Past and Present: Bedford Avenue at Fulton Street

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

The busy intersection of two of Brooklyn’s major thoroughfares is unlikely to remain the same over the years. As the needs of the community grow and change, buildings rise, are altered, are often torn down, and new ones replace them. The cycle is often repeated. If this intersection is in a community that also goes through great economic changes, the results can be even more dramatic. From wealth, a slow economic decline into deferred maintenance, to abandonment, tear-downs, then a slow increase back up the ladder. This usually takes decades, and photography can show us these changes in a dramatic way.

This is Bedford Avenue looking north from Brevoort Place near Atlantic Avenue towards Fulton Street and far-off Manhattan. The postcard, which dates from around 1910, shows a streetscape that is barely recognizable today. This is one of the oldest intersections in the old town of Bedford Corners–the crossing that gave the town its name. It dates back to the late 1600s when a tavern and a few other buildings marked the crossing of the Jamaica Plank Road, now Fulton Street, and the Cripple Bush Road, which ran along what is now Bedford Avenue.

Bedford grew into a thriving village within the town of Breukelen; an important way station for goods and people traveling between Flatbush, Long Island and the Brooklyn waterfront. Many of Dutch Brooklyn’s oldest families, like the Remsens, Lefferts, Brevoorts, Vanderbilts and others either lived in the area or owned land. The Lefferts and Brevoort families had large estates within blocks of here. As the 19th century progressed, they sold off most of their lands, and Bedford began to grow as a thriving, upscale part of town, with improvement in transportation spurring massive developments in speculative housing, the founding of churches, businesses and schools.

Transportation, which founded Bedford, has always been key. The Long Island Railroad had a station only a block behind the vantage point of this photograph. The Fulton Street elevated train can be seen at the intersection, which had a station a block away at Nostrand Avenue. The streets were wide and paved for traffic. Commercial spaces with housing above and row houses line the right side of the street. The left side of the street is dominated by the eight-story Brevoort Hotel, which stood on the corner of Fulton and Bedford. The hotel’s footprint was large, taking up the entire block between Fulton Street and Brevoort Place.

The hotel was one of Montrose Morris’ designs, and has his trademark arched windows and loggias, or opened columned porches, on the top floor, along with one of his signature corner towers. It was built around 1889 and was a residential hotel with a large clientele of bachelors, business and club men whose businesses were in the area or out in the surrounding wards. This was the perfect midpoint between Manhattan and Long Island. Meals were served in the parlors of a brownstone next door to the hotel on the Brevoort side which was bought for that purpose.

The Brevoort Hotel was owned by Edgar Halliday, a wealthy businessman and man about town. Unfortunately, Mr. Halliday died in 1891, leaving his wife to run the hotel. In addition to rooms, the hotel also let longer term apartments, by the week, advertising in the Eagle. The building had two Otis elevators, speaking tubes, electricity, steam heat, water and electric bells for announcing guests. The apartments did not have kitchens, as meals were served next door.

One day in June of 1891, the manager of the hotel’s dining room just disappeared, leaving no food in the pantry for the cook, and no meals for the guests. It turns out, according to the Brooklyn Eagle, that Mrs. Halliday had contracted the dining room to a company called Sands & Haggerty. They were doing a brisk business, but wanted to add a retail alcohol business to the dining room, and when Mrs. Halliday objected, they just lost interest in the property and let their manager let the place go. When the food ran out, so did he. Mrs. Halliday had to close, at least for a while. I was unable to find out if the hotel re-opened or if it was converted to offices at that time, because for many years it was the Halliday Building.

The large tree-filled lot on the left side of the photograph represents the last of the old families in this part of Brooklyn. This was the grounds of the Brevoort estate. The Brevoort mansion stood, appropriately, on Brevoort Place, in the center of the small block between Bedford Avenue and Bedford Place. Most of the Brevoorts were long gone, and the mansion itself was soon torn down. The fencing and the billboards surrounding the old estate spell the end of that era.

Today, just about everything in this photo is also gone. I knew the Brevoort Hotel stood on this corner, but since the photograph was not specific as to location, I was able to verify the corner, in part, by the el train, and by the building on the right side, just behind the el tracks, on Fulton. It is still standing, although hugely altered, now housing a Rent-A-Center on the ground floor. The Brevoort mansion site now holds public housing and Children’s Services, and the footprint of the Brevoort Hotel has long been occupied by the Masjid At Taqwa, a mosque. Opposite, the 19th century storefronts are all gone, replaced by modern storefronts and other buildings of little note. Of course, the el was torn down years ago, replaced by the subway, with the A/C trains still making this neighborhood one of the great crossroads of Brooklyn. GMAP

1910 Postcard

Photo: Googlemaps

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