Situated on the southwestern tip of Brooklyn, Bay Ridge was originally part of a tract of land purchased from the Nyack Indians by the Dutch West India Company in 1652. Initially called Yellow Hook for the yellow clay found there, the name was changed when the city was overrun by yellow fever and the color quickly fell out of favor. In 1853 the community was renamed after its two main geographic features: Upper New York Bay and the glacial ridge that runs along present day Ridge Boulevard.
With the turn of the century, Bay Ridge began to change from land crossed by cow paths to a community of wealthy residential streets. By 1898, when the city of Brooklyn was consolidated with Greater New York, rich industrialists hurried to build summer mansions along the bluffs overlooking the narrow entrance to New York Harbor. The center of Brooklyn’s high society was the Crescent Athletic Club (now Fort Hamilton High School), where members often arrived by private boat from Manhattan.
Bay Ridge’s special status as a rural/suburban retreat was altered forever in 1915 with the arrival of the Fourth Avenue subway line. Most of those early mansions and villas – except for Fontbonne Hall Academy (9901 Shore Road) now a private girl’s school – have been replaced by high rise apartment buildings. But even today, homes on the crest of the Ridge, from 80th to 83rd Streets and Colonial to Shore Roads are among the best and most expensive the city has to offer. No trip to Bay Ridge is complete without a glimpse of the landmarked Gingerbread House (82nd Street and Narrows Avenue), a huge, fanciful cottage of stone and imitation thatch.
Almost all of the houses in Bay Ridge are well-maintained one and two family brick, brownstone, or limestone, or large frame houses with bay fronts, garages, basements and lawns. Many of the older apartment buildings have interior courtyards.
Third Avenue is home to a lively combination of stylish boutiques, bars, restaurants and mom and pop stores and the site of the annual fall Ragamuffin Parade. The Third Avenue Merchants Association of Bay Ridge, one of the oldest merchants’ associations in New York, sponsors the Third Avenue Festival each fall. Fifth Avenue also home to wonderful shops, restaurants and bars has an active merchants association. In fact, the Fifth Avenue Board of Trade in 2007 formed Bay Ridge’s second Business Improvement District.
Bay Ridge has a number of wonderful parks and recreational facilities. In addition to Leif Ericson Park, Owl’s Head Park overlooks the Harbor and is a place where families love to picnic on the bluffs. There is also Shore Road Park that runs between the Belt Parkway and the Narrows for two and a half miles from the Verrazzano Bridge to the 69th Street Pier which offers a stop on the NYC Ferry Route and is a popular fishing spot. This strip offers joggers, bikers and walkers, and carriage pushers a dramatic view of New York Harbor.
Bay Ridge has worked hard to maintain a small town feeling. It is a very active community with over 100 local organizations including PTAs, civic, trade, and block associations under the umbrella of the Bay Ridge Community Council. The Council sponsors the annual Halloween art contest during which students paint murals on store windows. Known as a bustling shopping area, 86th Street offers a variety of stores and shops. 86th Street was Bay Ridge’s First Business Improvement District. It has now attracted popular retail chains such as Gap, Children’s Place, Foot Locker, Banana Republic, PC Richard & Sons, Zales, Pandora, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works and many others, as well as a number of fast food eateries.
Excerpts taken from The Brooklyn Neighborhood Book Published by The Fund for the Borough of Brooklyn, Inc., 1985.