Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: 83rd Precinct, NYPD, originally 20th Precinct and stable
Address: 179 Wilson Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner DeKalb Avenue
Year Built: 1894-95
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: William B. Tubby
Other Work by Architect: Charles Pratt House, Clinton Ave, Pratt Library, row houses in Clinton Hill, Wallabout Market buildings, and much more.
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1977). Also on the National Register of Historic Places (1982).
The story: In the Fall of 1894, the Brooklyn Eagle announced that the city of Brooklyn was preparing to build a new precinct and stable for the 20th Precinct. It would be located on the corner of DeKalb and Hamburg Avenue, as Wilson Avenue was then called.
The 20th was patrolling parts of the burgeoning neighborhood of Bushwick, which, if you read the papers of the day, was a hotbed of crime, the kinds that come from too many people crowded in too little a space, lacking money, jobs and purpose. There were the usual crimes against persons, and a lot of raiding of liquor distributors, saloons, and policy rooms, as numbers places were then called. Unfortunately, there was also police corruption, brutality on both sides, and the tragic loss of life and limb because of stupid accidents, unsafe conditions, and carelessness and neglect.
The city wanted a large and impressive police station that would position itself as a fortress against lawlessness, and an intimidating presence of Law, and that’s what they got in William B. Tubby’s design. This was a working class neighborhood, and Tubby gave them an upscale Romanesque Revival fortress, a building for the ages.
A list of the top five architects of late 19th century Brooklyn would have to have William B. Tubby on it, he was that good. Born in Iowa, Tubby was raised in Brooklyn, and educated at the Polytechnic Institute. He began working for Ebenezer Roberts, a prominent Brooklyn architect, and favorite of Standard Oil industrialist Charles Pratt. When Roberts retired, Tubby became Pratt’s go-to architect, designing the landmarked Pratt Free Library on the Pratt Institute campus, as well as what many consider his masterpiece, the Charles M. Pratt house on Clinton Avenue. Tubby and Pratt did many other projects together, including speculative row houses, factories in Clinton Hill, and eventually, the Pratt summer home and Charles Pratt’s elaborate mausoleum out on the family estate on Long Island.
Tubby was a king of the Romanesque Revival style, but he was talented and versatile, taking his influences from all over. His Dutch-influenced buildings for the Wallabout Market, at the Navy Yard were brilliant. Unfortunately they were torn down during World War II. He was also responsible for the beautiful William H. Childs’ mansion on PPW, now the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture.
The 20th Precinct building and stable was opened with much fanfare in September of 1895. Mayor Schieren and Police Commissioner Welles were in attendance for the ribbon cutting. The Brooklyn Police Department hailed this building as a modern, soon-to-be 20th century police building, providing comfort and warmth to officers returning from cold patrols, and striking fear of the law into the lawless.
The armory style of police stations was very common in Brooklyn at the turn of the century, and Tubby delivers, with a corner tower and turret. There was a prominent clock on the building, visible throughout the neighborhood, further emphasizing the presence of the enforcers of the law. Tubby could have just built a plain brick fortress, but he made his precinct building polychrome, with different colors of brick, using red, yellow and ochre bricks to great effect. He also put a beautiful large stable next door to the main building, a feature most stations had. The cell block was in the back and along the corridor to the stable. The entrance is quite fine, reminiscent of the finest public buildings of the day in any neighborhood, with thick limestone columns and Byzantine leaf carvings.
In 1898, Brooklyn consolidated with Manhattan, bringing all of the different police departments under one roof. The 20th precinct was renamed the 64th, and in 1929, was renamed the 83rd Precinct. This building was home to the 83rd until 1983, when they moved to a newly built headquarters at 480 Knickerbocker Avenue. This fine building is now home to the Brooklyn North Task Force. They certainly have the better building. Fortunately, the old 20th is individually landmarked and on the National Register. GMAP
(Photo: Jim Henderson for Wikimedia)