The Wind-Swept Platform
I was only eight years old, and our country was in the midst of World War II when my mother married my step-father. My mother chose to have her wedding in a church she had attended in her childhood more than thirty years earlier. The church, St. John's Methodist Episcopal, was located on the southwest corner of Bedford Avenue and Wilson Street in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
My mother had a very nice wedding there, but she was amazed to see how the membership of the church had declined and how the property had deteriorated. The church, which had been built in 1868, was a huge stone edifice with a 100 foot frontage on Bedford Avenue, and it extended down Wilson Street 170 feet. The church steeple rose 180 feet into the air! Years of declining membership and deferred maintenance had taken their toll, and the building which had been built for a membership of 1200 was now being maintained by a membership of less than 50! My mother and step-father decided they would become regular members and attempt to help save her childhood church.
This was a great idea except that our home was at the opposite end of Brooklyn in Cypress Hills. It was WW II, and our best means of transportation was the Jamaica el. We made many trips back and forth over the next few years! We would get on at the Crescent Street station, walk half way down the wide center-island platform, and board the middle of the next New York bound train. We would get off the train 14 stops later at the Marcy Avenue Station and have quite a walk to Bedford Avenue and Wilson Street.
The going-to-church part of the trip was fine; it was the going-home-after-church part that I found nerve-racking! After church we would walk back to Marcy Avenue, climb the stairs, pay our nickel fares, and at my mom's insistence, walk to the eastern end of the platform so that we could board the front of the first car of the six-car steel train for our trip back to Crescent Street.
In the 1940's the Marcy Avenue Station was the most dilapidated, narrow side platform station of any on the Broadway-Brooklyn line! It had been completely ignored 25 years earlier when all the other stations along Broadway had been rebuilt with concrete platforms! The station had a wood platform which got progressively narrower the further we walked! It was completely open to the elements, and I swear it was only about four feet wide at the point where we would stop to wait for the train. When the train did come, we always seemed to be right at the proper point where the first set of doors of the first car would open. I learned one of my first facts about New York City Transit when I asked my mother how she knew where to stand: she pointed out the six-car stop marker to me, and we would always stand approximately 10 feet west of it on the platform.
The Marcy Avenue Station didn't just scare me -- it terrified me! Here we were in all kinds of weather standing on a four-foot-wide wooden platform, waiting for a train. The only protection we had from falling off into the street was a two-pipe rail fence very similar to those used today on the trackside walkways on the els. Mom always had a grip on my left hand, and she told me to hang on to the railing with my right hand. On one of our first trips, she grabbed the railing to show me how sturdy it was -- it shook so badly that I was even more afraid! I couldn't help but think if she had shaken it a little harder, it would have fallen to the street! (I think my experiences on this el station are what has given me a lifetime fear of heights!) Due to my fears, I was convinced the Marcy Avenue station was further above the ground surface than any other station on the line! It sure looked like a long way down! I got the distinct impression that my step-father wasn't very happy walking out this island-in-the-sky either, but he never said a word. He just quietly brought up the rear.
The whole purpose of this life-threatening walk was to be on the front of the train so that when we got to Crescent Street we could quickly exit the train, enter the station house, go down the stairs, and walk home. We walked out that narrow Marcy Avenue platform in winter, summer, spring, and fall. I had visions of the winter wind blowing me right off that platform to the street below where the ambulance people would have to scrape me off the macadam with a putty knife! Every time we climbed the stairs to that station, I prayed a train would come in as we were paying our fare so that we would have to get on in the middle of it. I would have much preferred walking the wide Crescent Street platform when we got off as compared to the Marcy Avenue platform walk before we got on the train. I can only remember one incident when it was raining so hard that my mom decided to wait for the train in the shelter of the station house. Since we had avoided walking the plank, I thought that trip home was great!
Over the years we made the trip back and forth between Crescent Street and Marcy Avenue many, many times. My parents, along with the remaining members of the congregation, worked hard in their attempts to save the church; my mother was appointed Sunday School superintendent and was the first woman elected to the church's Board of Trustees. They organized church bazaars and put on plays and musicals to raise funds. It was a losing battle, however, as it was just impossible to increase the membership of a protestant church located in the middle of what had become a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. The deteriorating condition of the building finally forced the church to close in 1949, and I understand the building was razed in the early 1950's. It was a shame such a stately building had to be demolished. If it still existed today, I am sure it would be one of Brooklyn's landmarks.
I was sorry to see the church close, but I certainly was not sorry to give up our walks on that dilapidated Marcy Avenue platform! About ten years later, I worked for a short period of time on Wall Street. My travels to and from work resulted in my passing Marcy Avenue twice a day on the el. On each pass I would remember the traumatic experiences from my youth and would get weak in the knees just thinking about it!
I recently saw a railfan video of what that station looks like today -- it obviously has been through several rebuilds and doesn't begin to resemble its appearance of the 1940's. While I haven't seen the station in person in more than 40 years, I wonder if I could actually walk the new platform today without my old fears returning.
©2002 MyRecollection.com. and Karl Burkhardt