Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Polish Slavic Federal Credit Union, formerly Union 1790, TWUA-CIO, originally storefronts
Address: 138-140 Greenpoint Avenue
Cross Streets: Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street
Year Built: Original building 1898, limestone façade: 1915
Architectural Style: Now Renaissance Revival/Beaux-Arts
Architect: Original architects: Wilson & Dassau, Limestone façade: Unknown
Other Work by Architect: A few stores and small commercial buildings, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Greenpoint HD (1982)
The story: Greenpoint Avenue has always been a mixed residential and commercial street. It was laid out in 1852, and by 1853-54 it ran from the ferry at the East River to Calvary Cemetery in Queens. The ferry, also established in 1853, used to run from Greenpoint Avenue across the river to East 10th Street in Manhattan. Greenpoint Avenue has had many names over the years; it was originally “L Street”, then Lincoln Street, Greenpoint Street, National Street, then back to Greenpoint Avenue. As the 19th century progressed, the street began to fill up with rows of flats buildings with storefronts on the ground floor as well as low-rise commercial buildings, most of these were built in the mid- to-late 1870s.
However, most of the buildings on this side of the block, between Manhattan and Franklin, were built around 1890 or later. This building was actually part of a group of five one-story storefronts designed for Charles Heidelberger by the firm Wilson & Dassau.
They specialized mostly in small commercial properties, and are on record for several other small stores as far away as Brownsville as well as one in lower Manhattan. During the time they designed these stores, their offices were at 206 Graham Avenue. They later moved to Manhattan.
The five stores, numbers 138-146 Greenpoint Avenue, were one story buildings made of brick and wood with glass and galvanized iron fronts. They were built in 1898, but didn’t last long in their original state. In 1915, number 140 got a radical makeover by an unknown architect who clad two of the store buildings in limestone with an elaborate, classically-inspired, Beaux-Arts façade.
Rusticated voussoirs and keystones framed the windows, and an elaborate columned entryway was created with a triangular pediment and frieze. The humble storefronts had become a small Greek temple, perhaps for a bank or insurance company. It’s not a bad job actually — the scale is appropriate, and the alterations are quite well done. The small building next door at 138 shows what these buildings originally looked like in size and general appearance.
By the time this block was being considered for landmarking, in the early 1980s, much had changed. The bank was now the headquarters of Local Union 1790, TWUA-CIO, the transit workers’ union. The small storefront next door, at 138, was now clad completely in brick. And the rest of the row of Wilson & Dassau stores had been transformed into the rather kitsch Polonaise Terrace Catering Hall, obliterating any original detail that may have been left there.
Today the building is home to the Polish Slavic Federal Credit Union, and has been polished up considerably. Its neighbor at 138 was annexed to the building, and it too received a new cladding, although this modern attempt is nowhere as good as the 1915 transformation. The building still stands out, a pearl on this multi-use block. GMAP
(Photo:Christopher Bride for Property Shark, 2012)