09/18/14 10:45am


Up until 1895, New York City had the reputation of having the most corrupt police department in the country. Like most City agencies at the time, the police owed their allegiance not to the people, or even to each other, but to Tammany Hall; the political “machine” that ran New York. Tammany had a hand in who was hired, who was promoted, who was protected, and who you paid off. There was no such thing as “Protect and Serve,” it was more like “Show me the money.” Then Theodore Roosevelt became President of the Commission of Police. Like the sheriff coming into the lawless town in the Old West, Roosevelt brought law and order to a department that had forgotten what that was. (more…)

09/17/14 3:00pm

448-450 48th St. SP, NS, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Wood-framed row houses
Address: 448-450 48th Street
Cross Streets: 4th and 5th avenues
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1890
Architectural Style: Originally Queen Anne
Architect: George Walkinshaw
Landmarked: No, but Sunset Park is on the National Register of Historic Places (1988). Landmarking is needed

The story: The earliest houses still standing in Sunset Park are no older than the early 1880s. This neighborhood was one of the last of Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods to be developed. There’s only one or two of them left, tucked in the brownstone and limestone rows. In the 1890s, builders began putting up the first of the row house groups, and along with those brownstones were also built some rows of attached wood-framed houses. Today, we tend to associate wood-framed houses with earlier times, but many of them were built at the same time as the masonry homes. Wood was just another choice for building materials.

This pair of wooden houses was built in 1890, right at the beginning of serious development here, and represented another choice for buyers, and an opportunity for some interesting design. Unfortunately, that design is now gone. It wasn’t destroyed in the 1950s, or 1970s, but only a couple of years ago, twenty years after the bulk of the neighborhood had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. (more…)

09/16/14 3:00pm

2115 Benson Ave, CongSonsofIsrael, KL, PS, 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Congregation Sons of Israel
Address: 2115 Benson Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner 21st Avenue
Neighborhood: Bensonhurst
Year Built: 1918
Architectural Style: Neo-Classical
Architect: Emery Roth
Other Buildings by Architect: In Manhattan-El Dorado, Beresford, San Remo, Ardsley and Normandy Apartment buildings, among many others. In Brooklyn-1930s tower wing of St. George Hotel
Landmarked: No

The story: Bath Beach’s Congregation Sons of Israel was founded in 1896, by 60 Orthodox Jewish families who had settled in southern Brooklyn to build a community and family. They first met in rented spaces for services, and sometimes at members’ homes. Funds were immediately raised for their own worship space, and a year later, the cornerstone of a new synagogue was laid. The first Congregation Sons of Israel was located at Bay 22nd Street, near 86th and Benson Avenues. Even though the building was not totally completed, they had a roof over their head and enough done to welcome in the Jewish New Year with Rosh Hashanah services in 1898. (more…)

09/16/14 10:45am

88th Precinct, SSpellen

On January 1, 1898, Brooklyn woke up to a new world in which it was no longer the master of its own destiny. It was now part of Greater New York City, where the seats of City power rested on the streets and in the buildings of Lower Manhattan, not at Brooklyn’s City Hall or in the office and bank buildings of Court Street. It’s hard to imagine what that may have been like. The closest analogy may be that it felt like Brooklyn had been conquered by another nation. All aspects of city life were different after January 1st, and in the coming months, it got a lot worse before it got better.

Take the police, for example. Since they were charged with maintaining order, stopping crime and apprehending criminals, all very important tasks, you’d think those in charge would have spent a lot of time planning for the re-organization of the police force, so that the transition of power and command would be swift and efficient. Yeah, you’d think… (more…)

09/15/14 3:00pm

1160 Bushwick Avenue,CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Rectory for Bethesda Baptist Church, originally United Bushwick Avenue Congregational Church
Address: 1160 Bushwick Avenue
Cross Streets: Cornelia Street and Putnam Avenue
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: 1894-1896
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Fowler & Hough
Other Buildings by Architect: United Bushwick Avenue Congregational Church, next door; 23rd Regiment Armory (Bedford & Atlantic Aves); Dudley Memorial Building, Amity Street, Cobble Hill, and other buildings in New York City
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed Bushwick Avenue Historic District

The story: This is a fine looking house attached to an equally impressive church. It was originally the parsonage for the United Bushwick Avenue Congregational Church, also designed by Fowler & Hough, between 1894 and 1896. That building is a former BOTD. The church and rectory were built on land donated by wealthy landowner Adrian M. Suydam, who was a devoted member of the congregation founded in 1887. He had also given the money to build the chapel that was in this location before they tore it down to build the church. The congregation’s building committee hired the firm of Fowler & Hough to design this mighty fortress of a church. They picked the right firm for designing fortresses. (more…)

09/12/14 3:00pm

198-204 Jefferson Avenue, CB, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 198-204 Jefferson Avenue
Cross Streets: Nostrand and Marcy Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1891
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Montrose W. Morris
Other Buildings by Architect: Clinton, Alhambra, Renaissance Apartments in Bed Stuy, Imperial and Bedfordshire Apts in Crown Heights. Also in Bed Stuy – Kelley Mansion and many other houses on Hancock, between Marcy and Tompkins Avenues. Also houses and apartments in Clinton Hill, Crown Heights North and South, Park Slope, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg.
Landmarked: Not yet. Calendared for landmarking in 2012.

The story: By 1891, when this group of four houses was built, Montrose W. Morris was one busy man. He had completed his magnificent Alhambra Apartments, just down the street, on Nostrand Avenue, and was in planning for the Renaissance, Imperial and Bedfordshire Apartments which would begin in 1892. He had also just completed the Hulbert and Arbuckle mansions in Park Slope and Clinton Hill, respectively, and only a few years before had designed the Kelley mansion around the corner on Hancock Street, effectively establishing his reputation as one of the go-to architects for Brooklyn’s wealthy.

He also was working on some speculative row house work on Hancock Street and on DeKalb Avenue in Clinton Hill. Those projects were very different from this group of four houses, designed for Arthur C. Mason. At first glance, these houses are nothing like his other works, and far less impressive, but they still have the Montrose Morris touch, and were home to his favorite kind of people: wealthy and prominent folk. (more…)

Downtown Brooklyn from Temple Bar Building

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Downtown Brooklyn is one of my favorite neighborhoods to compare what was with what is. Because it was the center of civic and commercial life in the city, changes in that part of town happened often, sometimes dramatically. But also because of the area’s importance, many of the buildings there are now important landmarks, and still stand. Because of this, we have a wonderful frame of reference when looking at old photographs and postcards. Here’s another example. (more…)

09/11/14 3:00pm

2820-2900 Snyder Ave, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: NYPD 67th Precinct, FDNY Engine 248-Battalion 41
Address: 2820-2900 Snyder Avenue
Cross Streets: Nostrand and Rogers avenues
Neighborhood: Flatbush
Year Built: 1971
Architectural Style: Brutalist
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, both Brooklyn and New York City accorded their fire and police departments fine buildings. The philosophy was that these vital services reflected on the cities themselves, and should be architectural structures that did those cities proud. When visitors came here, any citizen, whether great or humble, could point to a police station or fire house and say, “This is what our city built for my safety and well-being. Aren’t they beautiful and impressive?”

When Brooklyn became part of Greater NYC, that tradition continued. Some of our finest architects vied for the privilege of designing stations that are today beloved and protected landmarks. These stations were so valued that despite changes in policing or firefighting, many of them were remodeled and are still in use. (more…)

09/11/14 10:45am

Lane Bryant, SB, PS

By the time Lane Bryant, the maternity and plus-sized women’s clothing chain, reached its 50th year anniversary in 1954, it was on top of the fashion world. Who would have dreamed that maternity and “fat ladies’ clothes” could not only be lucrative, but would be on the cutting edge of fashion? The reasons were simple – good products, and a respect and love for the customer. Lane Bryant made fashionable, stylish clothing of all kinds for their special-sized customers. They didn’t marginalize them to a rack hidden in the back of the store, or design down for them. They made their customers feel that they were just as worthy of a fine shopping and fashion experience as their thinner sisters, and offered products and services that reflected that philosophy.

Downtown Brooklyn saw its first Lane Bryant store in 1922. It was a large four story building constructed for Lane Bryant, with entrances on Hanover Place and Livingston Street, near Flatbush Avenue. By the end of World War II, they had outgrown the space, and in 1950 moved to the former Balch-Price Building on the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets. Lane Bryant herself, now 71 years old, was on hand for the opening ceremonies and the ribbon cutting. (more…)

09/10/14 3:00pm

80-84 Livingston St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Storefronts/offices with apartments
Address: 80-84 Livingston Street
Cross Streets: Court Street and Boerum Place
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1915
Architectural Style: Vaguely neo-Georgian
Architect: Volckening & Holler
Other Buildings by Architect: Station “D” Post Office, 4th Ave and 13th Street, Manhattan; addition to Bethany Deaconess Hospital, Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: Downtown Brooklyn is filled with all sorts of large and important buildings. Sometimes we overlook the smaller, less architecturally impressive buildings that stand cheek to jowl with the masterpieces or the places where BIG THINGS happened. But often, it is here that the real lives of Brooklynites took place; the small businesses, civic organizations, and the apartments of ordinary people.

As it usually happens, I came upon the architects of these buildings while researching another building. I rarely pass up an opportunity to report on a building with a named architect, so I was hoping there would be a story here. In researching these three buildings, which were built as two stories of offices/stores below two stories of apartments, I found my story for today. (more…)

09/09/14 3:00pm

185 Pacific Street, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally Riley & Latimer Trucking, now the Parking Club Garage
Address: 185 Pacific Street
Cross Streets: Court and Clinton Streets
Neighborhood: Cobble Hill
Year Built: 1918-1920
Architectural Style: Basic brick factory-type building
Architect: (Builder: William F. Henry)
Landmarked: Yes, part of Cobble Hill Historic District (1969)

The story: This garage actually made the newspapers. Not because of something sensational, like a murder, a disaster or a famous owner, but because of the bricks that make up the handsome façade, and the building itself. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, this 1920 building was unique because it was constructed in clinker brick.

Many people think clinker brick is named because of the burnt quality of the bricks or that they are mistakes or rejects from regular brick castings. That’s only partially true. The name is actually Dutch/Low German, and refers to the distinctive sound the bricks make when clapped together. They clink. (more…)

09/09/14 10:45am

Lane Bryant, 50th anniversary, BE 1954

It’s never been easy being a woman of, shall we say, operatic proportions. Society is not kind, to say the least, and neither was the ready to wear clothing market. Larger sized women have always desired to be fashionable, elegant, and feel good about themselves, just like everyone else. Had it not been for a tiny Lithuanian Jewish lady named Lena Bryant, who knows how long it would have been until someone took notice and did something about it? Since 1904, Lane Bryant, the clothing company she started in her apartment in Harlem, has been providing beautiful and stylish clothing to pregnant women, larger sized women and girls. If you were in one of these categories, you were probably a Lane Bryant customer.

Part One of this story tells of Lena Bryant’s start, and early life. Part Two chronicles the rise of a huge retail and mail order business that branched out to locations in cities across the country, including, of course, Brooklyn. The first Lane Bryant store in Brooklyn was in a building constructed for them, a modern reinforced concrete, L shaped, four story building with entrances on Hanover Place and Livingston Street. The store opened with great fanfare in 1922, and joined Abraham & Straus, Loeser’s, and Fulton Street’s other grand clothing emporiums as shopping destinations for women and girls. (more…)