08/29/14 10:45am

KCW, Grant Square, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

During the last two decades of the 19th century, there were no cooler men on earth that the members of the Kings County Wheelmen’s Club of Brooklyn. They were like rock stars and the championship Yankees rolled into one; a collection of men’s men, gushed over by young ladies and reporters alike, the intrepid “Knights of the Silent Steed.” They were Brooklyn’s best and most famous amateur bicycle club.

While pictures of mustachioed men in striped shirts and caps on enormous high wheeler cycles are in the popular imagination for this period, the truth is that the bicycle of the day looked pretty much the same then as they do now. They were easy to ride for men, women and children, and their mobility made them as popular then as they are today. Mass production soon made them affordable to almost anyone, and they sold like hotcakes. The Victorians were a very social bunch, and loved getting together in organizations, so it didn’t take long for bicycle clubs of all kinds to spring up all over the country. (more…)

08/28/14 3:00pm

240-244 8th St. Higgins Ink, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Higgins Ink Building
Address: 240-244 8th Street
Cross Streets: 4th and 5th avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1898
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Stone Brothers
Other Buildings by Architect: Factory and warehouse buildings in Dumbo and elsewhere
Landmarked: No

The story: The Charles M. Higgins Company, manufacturer of Higgins India Ink, was founded in 1880 by an Irish immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1860, eager to make his mark in his new country. Charles Higgins was a naturally curious and inventive man. In 1875, he patented a screw pegging machine, which led to a job at the Scientific News as a patent solicitor – a salesman who finds marketable inventions worthy of a patent. Higgins Ink company lore has it that Charles was fooling around with different ink formulas in his sister’s kitchen in New York, when he invented Higgins India Ink and Eternal Black Ink. He founded his company in 1880, and the rest is history. Higgins ink became the universal ink used around the world. (more…)

08/28/14 10:45am

Arthur D. Howden Smith, 1918, BEAfter spending a few months as a foreign correspondent in the mountains of Macedonia, Arthur D. Howden Smith would always seek a life of adventure and danger. He travelled to the Balkans to write the story of a lifetime; his adventures as a freedom fighter with a gritty band of Chetniks who were waging a bloody guerrilla war with the Turks. Young Howden Smith came from a family of world travelers, his forbearers were sea-faring men, and close relatives were famously trekking through the wilds of Africa, killing elephants and importing ivory.

Part One of our story introduced us to Arthur Douglas Howden Smith, who spent his youth and young adulthood living in what is now Crown Heights, at 907 Sterling Place. He was the descendant of New England shipping merchants, and in spite of his tony upper class British sounding name, was born in New York City, in 1887, lived as a small child in New Jersey, and grew up in this house in Brooklyn. He would live in Brooklyn for much of his life. He didn’t look like the adventuring type; he was a small man, about 5’7” tall and weighed 160 pounds, soaking wet. He wore round-lensed glasses and looked like someone who would be more at home in the stacks of a library than the mountains of Macedonia. But, he was a lot tougher and more determined than his appearance would warrant. (more…)

08/27/14 3:00pm

184 Kent Ave, Austin Nichols, Dmadeo for Wiki 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Austin, Nichols & Co. Building
Address: 184 Kent Avenue
Cross Streets: North 3rd and North 4th streets
Neighborhood: Williamsburg
Year Built: 1915
Architectural Style: Egyptian Revival
Architect: Cass Gilbert
Other Buildings by Architect: Brooklyn Army Terminal, Bay Ridge. In Manhattan- Woolworth Building, U.S. Customs House, West Street Building. Also U.S. Supreme Court Building, Washington DC
Landmarked: Yes, then no. Listed on National Register of Historic Places (2007)

The story: By the first decade of the 20th century, the Austin, Nichols Company was the largest wholesale grocery business in the world. They not only wholesaled food items to retailers, institutions and other buyers, they also packaged and manufactured products, including fine foods, coffee and imported specialty items. Austin, Nichols & Company was founded in 1879, by James E. Nichols and five former associates of Fitts & Austin, a Manhattan wholesale grocery business which was founded by Fred Fitts in 1855. In the very late 19th century, the company’s headquarters was in Tribeca, which was the wholesale food district in Manhattan at that time. (more…)

08/26/14 3:00pm

18 Sidney Pl, SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally private home, boarding house, girls’ residence, then Brooklyn Law School residence, now private apartments
Address: 18 Sidney Place
Cross Streets: State and Joralemon Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1838, with three story addition added in 1873
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights HD (1965)

The story:
This house was built in 1838, when Brooklyn Heights was growing by leaps and bounds, as merchant princes made their fortunes below them on the docks of Brooklyn’s piers. This simple Greek Revival house, the prevailing architectural style of the day, was a four story single family home, tucked away on Sidney Place, isolated on this one block street from the hustle and bustle of busy Brooklyn life. The street was named in the early 1830s by a Brooklyn attorney named George Wood, for Sir Philip Sidney, a 16th century British statesman and author. (more…)

08/26/14 10:45am

Arthur D. Howden Smith, Brooklyn Eagle 1908Many writers have found Brooklyn to be an amiable place to live while penning works of great importance, or at least works that pay the rent. Whether that work is a great novel or autobiography, or just a self-important blog post, writers have put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, here in Brooklyn since there has been a Brooklyn. One of those writers is someone I stumbled across while researching a group of houses for a Building of the Day column. He wrote in the early to mid-20th century, and in the height of his popularity, was practically a household name. By the time he died, he was only worth a few lines in an obituary column. His name was Arthur D. Howden Smith, and for many years, he was a resident of 907 Sterling Place in Crown Heights North.

For a man who spent part of his career writing the autobiographies of others, Arthur D. Howden Smith did not leave all that much information about himself behind. According to press releases, he came from an old aristocratic New England family. His family was in the shipping business, or as one release put it, “he was descended from owners of sail.” He was born in 1888 or ‘89, and spent some of his childhood in Port Richmond, Staten Island. By the time he was a teenager, he was living at 907 Sterling Place with his family. (more…)

08/25/14 3:00pm

192-194 Bergen St. Scott Bintner, PS, 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former factory, then St. Cyprian’s Protestant Episcopal Church, then Sacred Heart Chapel, now private home.
Address: 192-194 Bergen Street
Cross Streets: Corner Bond Street
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1920s
Architectural Style: Simple 19th-early 20th century brick factory
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Boerum Hill Historic District (1973)

The story: Boerum Hill is one of Brooklyn’s older neighborhoods, with much of its residential housing stock built just before and just after the Civil War. The two houses next door to this building were built in 1860, as were the two similar houses that once stood on this double lot. Sometime in the 1920s, the houses at 192 and 194 Bergen Street were torn down, and this plain, small factory building was constructed. Whatever this factory produced is lost to history, I could find no record of its products or ownership. (more…)

08/22/14 3:00pm

937 Fulton Street,SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally Rubel Coal and Ice Corporation, now drug rehab clinic.
Address: 937 Fulton Street
Cross Streets: Corner Waverley Avenue
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1928
Architectural Style: Neo-classical
Architect: Edward M. Adelsohn
Other Buildings by Architect: Jewish Orphan Asylum, New Hebrew School–Brownsville (both gone), Temple Petach Tikvah in Crown Heights, Brooklyn Hygeia Ice Plant, Brooklyn Hebrew Maternity Hospital, row houses, commercial buildings, stores in Brownsville, Crown Heights and other areas of Brooklyn and Queens.
Landmarked: No

The story: In 1907, Samuel Rubel could be found hauling his pushcart through the streets of Brownsville selling ice. He later began carrying coal, in season, as well. He was a fixture in this new Jewish immigrant community, and he managed to make a living for his family, one cartful of these lifesaving elements at a time. Twenty-some years later, he was the owner of Brooklyn’s largest coal and ice business. His company had assets of over $40 million, with 134 coal and ice branches across every borough except Staten Island. He had a staff of over 400 people, and the coal and ice was delivered in 800 Rubel trucks. In 1927, he decided it was time to build a new headquarters in a more central part of Brooklyn. (more…)

Fulton theater site, composite

 

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Although Brooklyn had a thriving theater district downtown, many neighborhoods also had fine theaters in their own areas, with entertainment venues on main streets near public transportation. Bedford was a large neighborhood blessed with several major thoroughfares running through it – plenty of opportunities for clubs, theaters and entertainment halls. The economic center of Bedford was around the intersection of Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue, so it’s not surprising that there were quite a few theaters in that area. In theater’s heyday, the early 20th century, one of the finest establishments was the Fulton Theater.

The theater stood at 1283 Fulton Street, near the corner of Nostrand Avenue. It was designed by one of New York City’s finest theater architects, John B. McElfatrick. He was responsible for some of the city’s best theater buildings, including today’s BAM Harvey Theater and Manhattan’s New Victory Theater on 42nd Street. Many are now gone, but he designed well over a hundred theaters, plus other buildings, all across the country. (more…)

08/21/14 3:00pm

495-513 Classon Avenue, CB, PS 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Church of the Nativity of Our Blessed Lord, now Elim Gospel Tabernacle
Address: 495-513 Classon Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Madison Street and Putnam Avenue
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1915
Architectural Style: Romanesque
Architect: Raymond Almirall
Other Buildings by Architect: St. Michael’s Church, Sunset Park, Pacific St. Branch, Brooklyn Public Library, Public Bath #7 (Lyceum), Chapel at Calvary Cemetery, Queens, Emigrant Savings Bank Building, Lower Manhattan, hospitals, churches, in NYC.
Landmarked: No

The story: Raymond Almirall was a fine architect and a good son of Brooklyn. Over the course of his career, he designed many churches, hospitals, libraries and buildings for the Catholic Church and for the city he loved. Although most people may not know his name, his buildings are well known by Brooklynites, as they are a prominent part of our city landscape.

Almirall graduated from Brooklyn’s Polytechnic Institute, and then went on to get a degree in architecture from Cornell University. From there, he went on to study at the prestigious L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. When he came back from Europe, he went to work with architect John V. Ingle, and Almirall’s first professional project was the City Hall for Binghamton, NY. After that project, he put out his shingle and began designing on his own. (more…)

08/21/14 10:45am

Tag fire, Brooklyn Eagle, 1916The day after the tragic fire at the Tag house, an advertisement in the Brooklyn Standard Union announced, “Six Women Die in Brooklyn Blaze: It Could Be Your Home Tomorrow!” This half page ad was for the Pyrene Company, which manufactured fire extinguishers. The ad went on to say, “In Casimir Tag’s Brooklyn home this morning, six women were burned to death…Six out of ten fires are in homes. And yet the home, the place which guards our most precious possessions, is least protected from fire. Every home should have something to put out fires from the start…Until the Pyrene Fire Extinguisher was invented a couple of years ago, there was never any practical fire protection for the home…The holocaust in the Tag household may be re-enacted tomorrow in your home. This is a time for action. Put a Pyrene in your home today.” Talk about exploiting a tragedy for financial gain.

Part One of our story tells the tale of banker Casimir Tag and his family. He was one of Brooklyn’s wealthiest bankers in the early 20th century, a man who worked hard and became the president of not one, but two Manhattan banks. He and his wife Hannah raised a large family of six children. His death in 1913 left Hannah the wealthiest widow in Brooklyn, and head of the family home, a large five story brownstone at 243 Hancock Street, on the most impressive block in the upscale neighborhood of Bedford. (more…)

08/20/14 3:00pm

315 Washington Ave, SW, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Free-standing brick house
Address: 315 Washington Avenue
Cross Streets: DeKalb and Lafayette Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: late 1860s, new mansard roof added 1894
Architectural Style: now
Architect: Building architect unknown, Roof extension by Parfitt Brothers
Other Buildings by Architect: Parfitt Brothers – in Clinton Hill – 331-335 Wash, just down the block, Cornelius Hoagland House, Clinton Ave and several other row houses and flats buildings. Also row houses, apartment buildings, flats buildings, mansions, office buildings and churches in Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Clinton Hill Historic District (1981)

The story: I would have loved to have seen Clinton Hill just after the Civil War. The neighborhood was already popular with wealthy Brooklynites who enjoyed living on “the Hill,” where the air was clean and two main streets, Clinton and Washington Avenues, were lined with spacious homes on large lots. Many of those homes at that time were large wood framed suburban villas. Today, in the entire neighborhood, there are only a couple left. These wealthy folk were also beginning to build more substantial homes of brick and brownstone, and both Washington and Clinton are dotted with large boxy masonry houses dating from the late 1860s. They add a wonderful gravitas and simple elegance to the neighborhood, and are typical of Victorian style. This house is one of them. (more…)