Kings Highway Malls
Kings Highway was a pre-Columbian trail that may have led to a Native American holy site. The route the highway runs through in Brooklyn has changed many times during its long existence, and the road has seen some important moments in history. The British General Lord Cornwallis traveled along it with his troops on August 26, 1776, to the Battle of Brooklyn, a major American defeat in the Revolutionary War. When President George Washington came to survey the agricultural abilities of Kings, Queens, and Suffolk Counties in 1792, he traveled down this rural road. Gradually, attractive homesteads started to line the road as farmers moved into the area.
Though the road was the major highway running through the towns of Brooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend and New Utrecht, it did not have a commonly used name until the nineteenth century. It was often referred to simply as “lane” or “road,” followed by a short description. Thus it would be described as “the lane between Gravesend and New Utrecht.” It also took on local names in each town, such as “Gravesend Lane” and “Ferry Road.” The name “Kings Highway” was a common reference to public highways during colonial times, and has been employed for other roads around New York in no way connected with the present Kings Highway. This road was given the designation as a proper name in 1704, although it initially had little effect on common usage. As late as 1809 other names were still in use, like “Brooklyn, Jamaica and Flatbush Turpike Road” and “Brooklyn and Jamaica Plank Road.” The malls themselves were not officially named until June 18, 1987, when Parks designated them the “Kings Highway Malls.”
Running east through Brooklyn, Kings Highway widens after Corporal Wiltshire Triangle at East 25th Street to include the malls. There are two lanes of traffic in each direction in the center of the highway, bordered by the malls on each side. The malls are narrow strips of pavement harboring a row of trees; they serve to divide through traffic from a lane of local traffic and a parking strip. There are a few locations where the malls widen to two rows of trees, and the highway leaves several attractive little landscaped triangles as it cuts across the Brooklyn street grid at irregular angles. For much of their length the malls provide places for passengers to wait for the bus. The malls end just before crossing under the elevated train at East 98th Street.
Despite its long history and importance as a connection through the borough of Brooklyn, there was a plan in the early 1920s to have the street demapped as part of an effort to regularize the street grid. Instead, they widened it in 1922, created the malls, and altered its route one more time, straightening as many sections as possible. Following the example of the parkways designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), who created Eastern and Ocean Parkways, the malls used trees to separate local and through traffic along the street. Unlike Olmsted’s parkways, however, the Kings Highway Malls are much narrower and do not provide the leisurely promenades that characterize Olmsted’s work. With attention in the 1920s focused on improving circulation for automobiles, which were beginning to place demands on the streets, it was more common to remove existing malls than to create new ones. At the same time that the malls on Park Avenue in Manhattan were being carved from 56 feet down to 20 feet wide, the malls on Kings Highway were created. The widening of the right-of-way required the demolition of several historic houses from the old homesteads in the area. However, the malls do provide trees and green spaces that soften the appearance of the six lanes of traffic and two parking lanes.