05/27/15 3:00pm

556 Nostrand Avenue, People's Trust, SSPellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: The former People’s Trust Company, now VIM, a casual clothing shop
Address: 556 Nostrand Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Herkimer Street
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1911-1912
Architectural Style: Neo-Classical
Architect: Unknown, perhaps Mowbray & Uffinger
Landmarked: No

The story: The People’s Trust Company was one of the many, many banks founded in Brooklyn in the latter half of the 19th century. Between January and July of 1889 alone, Brooklyn saw the establishment of five new state banks and two trusts — one of them the People’s Trust.

People’s Trust was founded by a group of wealthy and well-connected Brooklyn businessmen that included such well-known names of the day as Cornelius N. Hoagland, Henry W. Slocum, George L. Pease and James Jourdan.

Hoagland was the Royal Baking Powder king of Clinton Hill, and Jourdan was Brigadier General James Jourdan, Civil War veteran, former Brooklyn Police Commissioner and Commissioner of the Board of Health, and soon-to-be head of Brooklyn Union Gas.

The first president of the Trust was William H. Murtha, a former State Senator and millionaire coal merchant. The Trust opened with capital stock of $500,000, and a back-up surplus of $250,000. (more…)

05/26/15 3:00pm

180 Livingston St. A&S, SSpellen 3

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Abraham & Straus Annex, now mixed-use commercial and residential
Address: 180 Livingston Street
Cross Streets: Gallatin Place and Hoyt Street
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1906-1908
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: George L. Morse
Other works by architect: A&S annex across street on corner of Gallatin, Temple Bar building on Court Street, Franklin Trust building on Montague Street, among many other commercial buildings, churches and row houses in Park Slope, Downtown, Prospect Heights, Stuyvesant Heights and elsewhere
Landmarked: No, but should be

The story: Abraham & Straus was one of Brooklyn’s finest shopping emporiums. It began as Wechsler & Abraham in 1865, a dry goods store on Fulton Street at Tillary Street. The partners were Joseph Wechsler and 22-year-old Abraham Abraham.

Their business started small but grew rapidly. In 1883, they moved from their small store to the large Second Empire building, called the Wheeler Building, on Fulton Street, near Hoyt. Their arrival jumpstarted the shopping district on Fulton, encouraging other retail businesses, large and small, to locate there.

The store grew, filling the Wheeler Building to capacity, so they expanded on both sides, taking over the old Leibmann Building and the Vosburgh Lighting Company building on Fulton Street.

They still needed more room, especially for storage and stock, so they hired George L. Morse, one of Brooklyn’s most prominent architects, to design a building that would provide six stories of stock room. This building would also be a grand porte-cochere for the wealthy ladies who were brought to the store by carriage. (more…)

05/25/15 10:30am


A 2009 Memorial Day concert in Green-Wood Cemetery by Green-Wood Cemetery

We celebrate Memorial Day with food, festivities and perhaps even a day at the beach, on the semi-official start of the summer season. Some of us plan to go shopping, taking advantage of all of the Memorial Day sales at practically every large department and discount store.

Because the experience of war, losing someone in war, military service, or even having a relative in the service is so foreign to most of us, nowadays, it’s hard to conceive of this convenient holiday on the last Monday in May being anything more than just a blessed day off, a break in the schedule of hard work that we are all too familiar with.

But it was not always so.

My parent’s generation were veterans of World War II, with the Korean War following right on its heels, so war and national and personal sacrifice were things they were very familiar with. I grew up in a small town upstate where patriotic parades took place on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Veterans Day, with the school band marching down the village streets, followed by the local chapter of the American Legion, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the 4-H, the Grange, church groups, and anyone else who wanted to participate.

Looking back, I’m surprised there was anyone left to line the streets, but there always was a crowd, waving flags and cheering. I started out marching with the Girl Scouts, and by high school was in the marching band, along with my brother. My Dad, a WWII vet, marched with the American Legion.

Our parade began at the school, wound through the town, and ended at the village cemetery, where a very solemn ceremony of wreath laying took place, accompanied by prayer, a 21-gun salute fired by proud veterans, and ended with the lonely and poignant sound of taps echoing across the hills. My brother was one of the two trumpet players on opposite sides of the cemetery, one playing the echo to the other.

The Vietnam War was still dragging on, but on that hill above Gilbertsville, time stood still, the ground was sacred, and even as a rebellious generation, we knew and honored those traditions. (more…)

05/22/15 3:00pm

PP Picnic House, Bridge And Tunnel Club, 2

This story concludes our weeklong look at Brooklyn’s greatest treasure, Prospect Park.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Prospect Park Picnic House
Address: 95 Prospect Park West
Cross Streets: Behind Litchfield Villa at 5th Street and Prospect Park West
Neighborhood: Closest to Park Slope
Year Built: 1927
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival
Architect: J. Sarsfield Kennedy
Other Work by Architect: The “Gingerbread House” in Bay Ridge; houses in Prospect Park South, Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and elsewhere
Landmarked: Yes, in 1975. Also on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: The grass had hardly begun to grow in the new Prospect Park before eager picnickers swarmed the Long Meadow and other areas, ready to enjoy the outdoor spaces. The year was 1868, and the park wasn’t even done yet.

The city had already received seven requests for permits from groups of over 100 who wanted to have picnics. In response, a picnic shelter and concession stand was built in 1876.

The popularity of the park grew steadily, and as time went by, more shelters, restaurants and other buildings were added inside the park, all designed to make the park experience easier for patrons and to add to the park’s ambiance. Some of the buildings were quite charming, some quite unusual, and some just silly. (more…)

05/21/15 3:00pm

Polo at PP, composite

We continue our weeklong look at Brooklyn’s greatest treasure, Prospect Park.

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

The first polo game in Prospect Park was played on June 11, 1879. It was between the Westchester Polo Club and a club from Queens.

Up until that day, “polo” had a totally different meaning to Brooklyn’s sports lovers. It meant ice polo, a game we now call hockey. It had been played in Brooklyn for several years, inaugurated by the Crescent Athletic Club and other well-to-do sports clubs.

They played in the Clermont Rink in Fort Greene, against clubs from nearby colleges like Yale and Columbia as well as other sports clubs.

As Brooklyn was getting richer, so too were her sports. Polo, the game with horses, had been played in Persia for centuries. A version of it traveled to the east, and was in play for hundreds of years in India before it was encountered by bored aristocratic British officers stationed there in the middle of the 19th century.

Two British soldiers started a polo club to introduce the sport — basically hockey on horses — to their countrymen, and the game took off and has been popular ever since.  (more…)

05/20/15 3:00pm

96 Parkside Ave, Peristyle, SSpellen 1

We continue this week’s look at Brooklyn’s natural treasure: Prospect Park. Summer is coming!

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Prospect Park Peristyle, aka Grecian Shelter, aka Croquet Shelter
Address: 96 Parkside Avenue
Cross Streets: Park Circle and Ocean Avenue
Neighborhood: Flatbush
Year Built: 1905
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: McKim, Mead & White
Other Works by Architect: In Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum, Grand Army Plaza park entrance, and other entrances and structures within Prospect Park (Stanford White)
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1968)

The story: Who doesn’t love this Classical Greek inspired structure? For many people, Prospect Park begins and ends on the Park Slope side, but other parts of the park have some of the best goodies, some hidden, and some, like this shelter, in plain view.

And to learn that it was designed by one of the finest architectural firms in the history of American architecture is just icing on the cake. As summer rapidly is upon us, let’s take a look at this wonderful folly on the Flatbush side of the park. (more…)

05/19/15 3:00pm

Prospect Park Lake composite

We continue this week’s look at Brooklyn’s natural treasure: Prospect Park.

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Because it was so carefully planned and executed almost 150 years ago, Prospect Park today looks as if it has always been there. Which, of course, was the whole idea.

If you don’t know the park’s history, you could easily think that all the landscapers needed to do was to enclose the park with a fence, cut some roads and pathways, build a couple of bridges and a grand entrance or three, and mow the lawn.

But in reality, Prospect Park is as constructed as the sets of Lord of the Rings in New Zealand. Every aspect of both the park and the Shire was carefully thought out and crafted. (more…)

05/18/15 10:00am

Meadowport Arch, Wally Gobetz on flickr 1

This week, in anticipation of summer, we are revisiting articles about the greatest masterpiece in Brooklyn: Prospect Park.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Meadowport Arch
Address: Prospect Park
Cross Streets: Roughly between Union and Carroll streets
Neighborhood: Closest to Park Slope
Year Built: 1868-1870
Architectural Style: Victorian Orientalist
Architect: Calvert Vaux with Frederick Olmsted
Other Buildings by Architect: Olmsted and Vaux designed all of the picturesque arches and bridges within the park
Landmarked: Yes (1975), also National Register of Historic Places

The story: All of the arches in Prospect Park are great for different reasons, but nothing beats the sensory experience of coming out of the Meadowport Arch and seeing the Long Meadow stretching into the distance. Only the Endale Arch, a close second, compares in this regard. For both, as Francis Morrone says in his Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, “WHAM!”

Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted were able to create this powerful experience through just the use of a tunnel and double entrance, artfully placed in front of a huge meadow. That, in a nutshell, is the mark of genius.

While the experience of walking through the tunnel is certainly quite something, especially for us greenery-starved New Yorkers; the arch itself ain’t bad either. It’s actually quite complex. (more…)

05/15/15 3:00pm

1406-1422 Carroll St. NS, 1418 PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 1406-1422 Carroll Street
Cross Streets: Kingston and Albany Avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights South
Year Built: 1917
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival with Flemish details
Architect: Cantor & Dorfman
Other works by architect: Similar group of houses at 1-14 Martense Court, as well as apartment buildings, row houses, and other projects throughout southern Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: Everyone is familiar with our traditional brownstones, limestones and brick row houses from the 19th century. They are all iconic elements of Brooklyn’s streetscapes. But housing construction did not end at the beginning of the 20th century, as demand continued in all parts of Brooklyn for single- and two-family houses.

Life in Brooklyn was evolving, however. Most of the older row houses were built with a live-in servant class in mind. But the middle-class homeowners in the 20th century did not typically have live-in help. They no longer needed dumbwaiters, butler’s pantries, maid’s rooms or formal double parlors.

Developers reported that their customers wanted smaller houses that had open spaces, more closets and more than one bathroom. They wanted electrical lights, modern appliances, and the greatest perk of the 20th century – off-street parking in their own garage.

Crown Heights is a wonderful microcosm of early 20th century development. Most of Crown Heights North’s row house stock was built in the last decade of the 19th century through the first decade of the 20th. As development moved south, across Eastern Parkway, the styles reflected the changes of the modern world. (more…)

05/14/15 3:00pm

KC Courthouse, undated photo 1

If you are a fan of procedural cop shows, you are no doubt familiar with the character of the coroner or medical examiner. Since the days of “Quincy, M.E.,” we have grown to love the crusty and quirky personalities tasked with investigating the deaths of thousands of people in a given city.

Over the years, our TV coroners and medical examiners have changed. In today’s shows most of them seem to be black women. But no matter who is cast, on television they are invariably dedicated and brilliant doctors with a passion for finding the facts of a person’s death. They are immune to politics or profit, and serve only the law and the truth.

Well, back in 19th-century Brooklyn, things could be different. Our tale concerns the last mayor of Brooklyn, his administration and the two doctors who served as the last coroners of Brooklyn. (more…)

05/13/15 3:00pm

173 Smith St. J. Kurtz, NS, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former J. Kurtz & Sons store, now Wyckoff House Condominium
Address: 169-173 Smith Street
Cross Streets: Corner Wyckoff Street
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1901-1902
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Albert Ullrich (often spelled Ulrich)
Other works by architect: Row houses in Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and elsewhere in Brooklyn. Also churches, houses and other buildings in Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Dallas.
Landmarked: No

The story: Jacob and Gittle Kurtz came to America in 1867, settling in New York and then Brooklyn. In 1870, they opened a small store at 175 Smith Street, selling furniture, rugs and carpets and other home furnishings. They were extremely successful and over the years expanded into the storefronts of 169, 171 and 173 Smith Street.

The company celebrated its 17th anniversary with a large picnic at Ulmer Park in Bath Beach. By this time, J. Kurtz & Sons had added women’s clothing to their line of goods and expanded to a second store, at 773-781 Broadway in Bushwick. Both stores had annexes as well — the Smith Street location had its annex at 82-90 Wyckoff Street, around the corner.

The Kurtzes’ family expanded alongside their company — they had a daughter and six sons, three of whom would go on to work in the family business.

Then in 1901, disaster struck. (more…)

05/12/15 3:00pm

99 Sutton, ICC, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

The International Cork Company was established here by James Alberti in 1907. The company’s first factory was a large two-story building at 29-45 Rodney Street in Williamsburg. The company made cork stoppers for beverage bottles as well as for medicines and pharmaceutical use. They were well known in the industry for the quality of their medicinal corks.

By 1908, the factory employed over 200 people, three quarters of whom were the young women and girls who made the corks. The other 50 or so were men who performed the other company tasks, including all of the supervisory positions.

International Cork was a family business. Founder James Alberti was joined by his son Emilio, who became president. James Alberti Jr. was vice president and general manager, and his younger brother John was secretary and treasurer. (more…)