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge.
Walk down Fourth Avenue for several blocks. Along the way, you’ll notice Cannonball Park. That’s what Bay Ridge residents call John Paul Jones Park. A 58-ton, Civil War-era cannon is on display there.
At the end of Fourth Avenue, the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge looms large. The promenade runs beneath it. Turn left, in the opposite direction from Lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Gravesend Bay begins at the bridge and stretches down to Sea Gate.
If you’re obsessed with taking pictures like I am, you’re going to stop a lot during your walk along the shoreline and turn yourself and your camera back toward the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge.
It’s America’s longest suspension bridge, with a 4,260-foot-long main span. Othmar Ammann, a structural engineer who was born in Switzerland, designed it. It opened in 1964.
You probably recall that for a half-century it was the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with one Z instead of two Zs like namesake explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano’s spelling. In October 2018, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill to correct this typo.
A military installation is two centuries old
When you start walking on the promenade, before Bath Beach homes come into view, you’ll see Fort Hamilton. It has the distinction of being New York City’s only active military base.
The fort was established in 1825. On special occasions, civilians are invited onto the premises. Several years ago, I had the honor of attending Fort Hamilton’s 9/11 commemorative ceremony.
On Sunday, when I was out on my waterside stroll, I saw a cargo ship heading toward Manhattan and a tiny tugboat pulling a big barge beneath the bridge. Runners and cyclists politely gave me a wide berth as I stood at a railing along the water, snapping photos.
High clouds made pretty patterns in the azure sky.
Whenever I was walking instead of gazing backwards at the bridge, I could see the top of the landmarked Coney Island Parachute Jump in the distance.
As I kept walking, the promenade became a double-lane pathway with a grassy median.
Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
At Bay 8th Street, there’s a hill with a staircase that leads to an overpass connecting the rest of Bath Beach to the promenade. It’s worthwhile to climb the stairs for a bird’s eye view of the promenade, the bay and the bridge.
Back down on the shoreline, there are benches if you want to linger and look at the water. When I was there on Sunday, a gentleman sat on one of the benches and fed seagulls and pigeons. They swirled around him like an avian tornado.
A second overpass connecting the shoreline and the rest of Bath Beach can be found at 17th Avenue. These stairs also offer an excellent vantage point from which to see the promenade and Gravesend Bay.
When seagulls aren’t being fed, they congregate on the rocky shoreline. Three of the birds flew up onto the railing along the promenade and stayed still long enough for me to snap a photo.
Say so long to the shoreline
The promenade comes to an end at the edge of Bensonhurst Park, which is at the bottom of Bay Parkway.
If you find it hard to leave the soothing shoreline, there’s a cluster of benches where you can sit and take a last look at Gravesend Bay. Eventually you should continue your walk, though. There are beautiful homes and an eye-catching NYPD stationhouse to see on the inland streets.
As you turn up Bay Parkway, you’ll see Ceasar’s Bay Shopping Center. According to a posting on the Hey Ridge website, it’s spelled C-E-A-sar like its namesake, Ceasar Salama.
Keep walking and you’ll pass a section of Bensonhurst Park that’s undergoing a $6.5 million renovation. It’s at the corner of Cropsey Avenue and Bay Parkway.
Any direction you choose is a good direction for a walk in Bath Beach. I decided to turn onto Bath Avenue, then loop around on Benson Avenue back to Bay Parkway.
I was afraid I would run out of time, so I left Cropsey Avenue out of my walk.There are lots of beautiful houses there. Several years ago, I took pictures of them.
Low-rise Bath Avenue is lined with grocers, medical offices, pharmacies and interesting places to eat.
Many Bath Beach homes are mid-20th century attached brick rowhouses with garages on their bottom floors. I dearly love this type of housing stock, which can be found in numerous neighborhoods outside Brooklyn’s Brownstone Belt.
But I also love the standalone Victorian houses that dot Bath Beach. They’ve got turrets and porches and panache. They’ve been modernized with siding. Some have walled-in porches. So what? They’re beautiful.
America’s largest concentration of Victorian wooden houses can be found in a cluster of Flatbush neighborhoods that includes Prospect Park South and Ditmas Park. The iconic homes are also scattered through southern Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Bay Ridge and Bath Beach.
As I walked along Bath and Benson avenues, I glanced up each side street. If I spotted a Victorian house, I walked over for a closer look. It was kind of like an Easter egg hunt when the eggs are placed out in the open. A quick look is all it took to find them.
One of Bath Beach’s Victorian gems is 122 Bay 26th St., which has a turret, a wraparound porch and an enormous yard. It’s not in the best of shape, but it’s lovely.
A stellar stationhouse
Another fine sight is a pair of homes at 8730 20th Ave. and 8732 20th Ave. Turrets on the corners of these houses look like silos.
To give you a rough idea of how Bath Beach Victorians are priced, the property at 8730 20th Ave., which is a two-family home, sold for $1.4 million in 2015, city Finance Department records indicate.
A couple blocks further down Bath Avenue, at the corner of Bay 22nd Street, you’ll see a distinguished wedge-shaped building. It’s made of red brick and stone and has a band of green-hued ornamentation below its roof.
This is the 62nd Precinct Police Station, as the name over the front door tells you. The building’s address is 1925 Bath Ave.
The neighborhoods included in the 62nd Precinct are Bath Beach, Bensonhurst and Mapleton.
As I continued walking on Bath Avenue, a terrific Victorian house at 137 Bay 11th St. caught my eye. The roof on its slender turret is shaped like a dinner bell.
I also noticed the skinny turret on the house at 1465 Bath Ave., which is on the corner of 15th Avenue.
Some big houses are eye-pleasing even though they don’t have Victorian architectural flourishes — for instance, four homes with sharply peaked roofs at 143, 145, 147 and 149 Bay 8th St.
When I got to the end of Bath Avenue, I turned onto 14th Avenue, walked up the block and then turned again onto Benson Avenue. I saw some beautiful homes I couldn’t photograph because the late-afternoon sun was right behind them.
I did get a picture of a row of four Victorian houses that have rectangular towers topped with little roofs shaped like witch’s hats.
Their addresses are 57 to 69 Bay 11th St.
As I continued along Benson Avenue, one of the most eye-catching buildings I saw was a modern brick and glass property on the corner of 18th Avenue. This is the Italian-American Cultural Community Center, also known as Il Centro. It has classrooms, a fitness facility, a swimming pool and event space.
Nearby, on the corner of Benson Avenue and Bay 20th Street, stunning St. Finbar stands. This Roman Catholic parish was established in 1880, when the village of Bath Beach was a mix of farms, resort homes, hotels and yacht clubs.
The parish’s website says the man who donated the site where the church was originally built, William Swayne, was from County Cork in Ireland. He asked that the church be named for St. Finbar, who was the first Bishop of Cork.
According to a posting on Catholic Online, legend has it that when St. Finbar died, which was around the year 633, the sun didn’t set for two weeks.
St. Finbar’s present-day church building was dedicated in 1912. A few years ago, volunteers did extensive interior restoration, my colleague Paula Katinas reported.
I can’t end this story without mentioning a trio of big, beautiful old houses.
They include 79 Bay 25th St., which is on the corner of Benson Avenue, then 75 Bay 25th St., then 67-69 Bay 25th St.
The last house I mentioned is clad in green-painted shingles and has an enormous front porch. City Buildings Department records suggest it was constructed in 1924.
Even with Daylight Saving Time, sunset arrives all too soon when you’re walking around taking photos. When it got too late to take any more pictures, I turned left on Bay Parkway and headed up to 86th Street, which is considered the border of Bath Beach and Bensonhurst.
There’s a D train station on the corner if you want to go home. Or you can get a bite to eat on 86th Street. There are lots of restaurants and cafes.
If you’re in the mood for an additional adventure, you can continue east on 86th Street to Gravesend, where you’ll find popular pizzeria L&B Spumoni Gardens.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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 Victorian Flatbush subway station that looks like a cottage in the Adirondacks.
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