11/25/14 3:00pm

9402-9420 Wogan Terr. 9404, KL, PS.2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 9401-9421, 9402-9420 Wogan Terrace
Cross Streets: Off 94th Street, between 5th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway
Neighborhood: Bay Ridge
Year Built: 1927-28
Architectural Style: Neo-Tudor cottages
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Bay Ridge is full of little cul-de-sacs, one block streets and alleyways. A few of them are remnants of old streets cut off by more recent development, or by the highways and parkways that run through the neighborhood. Some, like Wogan Terrace, were created by developers who built this neighborhood up in the teens, twenties and even later. A friend of mine, a long-time Brownstoner reader, brought this block to my attention. And what a find it is. (more…)

11/25/14 10:45am

Early 20th Century NYC, Smithsonial Magazine 1

“Professor” Mac Levy, born Max Levy, of Brooklyn, was a self-made man, and one of America’s first fitness entrepreneurs. At the turn of the 20th century, he had made quite a name for himself in New York City and Long Island, and was building his fitness empire, ready to expand to wherever the market led him. As a puny and sickly teenager, he had decided he wouldn’t live that way, and through diet and exercise, especially swimming, calisthenics and weight lifting, he had built himself up into a healthy and strong young man; billed on the vaudeville and speaking circuits as a “young Hercules” and “Brooklyn’s Perfect Man.”

He spent years building up his business by building himself. He was an advocate for healthy living, and coached a curious and eager public through his speaking engagements, vaudeville appearances and through his health clubs. He ran the first gymnasium and health club at the prestigious Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights. He also ran summer health clubs at beach resorts in Babylon, Long Island and at Bath Beach, Brooklyn. Other locations followed, as did books, and a line of fitness equipment.

Chapter One of our story details some of his operations and his early days. Chapter Two continues the story of his career, including the would-be mugging on New Year’s Day, 1897, that propelled him into the limelight as a man who take care of himself, with gusto. But for all of the young Professor’s personal and business successes, none of them could propel his name into the history books like his involvement in one of the most sensational murder cases of the early 20th century. (more…)

11/24/14 3:00pm

20-22 Lexington Ave, SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former James Parson & Co. factory, now loft apartments and the Callidus Guild
Address: 20-22 Lexington Avenue
Cross Streets: Classon and Grand Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: perhaps 1887, with later alterations.
Architectural Style: 19th century brick factory
Architect: Maybe DeMeuron & Smith
Landmarked: No

The story: Manhattan has, or should I more correctly say, HAD, different areas of midtown that became synonymous for different industries. The 20’s west of 6th Avenue used to be the Flower District, between 35th and 40th Street west of 7th Ave. was the Garment District, and east of there, between the same blocks, was the Millinery and Trims District. There was the Meat Packing District, Tin Pan Alley, where the composers and musical publishers were concentrated, and of course, the Theater District. Brooklyn wasn’t quite as compact, especially after it became a part of New York City, but even here, we had certain areas that had a concentration of certain industries. Wallabout was a food and candy manufacturing district, for example. This part of Clinton Hill was our own shoe manufacturing district. (more…)

11/21/14 3:00pm

50-66 Nevins St. Harriet Judson, NE, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Harriet Judson Residence, now an adult care residence
Address: 50-66 Nevins Street
Cross Streets: Between State and Schermerhorn streets
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1912-1913
Architectural Style: Transitional Renaissance Revival/Colonial Revival
Architect: Frank Freeman
Other Buildings by Architect: Eagle Warehouse, Brooklyn Fire HQ, Behr mansion, Crescent Athletic Club, Brooklyn Union Gas HQ, Germania Club (demolished), Thomas Jefferson Building (demolished), Brooklyn Savings Bank (demolished)
Landmarked: No, but should be

The story: The Young Woman’s Christian Association in Brooklyn was founded in February of 1888. It immediately elected officers, all prominent Brooklyn society women, and secured a meeting and office space in a building on Fulton Street, near Flatbush. The goal of the organization at its inception was to provide a meeting place for young women who were employed in retail stores, as office workers and other occupations throughout Brooklyn. These young ladies could listen to lectures, concerts, enjoy the reading room, and receive Christian instruction, if so desired. It was the first major organization of its kind in Brooklyn to be entirely run by women. (more…)

Times Plaza, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Wow, Brooklyn’s changed in the last 64 years! Well, Downtown Brooklyn certainly has. This is one of Brooklyn’s busiest intersections, where Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues cross. Our “Past” photo from the Brooklyn Collection at the Brooklyn Public Library is from 1950. The Korean War was on the front page of the newspapers, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel opened that May, and the Cold War and Russia’s nuclear capability was on everyone’s minds.

Communists were seemingly everywhere, and Jay Leno, Samuel Alito, Bill Murray and Britain’s Princess Anne were born that year, among many others. Had any of them been taken for a ride up Flatbush Avenue that year, they would have seen what the camera saw here. And like many of us, they may not have known what they were looking at. (more…)

11/20/14 3:00pm

291 Cumberland St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 291 Cumberland Street
Cross Streets: Lafayette and Greene Avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1892
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other Buildings by Architect: St. Augustine RC Church, Grace Methodist and row houses in Park Slope, apartment buildings, office buildings, row houses, churches in Bedford Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights North and Brooklyn Heights.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene HD (1978)

The story: This house is the architectural equivalent of “pimp my ride,” or I suppose a better word might be “McMansioning.” Only this time, our 19th century poseur hired one of the best firms in Brooklyn to do the deed. Is it grossly inappropriate to celebrate a house that is clearly out of context, or does the resume of the architect make this just hunky-dory? How come it’s perfectly great to celebrate this, and then turn around and damn those who do it today? What’s the difference of a hundred years? Well, taste and talent, for one thing.

Ok, if I were around back then, and this was going to happen, I probably wouldn’t be a champion. The row of vernacular wood framed houses on this block is great. There are several different styles here, by several different builders, and to the right and the left of 291 Cumberland, these are very nice clapboard houses. What’s not to like? Wide generous porches, Classical style columns and capitals, the once-high stoops on 293 and its neighbors, and gracious proportions. 291 Cumberland was also one of these; an 1850s clapboard vernacular house. (more…)

11/20/14 10:45am

Max Levy, Professor Mac Levy. Brooklyn Eagle, 1903

On New Year’s Day, 1897, Brooklyn’s premiere physical culturist, Professor Mac Levy, received a late holiday gift from the fitness gods. That evening he was at the Union League Club, on Dean and Bedford Avenues, giving the membership a lecture and demonstration of his journey from a consumptive and puny teenager to a fit and super strong modern day Hercules. Afterwards, he had planned to join friends downtown for some New Year’s Day cheer. They all met near the Elks Club on Schermerhorn Street, after which Mac Levy was headed for the trolley that would take him to his home on Union Street.

Because it was New Year’s Day, and because it was cold and miserable out, the trolley was nowhere to be found. The Professor was no longer in a good mood. He was walking up Court Street and had almost reached Union when two men stepped out from behind a building and demanded his money. It was late, and cold, and the police patrol was nowhere around, and he had been made to walk home. The old Max Levy would have handed his money over, and prayed he got home in one piece. Professor Mac Levy, the “young Hercules” whispered a prayer of thanks for this gift, and got busy. (more…)

11/19/14 3:00pm

1451 Pacific St. Cecil Court GS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Cecil Court
Address: 1451 Pacific Street
Cross Streets: Brooklyn and Kingston avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1923-24
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival
Architect: Edward M. Adelsohn
Other Buildings by Architect: Wing of Brooklyn Hebrew Maternity Hospital, Bushwick, apartment buildings in Jackson Heights, Queens
Landmarked: Yes, part of Crown Heights North HD (2007)

The story: Crown Heights North is a gorgeous neighborhood. It’s filled with blocks upon blocks of elegant late 19th century row houses, as well as a fair number of free-standing and semi-detached mansions, beautiful houses of worship, and some impressive large apartment buildings. Scattered amidst all of this wonderfulness are buildings that tend to get overlooked in the mix. They include storefront mixed use buildings, a ton of eight unit flats buildings, and a fair number of small apartment buildings that bridge the gap between the flats buildings and the larger apartment houses. This is one of those. (more…)

11/18/14 3:00pm

267-269 Jefferson Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Private house
Address: 267-269 Jefferson Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Marcy Avenue
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1890
Architectural Style: Queen Anne, with later additions
Architect: Frederick D. Vrooman
Other Buildings by Architect: row houses in Bedford, Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights and other brownstone neighborhoods.
Landmarked: Not yet, part of calendared Bedford Historic District (calendared 2013)

The story: I used to live on Jefferson, between Marcy and Tompkins, and walked past this house just about every day for more than 17 years. I remember the first time I saw it, on my first trip to my soon-to-be-home, and thought, even then, “What happened to this poor house?” Underneath the added brick porch and parapet, behind the strange top floor dormer window, and the yellow paint job, it was pretty easy to see that there was a nice brick and stone Queen Anne under here, what was once a showpiece of a house, here on one of the nicest streets in the Bedford neighborhood. (more…)

11/18/14 10:45am

Strongmen, Heliograph.com 1

We have been trying to improve the human body since we became aware of its strength and beauty. Mankind has been exercising for a very long time. We may have started with “run for your life” being a literal cry to escape predators, but in the centuries that followed our trip from the cave to the city, that mantra is still popular, although perhaps “run for life” is more accurate. The ancient Greeks and other civilizations glorified the perfect physical body, after all, they established the Olympics, and left an artistic record of their pursuit of the body beautiful, an ideal many still strive to reach. The Romans incorporated that ideal into their civilization, as they did so many of the ideals of their conquered foes.

The Dark Ages in Europe obliterated that Greco-Roman philosophy. Between plagues and religious zealotry regarding the sinfulness of the human body, physical perfection took a rest of a few centuries. But the Renaissance restored the glorification of the body human, and as nations rose and fell, so too did the idea of fitness. Of course, the lower classes utilized physical strength much more than the upper classes, so those above were getting weak, compared to those below. That did not go without notice, and over the course of the next few hundred years, various programs of physical fitness were delineated and put into practice in different countries and communities. (more…)

11/17/14 3:00pm

123-133 Prospect Place, NS, PS 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 123-133 Prospect Place
Cross Streets: Flatbush and Carlton avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1873
Architectural Style: Second Empire
Architect: John V. Porter (builder)
Other Buildings by Architect: Various houses in Prospect Heights, such as 117-127 St. Marks Avenue
Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Heights HD (2009)

The story: My old neighborhood of Crown Heights North was built primarily in the 1880s and ‘90s, so we don’t have very many of these types of houses. In fact, I think we only have one remaining example. Which is too bad, because Second Empire houses are really beautiful and grand, and a great visual treat when walking down the street. This group of six houses is one of the best preserved in Prospect Heights, which has several groups of Second Empires close to Flatbush Avenue.

Development in Prospect Heights spread out from Flatbush Avenue, one of the busiest and most vital of Brooklyn’s thoroughfares. The original Flatbush Road had a slightly different route through the neighborhood, and was a tolled turnpike, but then, as now, was an important route between Flatbush and the shores of the river. The current avenue was laid down in 1852, and development on both sides of the street began, albeit quite slowly. (more…)

11/14/14 3:00pm

291-293 Stuyvesant Avenue, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats buildings
Address: 291-293 Stuyvesant Avenue
Cross Streets: Halsey and Hancock Streets
Neighborhood: Stuyvesant Heights
Year Built: 1898
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Axel Hedman
Other Buildings by Architect: in Stuy Hts – row houses on Stuyvesant Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Immanuel Baptist Church, now Union Baptist, on Decatur St. Also row houses, flats buildings and apartment buildings all over brownstone Brooklyn.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Stuyvesant Heights Expansion Historic District (2013)

The story: When most people think of the housing stock in Brooklyn, they probably think of row houses. The second most popular kinds of buildings in those same row house neighborhoods would have to be flats buildings, especially in the later brownstone neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Park Slope, Bedford and Bedford Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights and parts of Clinton Hill. In my old neighborhood of Crown Heights North, you couldn’t walk down very many blocks that didn’t have one or two flats buildings, and my block in particular, on Pacific Street, there were twelve. Ironically enough, most of the twelve were designed by this guy – Axel Hedman.

Axel was the king of late 19th century flats buildings. Other architects designed them as well, but Axel probably did more of them, and arguably did them better. This duo was built in 1898. Hedman really came into his own after the 1893 Chicago Worlds Exhibition which brought us the White Cities Movement. Most of his row houses and flats were designed in the Renaissance Revival style, as were these, with classical motifs in limestone and light colored brick. He had a signature style, and although others may have copied him, I can generally spot a Hedman flat in a minute. (more…)