Past and Present: The Montrose

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Downtown Brooklyn, because of its commercial and civic nature, has changed more than almost any other part of Brooklyn over the last 150 years. Government buildings, stores, warehouses, churches, shops, apartment buildings, theaters and hotels have all gone up, and eventually come down, replaced by newer, more modern or bigger versions of the same. Brooklyn, like the rest of New York City, reinvents itself constantly. As commerce and government thinned out behind Fulton Street, heading south, so too did the building boom. When I moved to Brooklyn in 1983, there were a lot of parking lots between Livingston and Atlantic Avenue from Smith Street to Bond. Blocks of buildings had come down in the 1960s, and for the next couple of decades nothing went back up, until recently.

One of the casualties was this building: The Montrose, a large five-story apartment building designed by whom else but Montrose W. Morris. No ego there. If you are in any way conversant with his architecture, this building will seem very familiar. That’s because you have seen it before, sort of. The Montrose is a scaled-down version of one of his finest apartment buildings, the Alhambra, on Nostrand Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant. This one, The Montrose, actually came first.

The Brooklyn Eagle announced in December of 1888 that Montrose Morris was building a luxury apartment building on the corner of State and Hoyt streets in Downtown Brooklyn. It was to be named “The Montrose,” after the architect. The paper described the building as a five-story building with fifteen apartments; each apartment would have a reception hall with a stained glass window to the street and a fireplace. Sliding pocket doors would open up to a parlor on one side and a dining room and library on the other.

All of the pocket doors could opened to form one large entertaining space. In addition, the apartment had three bedrooms. All of the rooms had fireplaces and stained glass, and there was also a kitchen and a bathroom. All of the rooms had woodwork of the finest oak, mahogany and cherry. Downstairs in the basement was a laundry room, and the apartments had the most modern steam heating system and plumbing.

The main entrance was on Hoyt Street, and there were private entrances on State for the doctors’ offices that were on the ground floor. The lobby of the building had a wide reception hall with a large fireplace, arched entryways with columns in oak, with stained glass in all of the windows. There was a stained glass window in each of the entryway stairs, and a large stained glass dome over each stairway.

Montrose Morris’ Alhambra Apartments were announced in the Builder’s Guide in April of 1889. The two buildings are incredibly similar. It seems that Morris used what he learned from The Montrose, and expanded it for the much larger and even more luxurious Alhambra. It too, had the classic Morris interior, with the pocket doors opening up to create a much larger space. He would use this feature in every apartment building he designed.

As you can see from the photographs below, The Montrose and Alhambra are very, very similar, down to the corner tower (another favorite of the architect), the dormers, loggias, columns and terra-cotta trim. The fates of both buildings were similar as well. The Montrose became a hotel, called the Sharon Hall Hotel. I wasn’t able to ascertain when this happened, but the hotel was in operation until at least 1961, when the photograph from the Brooklyn Public Library’s collection was taken.

The Alhambra went downhill over the years, suffered an extensive fire in the 1980s, and has since been restored and converted to affordable housing. It was also designated an individual landmark in 1986, preventing it from ever being torn down, which The Montrose was. The building was demolished in the late ’60s or ’70s, and for at least forty years, the corner where the once-elegant Montrose had stood was a parking lot. This lot is today the site of the new “9 Townhouses” on State Street. GMAP

1961 photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Photo: Corner of State and Hoyt, now site of the new 9 Townhouses. Google Map from 2011, before construction.

The Montrose, from book published in 1890s

Alhambra Apartments, Nostrand Avenue, between Macon and Halsey, Bedford Stuyvesant.

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