10/20/14 3:00pm

199 Ryerson Walk, Memorial Hall, Pratt, SSpellen 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Memorial Hall, Pratt Institute
Address: 199 Ryerson Walk
Cross Streets: Willoughby and DeKalb Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1926-27
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Architect: John Mead Howells
Other Buildings by Architect: On Pratt Campus – Engineering Quadrangle, Willoughby Hall. Also with partner William Hood -Daily News Building, Manhattan, Tribune Tower, Chicago.
Landmarked: No, but on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: John Mead Howells was the son of 19th century author and editor William Dean Howells. He spent his undergraduate days at Harvard, before going on to graduate school there for architecture. In the mid-1890s, he went to Paris and attended the prestigious L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he completed his architectural education. When he came back to New York, he opened up a firm with fellow Paris student, Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes, the eldest son of millionaire Anson Phelps Stokes.

While partners, Stokes designed St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University, while Howell designed Stormfield, a vacation home for Samuel Clemens, who was a close friend of Howell’s father. Both the chapel and the home were very different from the work both would do later in their careers, but showed that they had a mastery of traditional form, and a knack for tweaking that form to a present-day, and very modern result. (more…)

1750 Bedford Ave, Firestone, composite

In recognition of 10 years of Brownstoner, here’s one of my favorite Past and Presents. It showcases a rare example of an interesting slice of life and culture that is still standing and has its original use.

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Bedford Avenue is the longest street in Brooklyn, stretching from Greenpoint to Sheepshead Bay. Because it was such an important north/south corridor, it was a natural location for the development of the automobile industry, in the early 20th century. Much of the street between Bedford and Flatbush was undeveloped, so what better place than a street that cuts through so many neighborhoods, to place automobile showrooms, garages, service stations and other related businesses? The fact that Bedford and Flatbush were affluent neighborhoods didn’t hurt, either.

By 1912, there were already twenty-five auto establishments on this section of Bedford, between Fulton and Empire Blvd, called Malbone Street until 1918. By 1929, the traffic along Bedford was so thick that the police had to erect a traffic station at Grant Square to control it all. (more…)

10/16/14 3:00pm

1940 E. 36 St. Lotthouse. Stu-Joe 1

We could do a month of important buildings in Brooklyn and not cover them all. But this one has to go on the list. We all come from somewhere, and Brooklyn began with houses like this. Our 10th anniversary tribute continues.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Hendrick I. Lott House
Address: 1940 East 36th Street
Cross Streets: Fillmore Avenue and Avenue S
Neighborhood: Marine Park
Year Built: Oldest part 1719, main house 1800
Architectural Style: Vernacular Dutch Colonial
Architect/Builder: Henrick I. Lott, building upon earlier Johannes Lott house
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1989) and National Register of Historic Places.

The story: We don’t often stray far beyond brownstone Brooklyn and Victorian Flatbush, but it’s time some attention was paid to some of the oldest houses in the borough. There aren’t many left. The Dutch settlers who came here in the early and mid-1600s gave us the towns that would make up Kings County, and their names, many of which are quite familiar to us as street and neighborhood names. Lefferts, Remsen, Lott, Schermerhorn, Vanderbilt, Wyckoff, Van Nostrand, Suydam, Van Siclen, Schenck, Van Brunt, and many more.

Their names remain, but their homes, by and large, are long gone. We here in New York City are always growing so fast, we think nothing of plowing under the past, and replacing it as soon as possible with the new, only to see that disappear in time. This is not a 21st century conceit; it’s been going on for centuries. Consequently, most of the early homes of the 17th and 18th centuries are gone. Those precious few that remain have survived mostly because the families that built them have held on to them, literally, for centuries. The location helps, too. The further away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, the better, when it comes to a house beating the odds of survival. The Lott house is one of those lucky few that is still with us. (more…)

321A Jefferson Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn in 1983 was certainly not the Brooklyn of today. That’s a mixed blessing, if you ask me. My mother and I found a one family brownstone for rent in Bedford Stuyvesant through the Amsterdam News. We ran out from the Bronx to see it, and impressed the landlady and got the place. The house had only been purchased by the owner a few months before, and had belonged to the last little old white lady on the block.

We loved the house. It was a three and a half story Neo-Grec brownstone. Our house was one of a group of five smaller houses amidst larger four story buildings. The house was an old house lover’s dream come true – an untouched one family house, complete with just all of the original features. About the only thing that had been done to the house since it was built had been the installation of electricity and central heat. Even that was pretty old. Some of the wiring was still cloth covered cording, and the pan and glass fixtures from the early 20th century were all either on pull chains or operated with push button switches. There were only two outlets in each room. (more…)

10/15/14 3:00pm

121 NY Ave, NYMethChurch, SSPellen 4

Here is the second in my celebration of important Brooklyn buildings covered over the years in Brownstoner. Happy 10th anniversary.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally New York Avenue Methodist Church, now Union United Methodist
Address: 121 New York Avenue
Cross Streets: Dean and Bergen Streets
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1891
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Josiah Cleveland Cady
Other Buildings by Architect: Manhattan: Old Metropolitan Opera House (demolished) 77th St. southern wing of the Museum of Natural History. In Brooklyn – 1290 Pacific Street in Crown Heights North, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Williamsburg.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Phase I of Crown Heights North HD (2007)

The story: This church is the embodiment of the hymn “A mighty fortress is our God.” It’s a massive brick masterpiece of seven connected masses stretching the entire block, consisting of the entrance porch, vestibule, auditorium, tower, Sunday school, parlor and rectory. Depending on which way you approach the building, it’s a visual treat, and a marvel of design, materials and construction. (more…)

10/14/14 3:00pm

Prospect Park Boathouse, SSpellen 1

This week we are celebrating Brownstoner’s 10th anniversary. I’ve picked four favorites from past columns to celebrate. Here’s the first:

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Audubon Center at the Boathouse, aka Prospect Park Boathouse
Address: 101 East Drive (offical address)
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1905
Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance Revival
Architect: Helmle & Huberty, 1999 restoration — Ralph Carmosino
Other buildings by architect: Tennis House in Prospect Park. St. Barbara’s Church, Bushwick. St. Gregory’s Church, Crown Heights North. Bossert Hotel, Brooklyn Heights. Park Shelter, McGolrick Park, Greenpoint
Landmarked: Yes

The story: If I could ever decide on a definitive list of the 10 best buildings in Brooklyn, I’d have to find room for this one. It’s simply, and in the best sense of the word simply, magnificent. It also has a great history, and we are very lucky that it’s still here.

When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed this great park, they built manmade structures to enhance the natural beauty of the park, and provide places to congregate for events, or sit and enjoy the natural preserve. The first boathouse, built in 1876, sat on piers, and faced south. In 1905, this Classically inspired, terra-cotta encased building was designed to replace it. It faces west, by the way, purposefully to catch the sunsets over the water. (more…)

10/14/14 10:45am

Gilbertsville, NY 1

This week is a celebration of Brownstoner’s 10th anniversary. Ten years! How time does fly! Instead of a story about a historic Brooklyn place or person, this week’s two Walkabouts are about old houses, brownstones, fixer-uppers and my Brownstoner journey.

I grew up in an old house. I spent 17 years in an old Italianate farmhouse in a small town in upstate New York called Gilbertsville, population 400. The house was built in the 1850s or 1860s, a vernacular Victorian farmhouse with a wraparound porch overlooking a beautiful valley. We moved upstate from Queens when I was six, and I can still remember the first time we walked into the house. My parents had bought the property, which came with 254 acres, pretty much sight unseen, on the recommendation of my paternal grandmother, who for some never explained reason, had moved up there from Harlem some years before. They paid $10,000 for it. On a mortgage, of course. (more…)

10/10/14 10:45am

101 8th Ave, Unity Club, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

The Unity Club was founded as an upscale Jewish men’s organization in 1896. They organized in order to provide social, philanthropic and communal activities for their members, many of whom were not welcome in Brooklyn’s other clubs. Their first clubhouse was at 482 Franklin Avenue at Hancock Street. In 1914, they took over the Union League Club building at Grant Square, on the corner of Dean Street and Bedford Avenue. This large building was perfect for the clubs social and educational activities.

Many of the members were German Jews whose families had come to America just after the Civil War or a bit later. They had succeeded in business and assimilated in many ways into American society, with many leading citizens in their ranks. But the poorer, less skilled Eastern European Jews who came to the US at the turn of the 20th century did not fare as well. The Unity Club provided programs to teach these immigrants English, hone job skills, and help them make their way in American society, while still holding on to their Jewish traditions. (more…)

10/09/14 3:00pm

797 Broadway, SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Mixed use commercial loft building
Address: 797 Broadway
Cross Streets: Corner Fayette Street
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: Mid to late 1880s
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Probably/perhaps Theobald Engelhardt
Other Buildings by Architect: Factories, breweries, row houses, private homes, churches, loft buildings, warehouses, and more, mostly here in the Eastern District of Bushwick/Williamsburg/Eastern Bed Stuy
Landmarked: No

The story: Brooklyn’s Broadway is one of those great streets that needs to be walked. If you are interested in architecture, Broadway can be immensely frustrating, because the elevated tracks obscure everything, including some great commercial architecture. The tracks also make decent photography of those buildings next to impossible. If you are in a car, you miss a lot of details, and if you are driving that car, your eyes should be on the street, because Broadway seems to bring out the crazy in drivers. But the good stuff is there, nonetheless, and if you get a chance, start walking and look up once in a while. One of the buildings you see may be this one, on the corner of Broadway and Fayette Street, between Park and Flushing Avenues. (more…)

10/09/14 10:45am

St. Paul's Epis.Church, Troy, FriendsofStPaul's 3

In the early 1890s, the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Troy, New York had a serious problem on his hands. His church was in danger of caving in. The Rev. Dr. Edgar Enos had just returned from a tour of Europe where he had visited many of the great Gothic cathedrals. His tour took him to the monumental medieval churches of France, England, Germany, Italy and other countries, and he was filled with ideas for his church. St. Paul’s was one of Troy’s oldest churches. Episcopalians in the bustling city on the Hudson had established their first worship services in 1795. By 1804, the parish was established, and a brick church had been built a block away from the current church. In 1826, work was begun on the church building that we see today.

St. Paul’s was purposely designed to be a copy of Trinity Church in New Haven, Connecticut. That church, located on the town green, was begun in 1813, and was consecrated in 1816. It is the first true Gothic-style church in the United States, and predates the English Gothic Revival period by about 20 years. Trinity was designed by Ithiel Town, one of the first professional architects in the United States. When Troy wanted to build its first Episcopal church, the committee asked Ithiel Town for permission to copy Trinity’s design. Town may not have been in Troy to oversee the building, but the church is so much like Trinity, experts are sure that Town had provided Troy with the plans. He later came back to Troy to co-design the Cannon Building, one of the city’s most important buildings. (more…)

10/08/14 3:00pm

13-17 Lexington Ave, Pincus and Tobias factory , SSPellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Pincus & Tobias Shoe Factory
Address: 13-23 Lexington Avenue
Cross Streets: Grand and Classon Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1911, rebuilt around 1922
Architectural Style: Early 20th century brick factory building
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Brooklyn was once home to a large and profitable shoe manufacturing industry. Yes, shoes were once made in Brooklyn; all kinds of shoes. We had factories that made shoes and boots for men, women and children. There were factories that made lower end products, mid-priced products and high end and fashionable shoes and boots. The companies were scattered all over the manufacturing ends of Brooklyn, but by the beginning of the 20th century, were mainly centered in the eastern Clinton Hill/Western Bedford/southern Wallabout corridor.

Back then, the Myrtle and Lexington Avenue el trains rumbled overhead, and frequent trolley service ran along the north/south avenues, making this area perfect for workers to commute to easily. Factory and other industrial buildings sprang up here, and for the most part, still stand. One of the largest shoe factories in the area was that of Pincus & Tobias Inc., the makers of fine women’s shoes and boots. (more…)

10/07/14 3:00pm

38-42 Washington Avenue, SSPellen 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Mixed use retail and residential buildings
Address: 38-44 Washington Avenue, aka 200 Flushing Avenue
Cross Streets: Flushing and Park Avenues
Neighborhood: Wallabout
Year Built: 1907
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival with Romanesque and classical details
Architect: Benjamin Finkensieper
Other Buildings by Architect: Knox Hat Factory building in Crown Heights, and many other factories, warehouses, churches and tenement buildings throughout Brooklyn.
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed LPC Wallabout Industrial Historic District, and a National Register nomination for the same.

The story: At the turn of the 20th century, the factories and warehouses of Wallabout and the activities within the Brooklyn Navy Yard were at an all-time high. Only the World War II years would surpass it. This group of buildings was built for Henry Waldeck, a very successful builder and developer who did a lot of work in both industrial and residential areas. A large fire on this, and surrounding blocks in 1907 damaged or destroyed the wood framed buildings that were on this site, giving Waldeck, who had owned many of them already, the perfect excuse to rebuild, and build better. (more…)