Myrtle Avenue has been a major thoroughfare since the early 19th century, named after the myrtle trees that were plentiful in the area. Most likely, Myrtle Avenue began in Queens and was a plank road that charged a toll. The road eventually hosted the Knickerbocker Stage Coach Line, that ran stagecoach and omnibus services.
After World War I, Myrtle Avenue in Glendale, Queens was a popular destination for picnickers. With a steam trolley running on the avenue, and its ample adjacent beer gardens and park space, people from as far as Eastern Brooklyn came to Myrtle. In the mid-1920s, the parks closed as a result of Prohibition. Ultimately, the parks became incorporated by the city into what is known today as Forest Park.
Currently, Myrtle Avenue is one of the primary shopping strips of Ridgewood, along with Fresh Pond Road whose south end is at Myrtle Avenue. It is also the primary shopping strip in nearby Glendale, although this stretch of Myrtle Avenue isn't as busy as the Ridgewood stretch. It was also home to the Ridgewood Theatre, which was the longest continuously operated theater in the United States, having operated for 91 years before its closure in March 2008.
Although Myrtle Avenue isn't a very big street, it is the head of many other major throughfares in Queens that were built later. This includes Union Turnpike, whose west end is in Glendale near Woodhaven Boulevard, and Hillside Avenue, which starts off from Myrtle Avenue in Richmond Hill near Lefferts Boulevard.
The Queens stretch of Myrtle Avenue is served by the Q55 bus line.
In 1847 Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn's first park, was built on the south side of western Myrtle Avenue.
During World War II, the Navy Yard employed more than 71,000 people, many of them African American shipbuilders. As a result the demand for housing in the area increased, prompting the New York City Housing Authority to build the Walt Whitman and Raymond Ingersoll public houses on Myrtle Avenue in 1944.
By the early 1970s the vitality of Myrtle Avenue began to decline, mainly because of the decommissioning of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the curtailing of the elevated railway. At its nadir of decline, the street became known to many Brooklynites as "Murder Avenue".
Today a revitalization movement is in effect by a collaboration of community organizations like the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project LDC (MARP), the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Improvement district BID, and the Myrtle Avenue Merchants Association. Some parts of Myrtle Avenue, for example around Pratt Institute, have recently become a main street of commerce with many trendy restaurants and boutique retail shops.
The Myrtle Avenue El was an elevated railroad line that ran along Myrtle Avenue. The completed line ran from Middle Village, Queens to Downtown Brooklyn and Park Row, Manhattan, using the avenue for most of its route. Since 1969, the portion of the line west of the Myrtle Avenue – Broadway station was demolished, while the rest of the line east of the Myrtle Avenue - Broadway station remains.
Myrtle Avenue is currently served by the following subway stations, west to east (not counting abandoned or demolished stations):
- Myrtle–Willoughby Avenues (G train)
- Myrtle Avenue (J M Z trains)
- Central Avenue (M train)
- Knickerbocker Avenue (M train)
- Myrtle–Wyckoff Avenues; a station complex consisting of:
Two bus routes primarily serve the avenue. The B54 bus runs along the avenue's Brooklyn (western) segment, and the Q55 runs along the Queens (eastern) segment. In addition, several bus routes serve the avenue at the Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal near Myrtle–Wyckoff Avenues subway station.
In popular culture
There are references to Myrtle Avenue in hip-hop culture and rap music, reflective of the street passing through African American neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The popularity of the nickname "Murder Avenue" dates back to the minor 1993 hit of the same name by the Geto Boys.
Other artists that mention Myrtle Avenue include:
- Nas refers to Willoughby and Myrtle Ave in the song "Virgo" with Ludacris and Doug E. Fresh.
- Prodigy from Mobb Deep references Myrtle in "Trife Life" on The Infamous album.
- Mos Def says he's from Myrtle and Broadway in the song "Champion Requiem" on The New Danger, and in the song "Mathematics" on Black on Both Sides.
- Talib Kweli references the street in the Black Eyed Peas Song, "Like That" - "Like a caribou running down myrtle avenue".
- Digable Planets reference the ave in the song "9th Wonder (Blackitolism)" when Butterfly rhymes - "Myrtle Ave A Train got the pick in my hair".
- Prince Paul references Myrtle Avenue in his song "People, Places & Things".
- "History of Myrtle Avenue". Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership. Retrieved August 2006.
- Deborah Kolben (March 27, 2004). "Myrtle Avenue the new hot strip". The Brooklyn Papers.
- Joseph Brennan (2002). "Abandoned Stations:Myrtle Ave".
- Courtney Reimer (July 18, 2005). "As "Adult-Oriented Store" Moves In, Neighbors Worried Crime May Follow". The New York Times.
- Brooklyn Bites: Neighborhood Dining Guide for Myrtle Avenue in GO Brooklyn
- The many faces of Myrtle Forgotten-NY