04/27/15 3:00pm

1044-4046 Sterling Place, SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 1044-1046 Sterling Place
Cross Streets: Brooklyn and Kingston avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1892-1900
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: King & Symonds
Other buildings by architect: Many railroad buildings such as train depots, round houses, pumping stations for Adirondack & St. Lawrence Railroad, as well as stables, houses and other projects in Manhattan and Brooklyn
Landmarked: Yes, part of new Phase III, Crown Heights North Historic District

The story: This unique pair of houses has long been a mystery. Tucked quietly away on Sterling Place, these two houses are unlike any others nearby. That’s saying something in an area with such diverse architecture as Crown Heights North.

Like the majority of the row houses in this neighborhood, they are two-family houses, built for a middle class clientele that wanted generous space for themselves as well as an upper apartment for income. Like most of these two family houses, they were built to look like one family homes, keeping the architectural integrity of the neighborhood intact.

The houses are in a unique Queen Anne style. They stand out on the street because of their curved corners, highly stylized Greek Key trim, and Ionic columns between the windows on the top floor.

The arched ground floor windows, one of which curves around the corner, are unusual for houses of this type. So are the decorative quoins, now painted to emphasize the patterns they make against the rest of the façade.


04/24/15 3:00pm

385 Jay St. S.Spellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former row house
Address: 385 Jay Street
Cross Streets: Willoughby and Fulton Streets
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: probably late 1850s-60s
Architectural Style: probably Italianate with many alterations
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: In 1887, this odd numbered side of Jay Street had a row of six brownstone row houses on it, as can be seen on the map below. They took up all the lots on the block except for the corner lots on Willoughby and Fulton. Like much of downtown Brooklyn at this point, Jay Street was an amalgam of buildings.

The brownstones, which were built when this was a fashionable residential part of town, were slowly disappearing. They were replaced by newer, taller and larger buildings; mostly stores, theaters and banks, or they were altered and used for other purposes.

Unlike today, the Victorians were not in the habit of letting a perfectly good building go to waste. (more…)

Sylvan Electric Baths composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

For as long as mankind has been around, we’ve been trying to find ways to alleviate our aches and pains. In late 19th and early 20th century America, advances in science combined with ancient cures had been shown to produce results.

Mineral and hot springs baths were one popular way to sooth aching limbs and calm agitated organs. The resort towns of Sharon Springs, Saratoga and other locations in upstate New York were popular places to get the cure. Fortunes were made by spa owners, and entire towns dedicated to hosting the guests of these spas flourished for many years.

But you had to have time to go there, and you had to be wealthy, or at least well-off. Didn’t everyone deserve to benefit from nature’s cures? And if you lived in New York City, wouldn’t it be great if there was a place in the city itself where you could take a treatment, and then walk back out onto the street and continue your busy day? Some savvy entrepreneurs thought so, and decided to bring the spa experience to Brooklyn. (more…)

04/23/15 3:00pm

649-651 Myrtle Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Wood-framed store buildings with apartments above
Address: 649-651 Myrtle Avenue
Cross Streets: Franklin and Skillman Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Before 1872, probably late 1860s
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Although we hold up the Brooklyn brownstone as the building block of our city, in truth, buildings like this built Brooklyn. These were the types of buildings that lined the streets in the 1840s, when Walt Whitman was rhapsodizing about his city.

These simple two story wood-framed buildings, with a store on the ground floor and an apartment above lined our commercial streets until well after the Civil War. The fact that any of them have survived anywhere in this constantly changing city to this date is amazing.

Most of this commercial block probably looked like these two houses when they were built, probably in the 1860s. By the 1880’s the twin wood-frames were surrounded by brick and brownstone buildings. Somehow, they survived, probably because they were constantly in use.

The addresses start to appear in 1872. 649 is listed in a city directory as the location for a grocery store owned by Joseph H. Corliss. He and his family lived upstairs. (more…)

04/23/15 10:00am

Holy Cross Cemetery, Flatbush. Jim Henderson, Wiki 1

Pretty 16 year old housemaid Barbara Gronenthal was dead, and her boyfriend, James Walsh killed her. Now he was in jail, awaiting his murder trial. Would he end up like his older brother, sentenced to Sing Sing Prison, or, as we learned in the last chapter, would his fate also match his brother’s – death?

James Walsh sat in Brooklyn’s Raymond Street Jail alone and friendless. His mother, Catherine Duffy, came to visit him once, and left shortly thereafter, weeping bitterly. The guards told reporters that James would be calm and quiet in his cell, and then suddenly rage and throw himself at the bars. He also liked the prison food, which in their estimation proved he was insane.

An autopsy was conducted before Barbara was returned to her family for burial. It determined that the four inch knife had been plunged into her heart up to the hilt, killing her in minutes. She never had a chance. Her funeral took place on January 6, 1881. Only her mother, her two sisters, her brother-in-law, and a few family friends followed the funeral procession to Holy Cross Cemetery in Flatbush. The Carlisle family was not there.

Investigators went to talk to anyone who knew James Walsh. They visited his job and found out a lot of information that was not positive for James’ case. His supervisor said that James had been a fine worker until about a year ago, when his brother Buck had been arrested for the home invasion robbery. After that, James had started to pick fights with management and with fellow workers.

The day James killed Barbara he had suddenly taken off from work in the afternoon, and never came back. That was it for his supervisor, who told other workers that if James came back the next day, he was going to be fired. (more…)

04/22/15 3:00pm

106 Pierrepont St. SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 106 Pierrepont Street
Cross Streets: Henry and Clinton Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1882-83
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: William Baker
Other Buildings by Architect: Row houses, Upper West Side and Harlem, Manhattan
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights Historic District (1965)

The story: Like many Brooklyn neighborhoods, houses can come and go by the whim of the real estate gods. Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights has been built up, torn down and built up several times over its history.

104 Pierrepont Street, next door, was built in 1858. No doubt, a similar house once stood here. But in 1882, the Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide announced that this lot, at the head of Monroe Street, would become the new home of Mr. A. D. Farmer.

The four story (plus basement, or ground floor) home was to be 25×55 feet, on a hundred foot lot. The house was to be designed by William Baker, a Manhattan architect who was around the same time building many fine upper class townhouses on the Upper West Side and in Harlem, on what is now Adam Clayton Powell Blvd, between 117th and 118th Street. (more…)

04/22/15 10:00am

Gowanus Canal, 1905, BPL

This is the story of two poor families in Brooklyn and a terrible crime. In the first episode, we met one of the ne’er-do-well Walsh boys and his sweetheart, 16-year-old Barbara Gronenthal, who worked as a maid for a well-off family in Bedford in 1881.

Barbara was eager to please her employer, the Carlisle family. They lived in a four story Neo-Grec brownstone on a quiet block filled with similar houses, part of the great building frenzy that had overtaken Brooklyn.

Like many upper middle-class families, they had at least one live-in servant, as well as help like Barbara and the cook, who were day workers.

Barbara lived in Brooklyn too, but not in a fine brownstone. (more…)

04/21/15 3:00pm

1095 Prospect Ave, S.Spellen 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Apartment house
Address: 1095 Prospect Place
Cross Streets: Kingston and Albany avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1908
Architectural Style: Arts & Crafts with Tudor Revival details
Architect: Jack Z. Cohen
Other Buildings by Architect: Small projects in Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn
Landmarked: Yes, part of new Phase III of Crown Heights North Historic District (2015)

The story: One of the many great things about the architecture of Crown Heights is the diversity of styles and functions. Because the large neighborhood developed from the 1850s through the 1940s, the gamut of residential architecture in Brooklyn is represented somewhere in the neighborhood.

Crown Heights South is very different from Crown Heights North, which is the older part of the neighborhood. Within CHN are many different housing options, but this building is one of a kind, at least within the historic districts.

Crown Heights North has single family row houses, two family row houses, several styles of the “Kinkos” double duplex row houses, and all kinds of flats buildings, tenements and elevator apartment buildings. And this place – an apartment HOUSE. (more…)

04/21/15 10:00am

1 Pierrepont Plaza, Hillary Clinton Brooklyn campaign headquarters


This past week, Hillary Clinton chose 1 Pierrepont Plaza in Brooklyn Heights as her 2016 presidential campaign headquarters.

The choice of Brooklyn as Clinton’s HQ is another marker signaling the change in the borough’s profile and stature. As with the growth of Williamsburg as a capital of youth culture, or the visibility of Barclays Center as the venue for such events as the MTV Video Music Awards and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, this can be seen as another chapter in Brooklyn’s growth into a tier-one city in its own right.



04/17/15 3:00pm

29 Fort Green Pl. Bklyn Tech,SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Brooklyn Technical High School
Address: 29 Fort Greene Place
Cross Streets: Between DeKalb and Lafayette Avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1930-33
Architectural Style: Collegiate Gothic meets Deco skyscraper
Architect: Walter C. Martin
Other Buildings by Architect: Franklin K. Lane HS, Bklyn; Samuel Gompers Vocational HS, Bronx; Andrew Jackson HS, Jamaica HS, Queens; George Washington HS, Manhattan, and more
Landmarked: No

The story: Architect Walter C. Martin, the Superintendent of Buildings for the New York City Board of Education had his hands full building Brooklyn Tech. The massive school building was constructed during the first three years of the 1930s, when the country was reeling under the effects of the Great Depression.

Thanks to Federal money, the school continued to rise above the brownstone streets of Fort Greene, overlooking Fort Greene Park. Brooklyn Tech was conceived as a specialized school, open to boys only. Part One of this history appears here.

It would offer a curriculum that was heavy in mathematics, science, engineering and related subjects, preparing them for higher education or a good job in the industrial sector.

The school was the brainchild of Dr. Albert Colston, once the head of the Mathematics department at Brooklyn’s Manual Training School in Park Slope. He would become the new school’s first principal. (more…)

81 Fenimore St. PLG, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Like an archeological dig, Brooklyn is made up of layers. In Flatbush, the fields the Canarsee roamed became cultivated farmland under the Dutch. That in turn gave way to freestanding homes on large plots, which were incorporated into the land deed of Lefferts Manor, and turned into smaller row houses.

That’s what happened here on Fenimore Street, as it happened throughout many Brooklyn neighborhoods, but in this rare instance, we have photographs.

Our period photo shows 81 Fenimore Street. The photograph was taken in 1910. It shows a large wood-framed house on the property. The style was Second Empire, with a central tower with an even taller mansard roof and widow’s walk. The view of Brooklyn from the mansard windows must have been fantastic. (more…)

04/16/15 3:00pm

29 Fort Green Pl. Bklyn Tech. JimHenderson for Wiki 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Brooklyn Technical High School
Address: 29 Fort Greene Place
Cross Streets: Between DeKalb and Lafayette Avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1930-33
Architectural Style: Collegiate Gothic meets Deco skyscraper
Architect: Walter C. Martin
Other Buildings by Architect: Franklin K. Lane HS, Bklyn; Samuel Gompers Vocational HS, Bronx; Andrew Jackson HS, Jamaica HS, Queens; George Washington HS, Manhattan, and more
Landmarked: No

The story: After World War I, educators began to realize that the world was rapidly changing, with technology becoming more and more important to everyday life, as well as in employment. The technologies made real for war were moving into the marketplace.

It was very similar to today, in that respect.

At the end of the 19th century, educators had introduced “manual training” into the high school curriculum. Girls were directed into the “domestic arts,” but boys were taught skills in carpentry, metalworking, engineering, drafting, building skills and the like, preparing some of them for higher education, and most of them for the job market.

Dr. Albert Colston was the head of the Mathematics Departmment at Brooklyn’s Manual Training School, later called John Jay High School, in Park Slope. He had a vision of a new technical high school that would train boys in the new technologies of the 20th century. (more…)