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
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)