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What's Up With Parkville?

Feb 18, 2015 1:50 PM | 1 comment

I have a confession to make. Up until this past November I wasn't a Brooklynite. I've been teaching students to love Brooklyn but, for the past six years, I've been living in Astoria, Queens. Now, don't go thinking I'm ashamed - I have tons of Queens pride. But, in the spirit of having a shorter commute and fewer (read: zero) roommates, I've moved to South Brooklyn. 

I mentioned to a friend that I'd moved to Kensington and, upon telling him what my cross streets were, he retorted, "No, you live in Parkville." Naturally, I was offended. First of all, I teach kids about Brooklyn's history so you'd think I'd have my neighborhoods down by now. What's more, you would think I would know my own neighborhood, right? 

Apparently not.

Parkville is one of those wonky neighborhoods that isn't often referenced because a) it is tiny and b) it is old and has since been swallowed up by other neighborhoods. So, I embarked on a tiny quest to learn a few things about my tiny new neighborhood. Want to know what's up with Parkville? Here, here's what's up. 

The neighborhood of Parkville sits just below Kensington and is often lumped in with it. The border streets are 18th Avenue to Avenue H and from Coney Island Avenue to McDonald Avenue. You can see an odd little diagonal street grid that goes against the more dominant perpendicular grid. Notice the red circle in the below image. 

"Brooklyn." Google. 12 Jan. 2015. 

And a close up.

"Parkville." Google. 12 Jan. 2015.

Parkville's history begins with the construction of the Coney Island Plank Road (now Coney Island Avenue). Though a path had existed for many years, an official road opened in 1850 to improve access to Coney Island, which, with the 1824 creation of the Coney Island Hotel, had become a popular tourist destination for the rich. Originally a wooden plank road, it was graded and turnpiked by 1860. The communities of Windsor Terrace and Parkville popped up along this scenic route as havens from the bustle of Brooklyn and pit stops on the way south. 

Toll gate on Coney Island Plank Road. 1857. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Called Greenville until the 1870s, the land that would become Parkville was purchased by the Freeman's Association in 1852. They then bought the Ditmas farm to the north giving them about 114 acres of land to parcel and resell. 1853 brought graded tree-lined streets, wells, and a growing population. By 1860, Greenville boasted a population of 200.  

F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island, N.Y. New York: F.W. Beers and Co., 1873. Print. 

During the 1870s Parkville gained more folks and thus needed more services. PS 92 was constructed to serve the neighborhood's youth. The school was later renamed PS 134 and was replaced by this hulking beauty in 1906.

PS 134. 1906. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Around the turn of the century nearly 400 public schools were either designed or supervised by C.B.J Snyder. Snyder was the Superintendent of School Buildings from 1891-1923 and he introduced the very popular H-shape and designed some of NYC's most beautiful public school buildings. The inscription on the bottom right of the above photo reads "CBJ Snyder archt." 

St. Rose of Lima, one of the few Catholic Churches outside the then Town of Brooklyn, was also built in 1870. No longer did Parkville's Catholics need to travel into Brooklyn for mass. The current structure was finished in 1925 and today has services in both English and Spanish as well as both a Pakistani and Filipino apostolate.

St. Rose of Lima R.C. Church. 1932. Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection. 

Oh, and Mary Tyler Moore went to Sunday school here. So, there's that. 

The late 1870s brought the picturesque Ocean Parkway through the neighborhood. Designed by Calvert Vaux and Fredric Law Olmsted (of Central and Prospect Parks as well as Eastern Parkway fame), Ocean Parkway is known for having the first municipal bike lane in the United States (1894). Brooklynites have always been really into bikes

Parkville was part of Flatbush until 1894, when the then City of Brooklyn annexed the area. (Maybe Brooklyn was jealous of Flatbush's new bike path?!) Consolidation in 1898 would make Brooklyn into one of New York City's five boroughs and continue to swell its population with large apartment buildings popping up on Ocean Parkway in the early twentieth century.

Desk Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. New York: E. Beecher Hyde, Inc., 1921. Print. 

Out of curiosity I wanted to see when my building was built so went hunting for its Certificate of Occupancy. If you've never looked up your building you 100% should. Sometimes the NYC Department of Buildings shares amazing tidbits with you like this one:

Certificate of Occupancy. New York: New York City Department of Buildings, 1964. Print.

My building was built in the early 1960s and used to have an outdoor pool! It is most certainly gone now. Either that or I am completely oblivious to my surroundings at all times. 

While researching for this entry I stumbled across a few great stories about Parkville's residents. One stands out and that is the one I shall tell you now. Be forewarned, if you're squeamish perhaps you should just stop reading now. It's about to get a little sad and a lot bloody. 

One of Parkville's early prominent residents was named Mortimer Tunison. Mort for short. Mort became a fixture of the neighborhood when he opened a hotel on the corner of what is now Foster Avenue and Coney Island Avenue in 1860. You can see his establishment in bottom right of the below map: M.C. Tunison Hotel.

 

F.W. Beers Atlas of Long Island N.Y. New York: F.W. Beers and Co., 1873. Print. 

Mort's name pops up in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle a few times in the 1860s: he was an inspector for the Democratic Committee (though I don't know what that means), a witness to a shooting, hosted political meetings at his hotel, and was an all around standup guy. In 1866 a law was passed in New York State closing saloons on Sundays. The Excise law, as it was called, impacted many hotels and saloons on the Coney Island Road as Sunday was the most popular day for tourists to take the road and, because of that, the most lucrative day for saloon owners. Mort's hotel was clearly not just a bar; it served as a community center and thus it survived the law's passage. The Eagle commented that "There are still, however, a few good hotels on the road that can stand the pressure, and first of all comes the well-known establishment kept by Mortimer Tunison, familiarly known as 'Mort.' This is the headquarters not only of the roadman, but of all classes that patronize the road, and has all the requisite accommodations, drawing rooms, handsome gardens and shrubbery on the one side, for the accommodation of ladies and children, and on the other, the extensive piazza and bar room, where Michael Rickards presides."

Michael Rickards was such a well-known bartender that he actually had his photo published in the Eagle.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 July 1905.

He appears in the New York State census record from 1865 along with all the other residents of Tunisons:

Mort (50), Mort's (much younger) Irish wife Mary Ann (30), his daughters Harriet (16), Mary (9), and Rachel (3), his brother Samuel, Michael the bartender, as well as four domestics (three of whom were also Irish). 

New York State Census Bureau. Flatbush, N.Y. 1865. Print. 

Mort was described by friends as a man with a "singularly joyous temperament" who was "an inveterate practical joker. Nothing pleased him better than to get his friends into jocular entanglements." He was also quite the pillar of morality and was "intolerant of anything unseemly, and nothing of the kind was ever attempted at his place." It was said that men's wives and daughters were just as safe at Tunison's as they were in their own parlors. Alas, not even Mort's impenetrable parlor could save Mort from himself.

As Ocean Parkway developed, the Coney Island Road felt the effect. Many hotels and stores picked up and moved their business to take advantage of the well-traveled Parkway. Mort refused, and tried to keep his place of business exactly as it had been for the previous twenty years. Sadly, his finances took a hit as his rooms and bar sat empty. There is a good chance that Mort's attention lay not on his finances (or lack theirof) in the late 1870s, rather on his ailing daughter, Mamie. In 1876 she took ill with consumption, dying in the Spring of 1878. Mamie "was a beautiful and accomplished young lady, the light and life of the family circle." After her death, Mort's health began to deteriorate. He "became affected with a crossing in his eyes which entierly altered his natural cast of countenance and his family and friend were reluctantly forced to realize the fact that his once vigorous mind was disturbed." 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Oct. 1879.

On the morning of October 30th, 1879, Mort's brother went to wake him. Upon entering his room "a shocking spectacle met his gaze. Reclining on the bed was the dead body of his brother, with a ghastly wound in the neck, from which the blood had poured in a thick stream over the bed and on the floor. An open razor, with which he had evidently cut his throat, was lying on the floor close to the side of the bed."

Yikes.

It is clear by the outpouring of kind words that Mort was to be missed. Sadly, his memory would become ever so slightly tarnished by an event that would happen a few years later in his old hotel. 

Nothing immoral ever happened in Tunison's Hotel, but the same cannot be said for the National Hotel, the name by which Tunison's would go when it was sold to one Christopher A. Plath in 1883. Plath also owned the Palace House at 283 Bowery in Manhattan. Just so we're all on the same page, the Bowery was known for its dance halls, drinking establishments, and brothels in the 1880s. The National Hotel was managed by a Mr. and Mrs. Cole, both of whom had records for violating the Sunday drinking law. 

On March 15th, 1884, a Mrs. Mabel Robinson met her tragic end in the parlor of the hotel. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 15 Mar. 1884.

Slumped in a chair. Naked. Burned. 

Double yikes. 

The Eagle followed the story. Mrs. Robinson was separated from her husband (not the first time) and had fled to a friend's in Brooklyn. The reason for the separation was said to be Mrs. Robinson's love of the drink, though later reports claim it was actually her husband's drinking that caused the drama. Regardless, an unnamed informant reported that Mrs. Robinson had been at the hotel visiting her close friend Mrs. Cole for about a week before her demise and, during that time, she had allegedly 'entertained' a few gentlemen. That fact was never substantiated. It was also said that Mrs. Robinson had been seen wandering the neighborhood intoxicated and with a strange man the evening before her death. 

Mrs. Cole was the last person to see Mabel alive. And the first to see her dead! (It's like an Agatha Christie novel!)

Mrs. Cole's testimony appeared in the Eagle on March 17th, 1884:

I reside at present at Parkerville* L.I., at a place commonly called Tunison: had been acquainted with deceased about one year... I had just got into bed when I heard a scream; I ran downstairs at once and saw deceased running through the "green room" enveloped in flames; I ran to the kitchen and, procuring a pail of water, threw it upon her; after throwing the water upon her she arose and ran into the parlor, where I tried to pull off her burning clothing, but it was unsuccessful; I then ran upstairs and told Mrs. Hogan** who came downstairs with me to the parlor, and we there found deceased sitting in a chair dead; her clothing which consisted of a flannel petticoat, chemise stockings and knit undershirt, were still burning.

* Parkerville? I don't know what that's about.

**A friend staying in the hotel 

Mrs. Cole goes on to say that she discovered a shattered lamp in the kitchen and that she had locked the doors with Mrs. Robinson inside before retiring. With the facts as presented, three theories arose: Mabel let a jealous lover in who struck her with a lit oil lamp, a forlorn Mabel struck herself with a lit oil lamp, or Mabel knocked into a lit oil lamp on accident and lit herself on fire. All three theories involved an intoxicated Mabel.

The most accepted theory seemed to be the latter: a terrible terrible terrible terrible accident. Terrible.

So, that's Parkville. I know, right?

It is amazing to stand on the corner of Foster and Coney Island Avenue today and know that Tunison's Hotel once stood there. And as a final hurrah here is an actual picture of Tunison's! The image accompanied a nostalgic article about old Brooklyn. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 23 July 1905.

Needless to say, I am now super stoked to know that I live in Parkville and have been telling all of my friends about the history of my tiny neighborhood ad nauseam. 

Parkville Pride! I'm making t-shirts. 

Comments

3/10/2015 8:00:21 AM #

Hi...my father's Norwegian parents built a new house (1/2
of a duplex) in 1919 on the corner of Walsh Court and Ave I.
306 Walsh Court. Oscar Jensen was an electrical engineer trained in Arendal, Olga carstensen was also from Arendal but they met in Bklyn n a singing society and married 12-12-1912.  My father was born in the house in January 1920 before the electricity was turned on, they borrowed a Ford Model-T lamp from a neighbor. That street was new so that when it was paved in the late 1920's, it was flat (not over cobbles) so that every kid in that area rollerskated on Walsh court.  My father Carrsten and his brother De got to be excellent skaters and street hockey players so that it was not difficult for them to become excelent ice hockey payers.  this was a fact that was difficult to explain to my canadian  friends...lots more to tell.  Go Parkville!

Vicki Jenssen