Walking Tour of Brooklyn’s Rich History

The Brooklyn Dodgers almost played at the Barclay Center
Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn

Most tourists head to Manhattan Island when visiting New York City. But there’s a lot of history in the other boroughs of New York City, especially Brooklyn, which would be the fourth largest city in the U.S. if it weren’t part of New York City, and may soon grow enough to surpass Chicago as number three.

Head to Atlantic Terminal, a massive hub in downtown Brooklyn, served by the Long Island Railroad as well as many of the subway lines. We’ll start our walking tour of historic Brooklyn there.

As you exit to the elements, you notice a towering building with a clock on top. This is the historic Williamsburg Savings Bank Building, now converted into beautiful residences. Norman Mailer once lived in the penthouse apartment, near the clock. The building can be seen for miles around downtown Brooklyn.

Brooklyn has a lot of history to explore
Williamsburg Savings Bank towers over downtown Brooklyn

Head to the building that says Barclays Center. It sits atop the Atlantic Terminal. This is a sports arena. Originally the Brooklyn Dodgers wanted to move here, but former city planner Robert Moses (famous for orchestrating the 1964 New York World Fair) nixed the idea, and the Dodgers left New York forever for greener pastures of California, much to the chagrin of New York’s Dodgers fans. For them, the boobie prize is a plaque at the bottom of the old Ebbets Field flagpole now installed in front of the Barclay Center which memorializes the old Dodgers of New York, all that is left of a mighty club.

You’ll find visitor friendly maps on the streets surrounding you that guide you through downtown Brooklyn. Barclay Center is at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, two main thoroughfares. Use one of the street maps to lead you to take Flatbush past a modern triangular building (now an Apple Store) and you’ll arrive at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), a concert, opera and entertainment mecca that competes with Broadway. Once at BAM, you’ll be next to Fulton Street, the oldest shopping street in America, and site of America’s original department store.

Fulton Street today is dominated by discount stores, but Macy’s has a flagship store here in the location of the original Abraham & Strauss (A & S), with an appropriate plaque commemorating this retail landmark. Around 500 Fulton but facing Dekalb Street is the majestic and historic pillared building — Dime Savings Bank — being redeveloped as a skyscraper.

Walk down Fulton Street and stop to give your attention at number 372, recently a vacant Arby’s and for rent. Fortunately, Arby’s did not disturb the historic interior finish where one of American’s most prestigious restaurants stood: Gage & Tollner, built in 1875, and in its heyday the place to celebrate a special occasion, frequented by Jimmy Durante, Mae West and Truman Capote. Hopefully the next tenant will keep the brass chandeliers, semi-circular bar, mirrored walls trimmed in cherry wood, and ornate bronze lincrusta wallcoating; straight out of the Gay Nineties. At the time, this was the only restaurant in New York City to have both gas and electric lighting.

Walk further along Fulton Street to the corner with a Bank of America. Here is the beginning of the only remnants of Red Hook Lane, which once ran from here to the Revolutionary War seaport, where the Brooklyn Navy Yard once stood. Red Hook Lane was originally a dirt road used by native Americans, one of the oldest roads in America, and the site of many battles between British and colonial troops. George Washington retreated to New Jersey on this road.

Nearby find Fort Greene, a fascinating historical site.

P.S.: Before you leave the area, head to Hill Country Barbecue for a Brooklyn rendition of Texas BBQ, food, music and atmosphere, at 345 Adams St. Not bad, and the prices are better than in Texas! Who says New York is expensive?

P.S.S.: If you have time and want to see what is reputed to be the coolest new-redevelopment in Brooklyn, head toward the Manhattan Bridge to the neighborhood known as DUMBO (down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass).

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