03/26/15 3:00pm

46 Sullivan Street, Bethelship, KL, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally Bethelship Seamen’s Branch, YMCA. Now apartments.
Address: 47 Sullivan Street
Cross Streets: Corner Richards Street
Neighborhood: Red Hook
Year Built: 1921-1922
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival with some Rundbogenstil details
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Sailors from all over the world stepped onto Brooklyn’s shores along the Red Hook waterfront. Sailors have often lost themselves in more ways than one on the piers of foreign ports, and Brooklyn was as tempting or as frightening a place as anywhere else.

Some of the local churches saw these sailors as a worthy social and religious harvest of souls, and established mission churches and chapels near many different parts of the Brooklyn waterfront. Here in Red Hook, the evangelical zeal was provided by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

Many of the sailors, as well as local workers, were Scandinavian. The Bethelship Norwegian Methodist Church and the Brooklyn and Long Island Church Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church established a mission in a much older church building and rectory at this location in 1911. In 1918, the Bethelship Branch of the YMCA was established here. (more…)

03/26/15 10:45am

President, 7th, 8th Ave, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

One of the fun parts of writing this particular column is trying to match the vintage photo or postcard to the present day site. Sometimes a perfect match is possible, and other times, the scenery has changed so much, it’s impossible to tell exactly where a building or event was. The clues or markers that place or date a photo just don’t exist any longer. But that’s not the case here.

The historic photograph was taken in late February or early March of 1906 on President Street, between 7th and 8th Avenue. This is the north side of the street, closer to 8th Avenue. The men are tearing up the sidewalk area in order to lay down new sidewalks and curbs.

My vintage photo had a caption, President Street, 1906, which narrowed down street and date. A bit of research turned up public notices in the Brooklyn Eagle announcing road and sewer work throughout the borough, as well as the “regulating, grading, curbing, flagging and laying cement sidewalks” on many blocks, as well.

The paving and road work were all spread out with great planning, so that traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian could get around without too much difficulty. The notices began appearing at the end of February, 1906, and continued through March. One by one, block by block, the city infrastructure was improved. (more…)

03/26/15 10:45am

Yale Law School. SSPellen 1

This is the story of wealth, hurt feelings and stubbornness in a Brooklyn family, and the greed that surrounded the entire affair. In Part One, we met the Brasher family, millionaire residents of Park Slope. Widowed Mrs. Brasher did not like her only daughter Louise’s choice of husbands, and cut Louise and her daughter out of her large will.

Part Two is the story of the trial to break the will. At the end, Louise Bain lost, and unless the decision could be overturned by the Appellate Court, Louise and her family would never see a cent of her parents’ money.

When the case went to the jury in 1920, they pondered long and hard, pouring over the lengthy will, plus the four codicils, and days of testimony. At last they thought they had found a Solomon-like solution. Hidden deep in the original will was a bequest for Louise, after all. She was left a trust fund of $50,000 out of the $1,200,000 estate.

The jury voted to give that to her, plus $10,000 for attorney’s fees, and a $10,000 bequest already in the will for her son, William Clayton. They decided after 12 hours of deliberation to throw out the codicils which would have left Mrs. Louise Bain with nothing.

But when they made the announcement in court, they inadvertently set in motion a clause in the will that totally disinherited Mrs. Bain. The clause stipulated that she would get nothing if she contested the will. How they all missed that is inexplicable, but now Mrs. Bain could not legally receive any money.

The jury was devastated. (more…)

03/25/15 3:00pm

135-137 Jefferson Ave, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former garages, now church
Address: 135-137 Jefferson Avenue
Cross Streets: Bedford and Nostrand avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Late 1890s
Architectural Style: Transitional Romanesque – Renaissance Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: We build nice storage facilities for the things we treasure. From Egyptian tombs to banks, to massive storage facilities with climate control and private viewing booths, our prize possessions can be as pampered as our purses allow. Wealthy Victorians had fabulously luxurious stables built for their prize horses and carriages.

This block has always been a mixture of service and residential buildings, and took a long time to develop. Over the course of the late 19th and early 20th century, row houses replaced wood framed stables and homes. Many of them were replaced by later service buildings and tenements. Some of the land just remained empty.

The map of this block from 1880 shows no buildings on this site. Nothing was here on maps dating from 1886 or 1888, either. It wasn’t until the map of 1904 that a building was placed here, and the rest of the lots going east were filled in. (more…)

03/24/15 3:00pm

155-159 Lafayette Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats buildings
Address: 155-159 Lafayette Avenue
Cross Streets: Carlton Avenue and Adelphi Street
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1897
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival with Palladian and Classical details
Architect: Frank Bosworth
Other Buildings by Architect: Was not able to find any
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Green Historic District (1978)

The story: The architect of these two twin flats buildings was an unknown named Frank Bosworth. He would have loved the Internet, because it takes only one real estate ad to create a tsunami of positive hype for oneself that is still rather amazing even in this day of jaded Internet use — as our story will show.

When I looked up Frank Bosworth, to see if he had designed anything else, I got a flood of entries. The only problem was that they were all copies of one listing for one of the larger apartments in the building, first run in 2014.

The real estate broker had described the building as being built by “famed architect Frank Bosworth.” Because that description was repeated by all the sites that rerun the listings, “famed architect Frank Bosworth” finally got his 15 minutes of, well…fame. An entire page of Frank Bosworth mentions. Unfortunately for us architect geeks, that was it.

Mr. Bosworth remains a cypher, an unknown in the pantheon of Brooklyn architects. (more…)

03/24/15 10:45am

119 Henry St. Bain story, SB, PS

In Part One of our story, we met Louise Bain, who was disinherited by her wealthy Park Slope mother, Martha Brasher. In this installment, which takes place in 1920, the daughter tries to overturn her mother’s will.

Mrs. Bain sued, trying to break the will. She and her attorneys argued that her mother was not in her right mind when she cut her out of the will. They also argued that Mrs. Brasher’s lawyers had too much influence, as they were executors and beneficiaries. 

The Church Charity Fund, which received half the estate, teamed up with the lawyers for the executors to prove Martha Brasher sane, Louise Bain a horrible daughter, and the will valid.

All sides put forth a good case for their points. The trial lasted a week before the jury received the case. After long deliberation, they returned with a verdict upholding the will. Mrs. Bain lost. Then the story takes a strange turn. (more…)

03/23/15 3:00pm

38 Garden Pl. SB, PS

Name: Row house
Address: 38 Garden Place
Cross Streets: Joralemon and State Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: Around 1848, perhaps as early as 1846
Architectural Style: Greek Revival with later alterations
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights Historic District (1965)

Garden Place, a one block enclave of row houses and small apartment buildings between Hicks and Henry Street was originally called Garden Street.

Philip Livingston – a merchant, a gentleman farmer, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence – owned most of the land making up Brooklyn Heights, and Garden Street was where his large formal garden could be found.

As the 19th century progressed, Livingston’s heirs sold off their land and the garden gave way to the streets and buildings we have today, including this one. Parts of the stone wall that separated the garden from the adjacent orchards still form the back fence of some of the houses on the street.


03/20/15 3:00pm

530-554 President Street, NS, PS 1

Name: Former Hildebrand Baking Company

Address: 530-554 President Street
Cross Streets: 3rd and 4th avenues
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1890-1902
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Charles Werner
Other Buildings by Architect: St. Francis Xavier Academy in Park Slope, row houses and apartment buildings in Park Slope, Stuyvesant Heights, Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, O. Wissner Piano factory, Atlantic Avenue (demolished)
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed National Register and NYC Landmark Historic Districts


The Hildebrand Baking Company was founded by three brothers; John, Harry and Fred Hildebrand. The brothers built the first of the buildings in this complex around 1890, and added to it until completed in 1902. The first buildings were the two story bakery buildings, followed by the three story buildings at the turn of the 20th century. All of them appear to have been designed by Charles Werner.

Charles Werner was one of those competent, but low-key architects who helped build Brooklyn, but one whose name is generally overlooked. He had a long career, and was pretty prolific. He set up his offices in 1876, at 82-86 Schermerhorn Street, and later moved to larger offices in what became the architect’s building of choice; the Garfield Building, on Court Street. He was also quartermaster of the 13th Regiment, and his name appears on the records when their new armory in Bedford was being constructed in the 1890s. (more…)

PS 60, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Public School 60 was built for the growing number of students in what is now the Greenwood Heights neighborhood. It was built in 1886. Like all of the public schools built during this period of time, it was designed by James Naughton, the last and greatest of the city of Brooklyn’s public school architects. He was the last man to hold the position of Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn. He died about the same time his position was eliminated in 1898, when Brooklyn became part of greater New York City.

Naughton designed great school buildings of all sizes and configurations. He is on record for designing and building at least 100 school buildings across the borough during his twenty year tenure. He didn’t have the 20th century engineering and technological advances that his successor, C.P. J. Snyder had, allowing for walls of windows, and bigger spaces, but Naughton managed to get the largest windows he could in his schools, allowing for lots of natural light and air. This building is similar to many of his schools in other parts of Brooklyn, although many of them are no longer standing. This building closely resembles PS 79, which was at Kosciusco and Sumner, long gone, and P.S. 65 in Cypress Hills. That one is still with us. (more…)

352-386 Parkside Ave, SSPellen 4Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Two family duplex row houses
Address: 352-386, and 377-409 Parkside Avenue
Cross Streets: Flatbush and Bedford Avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Year Built: Around 1910
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival-Colonial Revival mixture
Architect: Unknown, but perhaps Benjamin Dreisler
Other Buildings by Architect: If by Dreisler, many buildings in PLG, Prospect Park South, Ditmas Park, and other parts of Flatbush
Landmarked: No, although should be

The story: Many years ago, when I first started reading Brownstoner, I became embroiled in online “discussions” about Prospect Lefferts Gardens. I had only been there once, a short trip to one block of the neighborhood to look at a house with my mother. I don’t know where we were, since I did not know the neighborhood. In retrospect, it may have been Maple Street. At any rate, I empathized with the PLG people who were defending their neighborhood’s quality of life and architectural beauty. One day, someone offered to drive me around PLG, and as much as I liked all parts of the neighborhood, I really loved this block.

At the time, this was considered a “sketchy” block (not fond of that word), but it was undeniable that the architecture was superb. I always wondered why this block was not included in the PLG landmark district, as the buildings on this block are more than worthy. Perhaps it’s because of the apartment buildings, or perhaps because it was down market from the other blocks in Lefferts Manor, proper, but it was a huge oversight, in my opinion. (more…)

03/19/15 10:45am

58 7th Ave, BCM, KL, PS

The other day I featured 58 7th Avenue, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music Building, as our Building of the Day. As I mentioned there, the house was originally built for William M. Brasher and his family, in 1881. Brasher had a factory down the street at 20th and 7th where he manufactured oil cloth. This material was used for many different purposes, and was the 19th century’s equivalent of vinyl coated fabric. Cotton duck fabric was soaked in linseed oil, which formed a waterproof fabric that could be used for tents, tarps, clothing, tablecloths and floor cloths. Brasher operated his factory during the Civil War period, and as you can imagine, he made a ton of money selling oilcloth to the government. Long story short – he was rich.

William Brasher and his wife Martha had only one child, a daughter named Louise. William died in 1912, leaving his tidy fortune, the house, and the yacht to his wife, Martha. She spent many subsequent years making other people miserable. She sued several people, and was sued in return. Aside from her servants, her lawyers probably saw her, and loved her, more than anyone else in her life. She hardly ever left the house, and did not socialize.

The Brasher’s daughter Louise had grown up and married Captain Bertram B. Clayton. He was a West Point graduate, and served in the Spanish-American War. He subsequently served a term in Congress, and was made a Colonel in the 14th Regiment of the New York National Guard. Their headquarters was the Park Slope Armory. Martha Brasher was very proud of her new son-in-law, and her new grandson, William, who was named after his grandfather. But her daughter’s marriage was not a happy one. (more…)

03/18/15 3:00pm

213-235 Clermont Ave, NS, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 213-235 Clermont Avenue
Cross Streets: DeKalb and Willoughby Avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1868-1871
Architectural Style: French Second Empire
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene Historic District (1978)

The story: My introduction to Brooklyn came from my BFF, who was a student at Pratt Institute during the late 1970s, through early 80s. When she graduated, she stayed in the neighborhood for many years afterward. I was living in the Bronx at that time, but used to visit often, and because she moved around a lot, I saw a lot of apartments in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene. Most of them were pretty awful student housing hovels, back in the day when you could rent almost anything to a starving art student. But after she had a decent job, her apartment choices got better, and her last apartment in Brooklyn was in this group of houses.

I was still living in a 1930s apartment in the Bronx, which was a totally different aesthetic than a floor-through in an 1868 row house. I loved her apartment, which was on the third floor of one of these houses. I’ll never forget it had two beautiful intricately carved marble fireplaces, one in the front and one in the back rooms. One had the bust of a woman in the center, and both had the patina of age. Thank goodness, they had never been covered in paint. (more…)