Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally Street Cleaning Dept. Depot, now Department of Sanitation/ Dept. of Environmental Protection
Address: 350 Flushing Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Kent Avenue and Taaffe Place
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1903-1904
Architectural Style: Medieval Fortress
Unknown Warren & Wetmore!
The story: I’ve always wanted to know what this building was. It’s so massive and forbidding, obviously old, and a total mystery. Was it an armory or a factory? Was it part of some kind of military installation associated with the nearby Navy Yard? Some eccentric robber baron’s idea of secure storage? What was this building? After finding nothing at the actual address, I went to the maps. The answer is actually rather simple, and even mundane.
This massive stone and brick structure was built as the administration building and depot for the men who would one day be called “New York’s Strongest,” the Sanitation Department. But back then, they were called the Department of Street Cleaning. The first reference I found to a Brooklyn Department of Street Cleaning was in 1872. Before that time, street cleaners were under the direction of the Health Department. By the time this building was built, in 1903, the Department of Street Cleaning was a city agency, which covered all four boroughs.
Cleaning up the city’s mess has never been an easy job, but it was a lot nastier back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to garbage and litter there were horses to contend with. Horses were used for everything, especially in commercial use, and well after automobiles were no longer a novelty, horses stilled plodded down the streets of Brooklyn, pulling wagons, carts and delivery vehicles. They even pulled the waste wagons of the Street Cleaning Department, and therefore needed a new home.
This part of Flushing Avenue faced the Navy Yard and was near Wallabout Market. The plot of land that this facility sits on had not been developed like its neighbors, with a large factory or warehouse, but had a small group of wood framed buildings on it. The DSC had this massive building built, at a cost of $370,000, which would hold office space for department officials and staff, and a large stable facility for some of Brooklyn’s hard working cart horses, garbage wagons, and their men.
The building actually takes up this entire small block of Flushing Avenue, Taaffe Place, Little Nassau Street, and Classon Avenue. It’s hollow in the middle, with a large courtyard, with plenty of room for horses and equipment. The upper floors were used for offices and workrooms, with plenty of room for storage and supplies.
The street cleaning crews rode their wagons out of here and collected all kinds of garbage, including two things we don’t have much of anymore, but were huge garbage problems in their day – horse droppings and furnace ash. The ashes from the tons of coal burned in furnaces had to be collected and dumped somewhere, otherwise. All kinds of neighborhoods had their local dumping spots. In Park Slope, it was the land that would become the Botanic Gardens.
In the winter, the street cleaners, as they do today, were responsible for shoveling and removing snow. It was a lot harder then, than it is now. By the teens and 20s, most of the Department of Street Cleaning’s wagons were being replaced by trucks. Horses and stables were no longer needed, but garage space was, so the building never lost its function. In 1929, the Department of Street Cleaning became the Department of Sanitation, a much better name. The Department of Environmental Protection evolved from that, and today, the building is under their care. What do they do in there now? I have no idea. I do which I knew what they did to the cornice of this building. What are we missing here? More mysteries to be solved someday. GMAP
(Photograph:Christopher Bride for Property Shark)
UPDATE: Thanks to reader “SewardWasRight” we learned that the architects were Warren & Wetmore, the same Beaux-Arts firm that gave us Grand Central Terminal, the NY Yacht Club and the Helmsley Building. Impressive!