Home Subway History Photo: A Brooklyn headhouse, through the years

Photo: A Brooklyn headhouse, through the years

by Benjamin Kabak

A Library of Congress print shows the Atlantic Ave. connection between the subway and elevated.

While browsing through NYCSubway.org over the weekend, I came across a few photos of the Atlantic Ave. headhouse. The one above, along with this postcard, show the headhouse as it was when the elevated trains still ran up and down Flatbush Ave. The building today is symbolic, but it once served a purpose.

As I leafed through the pages of photos, I saw the headhouse evolve over time. The elevated trains came down, and the subway systems were unified. The Atlantic Ave. headhouse became a relic amidst busy streets, unused and falling into a state of disrepair. A photo from 1997 shows the headhouse at its worst.

At some point, Arts for Transit took over the building, and today, it sits majestically and silently in the middle of the triangle formed by Flatbush, Fourth and Atlantic Aves. A 2008 photo shows the restored headhouse, and its Arts for Transit page discusses how the headhouse now serves as an artistic skylight for those folks waiting on the Brooklyn-bound local IRT tracks.

The photos made me ponder the changes in our system. Once we had elevateds; now we by and large do not. Where will we be in another 100 years? What infrastructure will still be used? What will be gone? What new things will take its place? The city’s transportation landscape must be ever-changing to keep up with demand, but sometimes, it seems stuck in time.

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19 comments

Kevin Li March 7, 2012 - 5:01 pm

Maybe I’m looking at the photo wrong, but the head house looks much larger than in the 1997 one.

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John Paul N. March 7, 2012 - 5:14 pm

I wish that very entrance could be reopened. I often want the north side of Atlantic Avenue and it sucks having to backtrack to Pacific or Flatbush and crossing the busy streets.

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BoerumHillScott March 8, 2012 - 6:59 am

It would be very nice for me if they could reopen it, but there is no real way to do it without lots of excavation for a new fare control area, or an expansion of the head house that would totally change what it looks like from 3 sides.

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Phantom March 7, 2012 - 6:11 pm

Cool photo.

I didn’t know what the function of that small building was.

– – –

NY won’t get the major transit improvements it needs unless it can find a way to deal with eye popping costs and graft without end.

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Emilio March 7, 2012 - 6:32 pm

“Once we had elevateds; now we by and large do not.”

Hmm, true if you’re talking about Manhattan, where save for the 1-line, elevated subway is now history. But there are more miles of elevated lines in Queens and the Bronx than underground, and in Brooklyn it’s almost a wash if you add open cut to the non-covered list.

There seems to be a correlation between leaving creaky elevated lines and a neighborhood’s affluence, but I won’t make it.

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Alon Levy March 8, 2012 - 12:44 am

Riverdale. Astoria. Kensington.

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Evan March 8, 2012 - 4:55 pm

I wouldn’t say that Riverdale has an elevated line. The 1 ends in Kingsbridge.

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Bolwerk March 8, 2012 - 7:37 am

At least some of the correlation is, where did Al Smith or Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia live? Smith brought us Moses, who of course hated transit period. And the supposedly wonderful mayor, who further entrenched Moses, is actually responsible for a lot of the problems we have today.

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Phantom March 8, 2012 - 6:02 pm

Downtown Chicago’s ” Loop ” area is fairly affluent, with the elevated trains

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The Cobalt Devil March 8, 2012 - 10:18 am

Why is it that every single photo i see of NYC in late 19th-early 20th century shows spotlessly clean streets? Maybe less disposable items (candy wrappers, fast food containers) back in the day, or were NYers generally more clean?

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Steve March 8, 2012 - 11:13 am

Humans with brooms probably do a better jobs than street sweeper trucks.

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Nathanael March 11, 2012 - 9:45 pm

Yep. And LOTS of human cleaners were employed. I don’t have the references on me, but it might be fun for you to look up.

Before the armies of cleaners were employed, 19th century NYC looked abominably filthy….

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Phil March 8, 2012 - 11:20 am

Black and white photos don’t really show all the junk and soot that would collect back then.

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The Cobalt Devil March 8, 2012 - 11:41 am

Maybe, but they would pick up garbage in the gutter. That street and sidewalk are spotless. Why, you could eat of off them! 🙂

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petey March 8, 2012 - 2:19 pm

very interesting post, ben, thanks.

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Phantom March 8, 2012 - 6:08 pm

Does anyone know when the photo was taken? When this el was taken down?

I agree that the post is great. And will further say that the site is great – well written, nicely arrenged, focused.

Tremendous job.

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Joy March 9, 2012 - 1:25 am

I guess nobody photographed the building during the years that it served as a newspaper stand/candy store. I usually succumbed to buying a candy bar when I was waiting there for a bus. Across the street were a pawn shop and a florist.

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paulb March 11, 2012 - 9:17 am

I’m still not convinced the headhouse (I always thought it was called a control house) was so worth all that trouble to save it. The final result is disappointing, I think. But I agree that, overall, that intersection is transformed entirely for the better, even with the awful PC Richards building, compared with when I arrived in the neighborhood in the mid-70s. I think Cobalt Devil has a point about the cleanliness, considering a lot of transport along Atlantic Avenue would have been horse-drawn. New Yorkers should be embarrassed about how filthy the city is. I’ll never understand how the city fathers way back when didn’t allow for alleys behind buildings where trash could be placed and collected.

I’d like to see a new pedestrian/bike bridge over the East River. Or maybe in 100 years we’ll have alleys. Not.

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Nyland8 March 17, 2012 - 11:25 am

I think the High Bridge project will be opening about a year or two from now. I know someone who was bidding on the rehab and upgrades. That should be nothing less than a spectacular pedestrian/hpv bridge.

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