Building of the Day: 1 Prospect Park West

1 PPW, KofC,KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally Knights of Columbus Club, now The Castle at Prospect Park, a senior citizen residence
Address: 1 Prospect Park West
Cross Streets: Union Street and Plaza Street West
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1925
Architectural Style: Classical Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: The Knights of Columbus were founded as a Catholic fraternal service organization in 1882. It was established in New Haven, Connecticut, by Rev. Michael J. McGivney as a benevolent association for the lower income Catholic immigrant community in which he worked. Like most mutual benevolence societies, the K of C was organized to take care of its members and their families in case of death or illness. Donated funds would be pooled for any member’s benefit, an important benefit in the days before health and life insurance, especially among the poor.

Catholics in the 19th century faced discrimination in labor unions and non-Catholic social service organizations, and were forbidden by Church law from joining fraternal orders like the Masons. Fr. McGivney thought that the structure and ceremony of the fraternal orders would be great for Catholics, would improve their standing in society, and serve as protection against anti-Catholic sentiment. He organized the Knights, with Christopher Columbus, a Catholic explorer sailing for Catholic Spain, as its inspiration.

By the 1920s, the K of C was established in cities and towns all across the country, and was the nation’s largest Catholic fraternal association. Their coffers were full, and many K of C’s across the country were able to build large buildings to house their meetings, events and activities. Here in Brooklyn, the Columbus Council, or chapter of the K of C built a grand new building here in the center of Brooklyn, in Park Slope, at the edge of Prospect Park.

The cornerstone was laid in 1925, and a photograph from that year shows the building nearing completion. The nine-story building was built not only to house the group’s activities, but as a venue for outside rental, with a large ballroom/banquet hall and an auditorium. The building also had hotel rooms for rent to members and guests, at $35 a night.

The Knights of Columbus hosted a multitude of events here well into the 1950s. There are over 5,000 mentions in Brooklyn and New York City newspapers from the 20’s through that time. However, in spite of the building’s busy schedule, it, like just about all of New York’s fraternal organizations, was too big for its bank account. With revenue down, in part because of the war, by the mid-1940s, 1 PPW was in danger of foreclosure. In 1945, a huge revenue campaign was established to raise money to save the building. They raised enough money to put off foreclosure for a few years, but by the end of the 1950s, they were done. The Columbus Council moved out, and is now located in Marine Park.

In 1962, the building remained in Catholic hands, but it was no longer home to the Knights of Columbus. It was now the Madonna Residence, a nursing home run by the Carmelite nuns. They were in operation until 1994, when the state shut them down. State regulations of nursing homes evolved since 1962, due to all of the awful cases of abuse and poor conditions, and unfortunately, 1PPW was not immune from allegations. The nursing home had just moved in after the K of C left, and not a lot of retrofitting was done.

The state found the hallways too narrow, there was no central air conditioning and no freight elevator. Upgrades would cost the home from $20 to $50 million dollars, which they did not have. The home was also cited for unsatisfactory medical supervision by the resident physician, an inadequate director of nursing services and inferior supervision of patients’ nutritional needs. In February of 1993, a patient wandered out onto the roof and got locked out. No one noticed he was gone for hours, and he froze to death.

The building passed to a new owner who also kept it a senior residence, this one called the Castle at Prospect Park. Upgrades were done and it is now advertised as a superior and high end senior home. Their motto is “senior living at its elegant best.” Unfortunately, they are also in trouble, and are being sued by at least four different plaintiffs for wrongful death cases. Judge Phillips, the Bedford Stuyvesant judge who suffered from dementia later in life, and was ripped off by his lawyer and caregivers, was transferred here in 2007, after his case first made the news.

Phillips, the owner of the Slave Theater and other properties in Brooklyn, was called the “Kung-Fu judge” in the 1970s, but died in the elevator of this building in 2008. His nephew is suing, as are three other families of three other people who died here. The home was found to not have a valid license, among other things and inadequate care for dementia patients. Fast forward to 2014, the home now has new owners, and is called the Prospect Park West Residence. All seems to be well, and the old Knights of Columbus building is still the site of help and support for the community.GMAP

(Photograph: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark)

Building amost completed in 1925. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Building almost complete in 1925. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

1951 photograph: Brooklyn Public Library

1951 photograph: Brooklyn Public Library

Buildng detail: Bridge and Tunnel Club.

Buildng detail: Bridge and Tunnel Club.

5 Comment

  • I’ve known 4 families w/ relatives there in recent years – 3 of whom were very happy w/ the care & one of whom definitely was not.

  • Montrose, I think that your info on the current management is not up to date. My mother just moved in a few months ago and I did a lot of research into the place, which is now called the Prospect Park Residence. I think that the issues you describe are from previous management. We have had nothing but positive experiences with them so far, and there is no impending sale of the building that I am aware of. Please be careful about jumping to conclusions without some basic fact checking.

    • I checked every major newspaper for updates, as well as Google in general. There were none since the story I told. I ALWAYS do meticulous research, because I don’t like being wrong, number one, and I don’t like misrepresenting people. That’s why I don’t print owner’s names in my stories, generally, because I want to keep their affairs private, to the extent they are in a digital age.

      That said, if I misrepresented the owners of the nursing home, I’m sorry. I only went with information that was available on line. I deeply resent the implication that I do not do fact checking. I do far more research on these posts than anyone else would ever do for a daily piece.

      In the interest of NOT misrepresenting anyone, I’m changing the ending of the post. Thank you for bringing the new owners to my attention.

      • Thank you Montrose.

        I love your stories, and read the blog every day. But the conclusion to this story hit close to home for me. A simple Google map search for assisted living residences would have brought up the new name, and a phone call, or the link to their new website would have gotten you the correct info. Thanks again for the correction.

  • Saw on the news this morning that this place just informed residents that they are shutting down in 90 days. Residents and their families and caretakers are terribly upset at the abruptness of it all. The owners’ excuse is that they can no longer afford to operate due to $1,000,000 in new taxes this year. “No word yet” on what the building “might” be converted into. GEE!!! I wonder what could possibly happen to a lovely old building in a prime location?