Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally Elephant Club, now ground floor retail
Address: 1409-1411 Fulton Street
Cross Streets: Marcy and Tompkins Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1888
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: 1409 unknown, perhaps Sibell & Miller, who built 1411
The story: In September of 1888, the Echo Bowling Club opened a clubhouse with bowling lanes at 1409 Fulton Street, in the fast growing neighborhood of Bedford. The club was located on Fulton Street, the main commercial street in Bedford, convenient for all kinds of banks, businesses, clubs and theaters, as well as shops. Fulton Street, as the main east-west conduit in Brooklyn, also boasted some of the best public transportation available for the day. In 1888, that would have been horse drawn trolleys, which traveled up and down the length of this important street very frequently. It was a perfect place for bowling lanes.
Bowling was very popular in Brooklyn during the last third of the 19th century. It was a sport that could be participated in by just about anyone, fitness-wise, and could easily be played by both men and women. Bowling leagues soon sprang up everywhere, especially within the memberships of the already existing sports and social clubs. The Echo Bowling Club soon became the Elephant Club, for reasons I was unable to find. It did not seem to have anything to do with politics, perhaps the owner just liked the name. The club took up the entire four story building, and included rooms for private gatherings and meetings, as well as the bowling alleys probably on the ground floor, or basement, that made it famous. Many of the bowling leagues that played here made the club their headquarters and had rooms for their meetings here.
The club was owned by a man named T.C. Carruthers, and was sometimes referred to in the newspapers as “Carruthers’s Alleys.” The manager of the alleys was a man named Thomas Curtis, and he soon became quite a figure in local bowling circles. By 1890, the club was so popular they added an addition to it, an adjoining four story building at 1411 Fulton Street, which was taken up entirely by bowling lanes and billiard rooms. The lanes were expanded and opened up to the public. The firm of Sibell & Miller was the architects, and they may have designed the original building as well, although I wasn’t able to find those records. That year, the Elephant Club had six private alleys and eight public alleys.
All the work was done in time for one of Brooklyn’s first all-city tournaments. In the following years, there were all-Brooklyn tourneys, all-city, and tournaments between rival sports clubs and rival social clubs. These were all for the men, but women did have their own clubs, and there were several clubs with both men and women members. Between 1890 and 1909, the Elephant Club appeared quite often in the local newspapers. Thomas Carruthers, the club’s owner, also sponsored his own contest, the Carruthers’s National Tournament. The papers called the facility, “the best known bowling resort in New York.”
But for reasons unknown, the Carruthers era ended in 1909, when the club was sold and the named changed to Fulton Garden. The new owners were Messrs. Golden and Hirschfeld, who were connected with the nearby Fulton Theater. They spiffed the place up with a new coat of paint, some new furnishings and accoutrement, and threw an opening party upstairs in the ballroom space, in September of 1909. Apparently that didn’t last too long. They were not the Elephant Club.
In April of 1910, there was a spectacular fire upstairs on the top two floors of the building. The building was now called the “Old Elephant Café,” and featured a café, billiards on the third floor, the ballroom, and meeting hall and office space elsewhere in the building. The entire building was empty when the fire burst out, as it was being renovated for new use. It was speculated that the celluloid billiard balls on the third floor acted as accelerants for the fire. The fire was confined to those floors, but the building was damaged to the tune of over $10,000, which ironically, was what it had cost Carruthers to build the second building twenty years before. A year later, the building was sold again. The new owners did not specify what their intentions were.
Over the years, the building was used as warehouse space and retail space for a number of businesses. A freight elevator was also installed. By the 1980s, the building was being used as the headquarters a group of Black Israelites, who painted the building white and painted the name of “Yahweh” on the façade. That’s what was there when I moved to Bed Stuy in the early 80’s. They are now long gone, and the building is mostly unused. The freight elevator is now gone, as per a permit filed in 1999, and another in 2010, when the shaft was removed. The upper floors of the building have not been used in years and are in disrepair.
This building was up for sale, offered by Massey Knackel over ten years ago, when a friend of mine tried to buy it, but failed. They wanted a million for it at a time when nothing in Bed Stuy came anywhere near that. It would be a great place for all kinds of retail, as well as offices or apartments. I’m surprised it hasn’t been developed yet, it’s a great building. It’s directly across from Citibank, Foodtown, and the rest of Restoration Plaza. Who knew it was once home to Brooklyn’s most famous bowling alley?? GMAP
(Photo:Greg Snodgrass for Property Shark)