Brooklynites know Metropolitan Avenue as an east-west thoroughfare dividing the north and south sections of Williamsburg (though others consider Grand Street the true divider). It’s a street that holds some sentiment for me, as in 2010 lamppost maven Bob Mulero and I curated a NYC lamppost exhibition at the City Reliquary at 370 Metropolitan Avenue at Havemeyer Street.
I took advantage of a sunny weekend day to march the entire 13 miles (or so my iPhone indicated) of Metropolitan Avenue from the East River waterfront all the way to Jamaica, where Metropolitan peters out at the Van Wyck Expressway and Jamaica Avenue. It’s a relatively easy walk, which took me about six hours since I was constantly stopping for photographs. If you want a real workout and you’re younger than I am, you could probably power-walk the whole length in less than five hours, especially if you have good luck catching green lights.
Metropolitan Avenue was laid out in the early 19th century as the Williamsburg and Jamaica Plank Road, and was tolled in various locations. It was a farm-to-market road plied by farmers bringing wares to East River barges and then back east through fields and meadows to the town of Jamaica.
The land was sparsely settled in the early days, and the plank road was intersected only by Fresh Pond Road, 80th Street and Woodhaven Boulevard, which were all differently named then. It ran through the lost communities of Winantville and Columbusville, as well as a locale whose name is still used today, Middle Village, so named for its central location between Williamsburg and Jamaica.
While Metropolitan Avenue is a busy truck route, fast and furious in some sections, especially through All-Faiths (Lutheran) Cemetery and St. John’s Cemetery, in other places it is a clogged two-lane road. If you use your imagination a bit you can envision it plunging through farms and fields, populated by horses and carts.
After crossing Newtown Creek, which reaches its southern limit at Metropolitan Avenue, you run past junkyards, auto salvage joints and railroad tracks. You then encounter two or three buildings bearing the name “Bohack.”
Henry C. Bohack, a German immigrant, opened his first grocery in 1887. As time went on, Bohack became the city’s first well-known grocery store chain. Grand Union, Key Food and all the rest were to follow.
Though the Depression was devastating to many chain stores, Bohack was the exception. It remained so popular it could actually afford to expand and hire additional workers. Henry C. passed away in 1930.
Bohack prospered until 1974, when the chain went bankrupt; a merger with Shop-Rite failed in 1977. Occasionally, though, a “Big B” sign can be seen again when an older sign or awning is taken down.
Flushing and Metropolitan avenues were the center of the Bohack empire, as its offices and warehouses were located here in several buildings that still stand. (One, with a smokestack bearing the company name, is shown above.) In the near-triangle formed by Flushing Avenue and Troutman Street stands a former Bohack restaurant, today recognizable only by a few Big Bs on the Flushing Avenue side.
Pressing east into Ridgewood, between Harman Street and Forest Avenue you may be in the mood for some soft-serve ice cream. I always am, and so I almost always patronize this roadside Carvel, which still has what must be close to its original signage, as well as what once were a pair of rotating ice cream cones perched above. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy made quick work of the ice cream part, but shards of it remain.
Take a quick left turn on 60th Street, and just past 62nd Avenue there is a gravel driveway and a group of Dumpsters. Make your way past those, and you’ll wind up at Metropolitan Oval, which has a fine view of Midtown Manhattan.
The Oval has been used continuously for soccer since 1925 and has been the proving ground for several well-known pros, such as Tony Meola, Werner Roth, Tab Ramos and Eason Nascimento (Pele’s son). The field, home to a U.S. Soccer Development Academy, develops young soccer talent and hosts about 20 matches per week.
Met Oval had fallen into decrepitude and disrepair a few years ago but half a million dollars from the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Nike turned it around, providing it with FieldTurf, a state-of-the-art playing surface. Your best bet to see a match is on weekends.
A mile east on Metropolitan Avenue, past the Metro Mall and All-Faiths (Lutheran) Cemetery is a convenient place if you are beginning to tire: an endpoint of the M train, which during the week runs from here over the Williamsburg Bridge into Manhattan and then up 6th Avenue and east back into Queens, where it terminates at 71st/Continental in Forest Hills.
In its early days, the station was the terminus for a steam railroad that led from Ridgewood to the Queens cemetery belt. The station was quite small-town, even rural, in aspect until this modern structure arrived in the 1970s.
On the corner of Metropolitan and 69th Street is the magnificent Frank T. Lang Building, with its rough stone exterior, church-like peaked windows, marble name tablet and what look like two laughing cats perched on its parapets. Currently in use as an auto parts shop, it was constructed by Lang, a manufacturer of gravestones and mausoleums, as his office.
A Bohack gas station was once located on the ground floor, but it was a short-lived foray by the supermarket conglomerate. Lang went out of business in 1946.
Businesses Mentioned Above