The first Dutch settlers began farming here in the 17th century. Well into the 19th century, what is now considered Bay Ridge consisted of two sister villages: Yellow Hook to the north, named for the color of the soil, and Fort Hamilton to the south, named for the military installation at its center. The latter began to develop in the 1830s as a resort destination. The former began to develop after 1850, when a group of artists moved to the area and founded a colony called Ovington Village; before that, it was mostly farmland.
In the 1850s, the village changed the community’s name to avoid association with yellow fever. "Bay Ridge" was suggested by local horticulturist James Weir after the area’s most prominent geographic features: the high ridge that offered views of New York Bay. The natural beauty attracted the wealthy, who built country homes along Shore Road, overlooking the water. By World War II, almost all of these large houses had been replaced with apartment buildings. Development took off once planning began for the Fourth Avenue subway (today's R train), around the turn of the 20th century; construction finished in 1916, and development accelerated through the 1920s, when the number of apartment buildings increased fivefold, replacing old farms, homesteads and houses.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many Norwegian and Danish sailors emigrated to Brooklyn, including Bay Ridge and neighboring Sunset Park; Lapskaus Boulevard, referring to the salted Norwegian beef stew, was the nickname of Eighth Avenue in this area.
Construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Bay Ridge to Staten Island, was completed in 1964. Though now an iconic structure, it was opposed by residents because it would require the demolition of many homes and businesses. Eight hundred buildings were destroyed, displacing 7,000 people, to make room for the bridge and its approach. Also destroyed was Fort Lafayette, part of New York City's defense system along with Fort Hamilton and Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island; it was replaced by the base of the bridge's east tower.
Bay Ridge's Arab community is a strong and vibrant one, and its presence is evident in everything from coffee shops to Babel Barber Shop, pictured above in the wake of the January 2016 snow storm.
The 2007 Brooklyn tornado hit this area, specifically 68th Street and Bay Ridge Avenue between Third and Fourth Avenues. Eleven houses had to be vacated after they suffered significant damage, and many of the trees on the two blocks toppled, landing on cars and stoops. The 4th Avenue Presbyterian Church had its very large stained glass window blown out. As the tornado lifted, it peeled the roof of a nearby Nissan dealership and deforested 40% of Leif Ericson Park. The tornado has been rated an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with winds between 111 and 135 MPH.
Based on data from the 2010 United States Census, the population of Bay Ridge was 79,371, a decrease of 1,168 (1.5%) from the 80,539 counted in 2000. Covering an area of 1,571.96 acres (636.15 ha), the neighborhood had a population density of 50.5 inhabitants per acre (32,300/sq mi; 12,500/km2).
Bay Ridge is a largely middle-class neighborhood. With its strong family presence, it is not uncommon to see third or fourth generation families living in the region. Until the early 1990s, Bay Ridge was a primarily Irish, Italian, Greek, Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, and Norwegian neighborhood. Its Nordic heritage is still apparent in the annual Norwegian Constitution Day Parade, also known as the Syttende Mai Parade, featuring hundreds of people in folk dress who parade down Third Avenue. The celebration ends in Leif Ericson Park, named for the Viking explorer, where "Miss Norway" is crowned near the statue of Leif Ericson. The statue was donated by Crown Prince Olav, Prince of Norway, on behalf of the nation of Norway in 1939. Nordic Delicacies, a Norwegian gifts-and-groceries store, remained open until 2015.
As of 1971, the 30,000-strong Norwegian community of Bay Ridge boasted that it was the fourth-largest Norwegian city in the world. Residents also compared Eighth Avenue's string of Norwegian businesses to Oslo'sKarl Johans gate.
Bay Ridge's Norwegian heritage lives on today in the Valhalla Courts. While the Norse god Odin ruled the mythic hall from which the courts take their name, it is mostly local teenagers who rule these basketball playing areas.
Today, Bay Ridge's population is around 80,000 and maintains a sizable Irish, Italian, and Greek population. Like other areas in southern and southwestern Brooklyn, an influx of Russian, Polish, and Lebanese arrived later in the 20th century, as well as lesser numbers of Chinese. In recent decades many Middle Eastern and Arab Americans have moved to Bay Ridge. It has even been referred to as "the heart of Brooklyn's Arab community."
Bay Ridge has many ethnic restaurants, especially along Third and Fifth Avenues, its main commercial strips. The neighborhood is said to have had more bars than anywhere in the world, according to neighborhood lore.
Bay Ridge has a large elderly population. It has been called a naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) because many of its families have grown up in the neighborhood while their children moved away. In 2006, it was reported that 20% of the population of Bay Ridge is 60 years of age or more.
Local newspapers include The Home Reporter and Sunset News and The Bay Ridge Courier. The neighborhood is also often covered by The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (These papers publish other local offshoots: The Home Reporter also publishes The Spectator; the Courier's parent company also publishes The Brooklyn Paper; and the Eagle publishes a weekly digest called Bay Ridge Life.)
Development has been a passionate issue for Bay Ridge residents. In the 1990s and 2000s, many decades-old two-family houses were demolished and replaced by condominiums known colloquially as "Fedder Homes," after the branded air conditioners poking out from the buildings' facades. In 2005, local community leaders and community activists from across the political spectrum united to issue rezoning laws.
The six-story apartment complexes lining Shore Road are among the tallest buildings in the neighborhood.
Bay Ridge was chosen as an "Editor's Pick" in This Old House magazine April 2011 as a good neighborhood to buy an old house.
Landmarks and points of interest
Hurricane damage in Owl's Head Park
69th Street Pier
Historically speaking Bay Ridge has long been opposed to ball playing, and traces of this staunch position remain to this day on side streets stretching off of Fifth Avenue.
The park strip between the shore road and Narrows
The 69th Street Pier (or American Veterans Memorial Pier) at 69th St. and Shore Road is the community's key seaside recreation spot. Sports fishermen travel to fish the waters of "The Bay Ridge Anchorage" and along the seawall promenade that runs south from the pier to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and east along Gravesend Bay. The pier features a sculpture that emits a beam of light as a memorial to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. Commuter ferry service operated between this pier and the St. George Ferry Terminal in Staten Island from 1912 until 1964, the year the Verrazano Bridge opened. Ferry service to Wall Street and points along the western coast of Brooklyn began in 2017 from the pier as part of NYC Ferry's South Brooklyn route.
Farrell House, which has been at 125 95th St. since the early twentieth century, is one of many old mansions in Bay Ridge, and it is now an official landmark. An accompanying structure, thought to have been used as a barn, couldn't be saved and was demolished. Legend has it the house was turned so that its "widow's walk," a balcony that traditionally faces the sea so women left at home could watch for their husbands' ships, would no longer face the Narrows.
Owl's Head Park (also known as Bliss Park), in the neighborhood's northwest corner, was previously the private estate of the Bliss Family, for whom nearby Bliss Terrace is named. They sold what remained of the estate to the city in 1928 for $850,000, after Eliphalet Williams Bliss specified in his will 25 years earlier that he wanted the city to buy the land and convert it into parkland. Before them, a portion of the property was owned by Henry C. Murphy, a former Mayor of Brooklyn, ambassador, congressman and New York State Senator for whom the nearby Senator Street is named. Remnants of the estate—mansion, stable, observation tower—were still visible into the 1930s and 40s, when they were finally demolished, having been left to fall into disrepair. It is a 24-acre (97,000 m2) walking park that has a state of the art skate park, dog run, children's playground and basketball courts; it has the first concrete skatepark built in Brooklyn.
Step streets are public staircases in the middle of a street. As a rule they were placed on hills that were too steep to build a road for cars but still allow access to pedestrians. In Bay Ridge they are at 74th and 76th Streets, between Ridge Boulevard and Colonial Road, and recall the Montmartre section of Paris.
Historic Fort Hamilton Army Base is located in the southwestern corner of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, with gates in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, and is one of several posts that are part of the region which is headquartered by the Military District of Washington. Its mission is to provide the New York metropolitan area with military installation support for the Army National Guard and the United States Army Reserve. The base is considered to be part of Bay Ridge. The children stationed at the base are zoned into Bay Ridge schools.
Additionally, there are MTA express bus routes X27, X37 which mainly serve for the commute to Manhattan, but also run during off-peak hours on weekdays. The X27 also runs on weekends. The routes X28, X38 also serve the eastern part of Bay Ridge. Many Bay Ridge commuters opt for the relative comfort and convenience of the express bus. Bay Ridge is readily accessible by car, encircled by the Belt Parkway and Gowanus Expressway. Local bus routes include B1, B4, B8, B9, B16, B37, B63, B64, B70, S53, S79 SBS, S93.
Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) operates the Bay Ridge Library. The Bay Ridge Reading Club first organized the library in 1880. It opened on its present site in 1896 and became a BPL branch in 1901. The current two story facility opened in 1960. In 2004 it received a $2.1 million renovation, including new furniture and shelving, new lighting equipment, a new roof, and 27 additional public access computers.
A smaller public library is the Fort Hamilton Library, built with money given by Andrew Carnegie in 1906. The current branch's predecessor was founded over 100 years ago. It became a part of the BPL system in 1901 and moved to its current location in 1905. Since then it has gone through numerous renovations. The most recent renovation was completed in March 2011, with a ribbon cutting ceremony held on April 11, 2011.
Democratic Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny resigned in July 2015. Republican Michael Grimm was elected to Congress in 2010, and he resigned in 2015, following a 20-count indictment; he pleaded guilty to one count of federal tax evasion and was sentenced to eight months in prison.
Tom McDonough's novel Virgin with Child is set in Bay Ridge
Several short stories by Hubert Selby, Jr. are set in the neighborhood, including "Liebesnacht" and "Double Feature." Some of his novels are also set in the neighborhood or nearby, like Last Exit to Brooklyn and The Demon.
Several novels by Gilbert Sorrentino are set in the neighborhood, including Steelwork,Red the Fiend,Crystal Vision,A Strange Commonplace,Little Casino, and The Abyss of Human Illusion.
Parts of the film Brooklyn Rules (2007) were set and filmed in Bay Ridge.
Mark Ruffalo's character in the film "Margaret" (2011) lives near the Bay Ridge – 95th Street subway station
In the action film Out for Justice (1991), Steven Seagal has many scenes set in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, which is home to one of the movie's actors, Sonny Hurst, who plays "Tattoo" in the infamous scene in the pool hall where he gets his teeth knocked out with an eightball
Peggy Olson, the Norwegian-American copywriter on AMC's Mad Men, is from Bay Ridge In the second episode of Season One, she declared, "I'm from Bay Ridge. We have manners."
Parts of the show Rescue Me are set in the neighborhood
In the television program Ugly Betty,[clarification needed] the character of Justin is shocked that Hilda and Bobby have found a place in Bay Ridge, and instead explains that Manhattan is much more realistic due to the recession