Building of the Day: 16 Court Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Montague-Court Building
Address: 16 Court Street
Cross Streets: Corner Montague Street
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1925-27
Architectural Style: Neo-Romanesque
Architect: H. Craig Severence
Other works by architect: Commercial/office buildings in midtown Manhattan and the Garment District, including the Hotel Taft and the Manhattan Company Building, which has been landmarked
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Skyscraper District (2012)

The story: By the late 1880s, the Court Street/Montague Street area, across from Borough Hall and other civic buildings, was THE place to build an impressive commercial building. Banks and fire insurance companies led the drive, each one trying to out somber the other, building strong, solid buildings that were advertisements to the security of their money and their respective abilities to do well by their clients. These buildings often replaced earlier commercial establishments that had been here since the 1850s. This being New York, land of the always new, by the 1920s many of the old bank and insurance buildings were being replaced by tall skyscrapers, the buildings of the 20th century and a strong future. One of those buildings was 16 Court Street.

The Montague-Court Building was built on the site of two insurance buildings, the Continental Insurance Building and the Phenix Fire Insurance Building. It was the second of the Court Street skyscraper buildings, and for a hot minute in 1927, when it was finished, the 35 story building was the tallest in Brooklyn. This structure took advantage of the new zoning that allowed for tall buildings, but unlike many of the other tall buildings on Court, has a very simple single setback on Court, and two on Montague.

The architect of this project was Harold Craig Severence, who was aided by David Altarsh. Severence was from upstate New York, and was educated in both the U.S. and France, and worked for a time in the early 1900s at the firm of Carrere & Hastings. Between 1916 and 1924, he was a partner in Severence & Van Alen, with William Van Alen, who would go on to design the Chrysler Building, long after their partnership ended. They pair specialized in “modern” office and commercial buildings. Severence received the commission for this building after their partnership had ended. Severence would go on to design a number of commercial/office buildings, most in midtown, with many in the Garment District. It was probably there that Severence came in contact with Saul Singer, who headed the development company called Court and Montague Realty Company, which built the building. Singer was a large developer in the Garment District.

Since it’s the holiday season, my 1951 photo shows the Court Street side of the Montague-Court Building on the left, with a Chock Full o’Nuts in the ground floor retail space. The building on the right is no longer standing, replaced by the bank building, now holding TD Bank, built in 1962. My columns won’t be back until the New Year, and I wish all a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and a happy New Year. GMAP

(1951 Photograph: Brooklyn Public Library)

Photo: Scott Bintner for PropertyShark