Category: Archive

The last el from Brooklyn

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

She took her camera to downtown Brooklyn and spent hours capturing images for a photo essay about the final hours of a train that had run for 81 years. Exactly 40 years on, the New York Transit Museum is putting that essay on show for the first time.
King was by 1969 an established photographer, but she was drawn to the subject of the Myrtle Avenue el because she remembered it clearly from her childhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“We used to take that downtown,” she said. “And then because of so many circumstances that befell my family, my father had to move us to Brighton Beach.”
George King took a superintendent’s job in that Jewish neighborhood in a building a block and half from the beach.
Theresa King had been born in St. Vincent’s; her mother died 13 days later. She had a sister, who was four and half years older, and two brothers in the middle. (Her sister and brother live close to her today. Her other brother died two years ago.)
“I think they were very much in love,” she said about her parents who got married in 1928, “So it was very difficult for him.”
Her father was born to English parents, while her mother’s family was Irish. Her maternal grandmother was a Mayo immigrant who married an Irish-American from Sullivan Street.
“My two grandmothers never spoke to each other after my parents got married,” Theresa King said.
However, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, her English grandmother raised her family Catholic and then converted to the faith shortly before her death.
King’s childhood is full of the romance of the borough of her birth, Manhattan, and the borough she was raised in, Brooklyn.
“I think that Brooklyn was an extraordinary place to grow up in,” she said. “It was an incredible upbringing for us.”
She loved to walk on the beach in the winter cold.
As a 15-year-old, she began going with her 17-year-old brother into Manhattan jazz clubs.
“I think I got to see Ella Fitzgerald sing at least six times,” she said. “You name them, we saw them.”
When she was younger, her friends took her to shows. “I got a great taste of theatre. I got to see Judy Garland at the Palace,” she recalled.
“I think it whet my appetite for the arts,” said King, who was later a Lee Strasberg-trained actor. “Plus my father was once the set director of the Mercury Theatre. He could do anything. He had that type of mind.
“I also loved movies. My siblings did. My father did,” she said, adding with a laugh. “We would argue at the dinner table about who was the best gangster — James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson.”
Ebbets Field and the Dodgers provide another set of memories.
“Manhattan has such energy. You can feel it when you return after being away,” said King, who has lived in the same West Village apartment since 1970. “And Brooklyn also has that energy.”

The New York Transit Museum is located at the corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn Heights. “Last Day of the Myrtle Avenue El” will show through Feb. 28. Theresa King will lead a gallery tour of the exhibition on Sunday, Oct. 18., starting at 2 p.m. For more information about that and other events go to http://www.mta.info/mta/museum.

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