As American cities in the late 1800′s became more crowded, the middle and upper class, multi-unit apartment building was born. Up until that time, the private house was the preferred dwelling for anyone with means. Only the very poor lived together with strangers in tenements. These new apartment buildings were opulent and spacious, providing all the amenities of a private house, along with fine lobbies and public spaces. Residential hotels also provided the same, with added dining and service amenities. As there were always bragging rights in living on certain streets, it soon became fashionable to live in a certain building. If that building had a name with some gravitas, or exotic cachet, all the better. This trend continued into the 20th century, and is still heartily practiced today. How much more impressive to say I live at the Vendome, the Park Lane, the Griffin, the Royal Castle Apartments, or the Traymore. Please meet me at the Grosvenor, the Montauk, or the Bedfordshire. Mrs. Smith resides at the Alhambra, the Imperial, or the Rennaissance. Names became marketing tools, and as upper class apartment buildings grew in popularity, more and more of them were named. This fact was not lost on those building for those of lesser means. Thousands of smaller apartment buildings built for the middle classes also have names. Some sport grand names like the Regina, Haddon Court, or the Delfina, some are practically named for their location: an apartment building across from Brower Park is called Brower Court.
At least half of named buildings are proper names, which tend to be in two categories: famous or inspirational names, and family and personal names. In just walking around Brooklyn, I’ve noticed lots of buildings named for presidents The Roosevelt Arms, the Washington, the Jefferson, and the Woodrow Wilson. It seems that many developers and builders named their buildings after loved ones, perhaps a child, a spouse or a parent. So we see the Paul, Babette, Esther, Lillianette, Randolph, and many more, especially on buildings with middle class flats. Many architects and developers named their apartment buildings and residential hotels after themselves. Yes, there was once The Montrose. It used to stand on the corner of Hoyt and State Streets.
Part of the impressiveness of these buildings is in noticing the fanciful fonts, massive lettering and carvings, and ornate signage that proclaims that you have arrived. I’ve collected a very small sampling of some of the wonderful names and signage that is all over Brooklyn. If you know of some great named buildings, especially with great signage, please comment with an address. We’ll definitely be revisiting, as the surface of this fun topic has only been scratched.