Building of the Day: 369-413 St. Marks Avenue

The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.

Address: 369-413 St. Marks Avenue, corner of Grand
Name: Knox Hat Factory
Neighborhood: Crow Hill/Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1890
Architectural Style: Northern Italian Renaissance influenced industrial
Architect: B. Finkenseiper
Landmarked: No

Why chosen: No respectable man would be without a hat throughout most of the 19th century, and an enterprising hatter could be a very successful man. In 1830, Charles Knox came to America from Ireland as a 12 year old, apprenticed to a hat maker, and before he was 20, had his own shop, selling beaver hats in lower Manhattan. He soon became one of the premier men’s hatters in NY. A fire in the 1850’s, and a court battle over trademark names wore the company down, prior to the Civil War, but after the war, Charles Knox’s son, Edward, took over the company. He had been a hero at Gettysburg, and was extremely popular in post-war circles. After moving the retail stores further and further uptown, as the city grew, he decided to take the company in a new direction and go into the hat manufacturing business. He had this large factory built on the corner of St. Marks and Grand, in a part of Bedford that has long been mixed residential and commercial. The handsome factory originally had a tower with four large Seth Thomas clocks in the mansard roof, and the entire building cost $35,000. Knox did quite well, invested in real estate, and in 1892 was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery at Gettysburg. He was given a jeweled sword, a promotion to colonel, and was hailed as the most popular and handsomest officer of the encampment. In 1901, Colonel Knox bought some land on the corner of 5th Avenue and 40th St, in an up and coming part of Manhattan, and had architect John H. Duncan design a new Beaux-Arts style headquarters. That building was individually landmarked in 1980, still one of the finest buildings in the midtown area. Edward Knox died in 1916, and the Knox Company merged with Dunlap Hats in 1918, which would eventually merge with other companies that formed the Hat Corporation of America, second in size only to the John Stetson Company. Knox hats remained extremely popular well into the 20th century, due to superior products and very slick advertising. The factory was closed after World War II and by the 1980’s was a vandalized, abandoned mess. Fortunately, Alfred Thompson, a developer of affordable housing, who also rescued the nearby Studebaker Building on Bedford Avenue, was able to turn the abandoned factory into 52 units of subsidized housing in the mid 1980’s. Another fine building repurposed as necessary housing for Brooklyn, and another interesting part of Brooklyn’s history preserved for the future.

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