Forest Place today is barely a street—it’s a 275-foot-long alley behind a Volkswagen dealership, offering an unattractive, car-clogged shortcut between 90th Street and Fourth Avenue. But that’s merely all that’s left of one of the oldest streets in Bay Ridge, once a well-trod path that matured into a proper road. At its prime it was about 1,000 feet long, taking a crooked, illogical journey from what’s now 91st Street, west of Fourth Avenue, to 88th and Fifth, slicing through what’s now an apartment building and a few condos, sneaking behind Bay Ridge Volkswagen, cutting right through the 7-Eleven and Bay Ridge Honda, landing at the Century parking garage and making a hard right to the avenue. Once, it ran through woodlands; now, it runs through the opposite—car dealerships!
Bay Ridge used to have several similarly irregular roads, remnants of farm times that were laid over by the urban street grid. Van Brunt Lane became, more or less, 79th Street; Denyse Lane was demapped, surviving now in fragments of alleyways; and Couwenhoven Lane’s fate was like a mix of the two: part of it became Senator Street, part of it became houses and driveways and park.
Forest Place is farther south than those lanes, once on the northwestern outskirts of the village of Fort Hamilton, a few blocks’ worth of residence and commerce that sprung up around the army base. (Its sister village was Yellow Hook, later Bay Ridge.) The earliest mention of the street in the Brooklyn Eagle, whose archives date to 1841, is in 1859, when it appears in a listing of lots for sale in Fort Hamilton Village.
Forest Place wasn’t particularly popular; there are no photographs in the usual archives, hardly any mentions in old books or newspapers that would color in its history. The one exception is a tawdry news story from the New York Times, June 27, 1884, about a woman who shot herself.
Timothy Burton, a liquor saloon-keeper at Forest Place, a rural spot situated about three-quarters of a mile from Fort Hamilton, was sweeping the walk in front of his house at 7 o’clock yesterday morning when a boy came rushing up to him breathless with excitement. “Come at once to Joe Statler’s house,” exclaimed the youth; “he sent me for you. Mrs. Boone has shot herself.” Burton and a lad employed at the saloon crossed the strip of boggy road and made for Statler’s house [also on Forest Place]. It is a neat, white-painted, two-story frame building, almost hidden by willow trees, and adjoining it is a workshop where Joseph Statler, wheelwright and blacksmith, carries on his business.
There, they found Mrs. Hannah Boone, “insensible and weltering in blood.” She had shot herself in the center of her left breast, because Mr. Statler had called her a drunk, which she denied, and threatened to have her arrested. “I felt so bad about it that I hardly knew what to do,” she confessed to a judge. “This morning I took a pistol and shot myself.” (Burton, the saloon keeper, died on New Year’s Day 1891 when he got caught under a train that ran down Third Avenue, which dragged him to the end of the line and back, cutting him to pieces.)
Joseph Statler, a burly German, is a well-known resident of Forest Place and has carried on his business as a blacksmith in his present quarters for some fifteen years. About two years ago he commenced proceedings…to obtain a divorce from his wife, Mary Statler. There was no defense, and at the time the proceedings were pending Statler took into his house, ostensibly as housekeeper, Hannah Boone, a good-looking Frenchwoman, apparently not more than 30 years old, but in reality over 40. The woman had just come to the village with her husband and child, and after her intimacy with Statler commenced, her husband left her and went to Minnesota. Hannah Boone become greatly attached to Joseph…Statler, however, did not reciprocate in kind…The neighbors in all directions were aware of the infelicitous state of things in the Forest Place homestead. Matters grew worse.
The Eagle got different details: that the fateful fight was over gloves given to Boone’s daughter; that Boone’s ex-husband had died, and she had married Statler, whose name was spelled Stadler, and had taken his name. The reports share one detail: “The neighbors stated…that for the last two years Stadler and his wife have quarreled all the time, and if a day went by without a disagreement of some kind it was something very unusual.” (The following day the Eagle ran the judge’s account that also ran in the Times.)
In 1915, Joseph Statler died. His new housekeeper, Nannie Stocker, was to receive $800, while the remaining $8,000 would be split up between various Stockers and Statlers. Joseph’s son George sued the housekeeper, alleging she’d refused water to an ailing Joseph unless he executed a will in her favor. The elder Statler had trouble with housekeepers!
(His son George died three years later of lead poisoning, from the paint he used on the wagons he built for the business he’d inherited from his father. His widow took it over for a few years, but she sold the business and the house and the smithy were torn down in 1928, to become a “modern garage.” Joseph’s daughter Elizabeth lived in Bay Ridge until she died in 1952.)
Statler’s address in 1915 was given as 425 88th Street; reports of the shooting in the Eagle put him at 89th Street and Fourth Avenue. Either way, he probably lived along the eastern end of Forest Place, already long gone by the time of his death. That leg of it was closed in 1902.
“Forest place was laid out on the map of the former village of Fort Hamilton…being used as an old farm road,” Nelson P. Lewis, Chief Engineer of the Board of Estimate (like today’s City Council), told its chairman, former Brooklyn mayor Seth Low, in September 1902, according to minutes of the meeting.
Between Eighty-eighth street and Fourth avenue it has not been open to traffic for several years and all the existing buildings have been provided with access either to Fourth avenue or to Eighty-eighth street. Several buildings have also been erected which occupy or encroach upon the street as laid out.
There does not seem to be any use for the street at present. (Emphasis mine)
He recommended it be closed, which was presumably approved, as the road no longer exists. The remainder of its eastern end became 88th Street.
A few years later, in 1907, the Board of Estimate closed the southern/western end of Forest Place—the piece that ran parallel to Third and Fourth avenues, between 90th and 91st streets.
Most of Forest Place was strangely at odds with the street grid, but in such a way that the properties built along it could be accommodated by the newly imposed streets—they had access to Forest Place and 90th Street, or Forest Place and Fourth Avenue. The one exception was the leg that survives, headed northeast from 90th Street until it collides with Fourth Avenue. In 1905, three houses stood along this stretch of Forest Place, with access to Forest Place and Forest Place alone; today, two remain, Nos. 42 and 38.
The third, No. 44, was torn down in 2003, according to the department of buildings, and replaced with a parking lot for the Honda Certified Used Cars dealership next door. A tax photo from the ’80s shows that it stood on a grassy patch atop an old stone wall, which was probably there in one form or another for decades, a link to the old natural topography now lost under the parking lot’s raze.
“The two [remaining] homes were remodeled in the early 2000s,” Kevin Walsh reports at Forgotten NY, “and now have the unfortunate patina that recent renovations bring in Brooklyn.” On a recent visit to the street, two women sat on one’s balcony, speaking what sounded like Greek.
The odd triangular lot created by Forest Place today is a Volkswagen dealer. The earliest mention of the lot I could find was from 1911, a real estate ad for a “Corner Plot Which Must Be Sold at Once,” meaning that week. (The leg of Forest Place here, the one that still exists, is described as “not cut through,” probably meaning it hadn’t been paved or graded. In fact, “In the 1960s, when I first saw it, Forest Place wasn’t paved,” Walsh continues. “Today it’s still sidewalkless.”) The property was assessed at $6,000 (very roughly, about $150,000, adjusted for inflation). But a map from 1929 shows the lot still vacant. If it sold, the buyer didn’t do anything with it.
A photo of the lot, from 1939–41, shows a used-car dealership on the property.
The address, 8910 Fourth Avenue, first appears in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1949, as the address of Kings County Auto Exchange. In 1951, it was Brite Auto Sales, and shortly after it belonged to Prince Willys, Inc. The Prince family owned the lot until 1990, according to the department of finance, and eventually it was bought by Sabbagh/Gottlieb Realty II LLC—the company that tore down 44 Forest Place.