Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally Williamsburg-Greenpoint Health Center, part of the New York City Board of Health, now Williamsburg Child Health Clinic, part of Woodhull Hospital Address: 151-157 Maujer Street Cross Streets: Manhattan and Graham avenues Neighborhood: East Williamsburg Year Built: 1936-37 Architectural Style: Art Deco Architect: Unknown Landmarked: No
The story: New York City’s first Board of Health was founded in 1793, in reaction to a yellow fever epidemic. The first Health Commissioner was John Pintard, who was appointed in 1804. Over the course of the next 70 years, the city only reacted to various epidemics, including yellow fever, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria and other infectious diseases. But as the century progressed, doctors and city officials realized that public health had to do more than just react, it had to be proactive in setting health standards and guidelines for the city. (more…)
Name: Former Meserole Theater, now Rite Aid Pharmacy Address: 723 Manhattan Avenue Cross Streets: Norman and Meserole Avenues Neighborhood: Greenpoint Year Built: 1921 Architectural Style: Neo-Classical Georgian Architect: Eugene DeRosa Other Buildings by Architect: Brooklyn — Terminal Theater, Park Slope, Kenmore Theater, Flatbush. Manhattan — 8th Street Playhouse, Times Square Theater, Broadway Theater, Apollo Theater (42nd Street).. Also St. George Theater on Staten Island, and other theaters in NYC and around the country Landmarked: No
The story: The Meserole family was one of the five founding families of Greenpoint. Jan Meserole came to this area in 1663 and settled in. The family homestead was centered here, and the family mansion stood on the site of this former theater. In 1919, when plans for this building were announced, the old mansion house was home to the Young Women’s Hebrew Association. It was quickly torn down, and Sol Brill, a well-known theater and amusement park impresario had this theater built.
It’s a deceptive building, at least the entrance is. The narrow lot on Manhattan Avenue would lead one to believe that this is a very small building. It’s only got a 25 foot width on the Manhattan side, in what looks like a one story building scarcely big enough for any kind of theater. But walk down the length of the lobby, and the building opens up to a huge theater space, all of which faces out onto Lorimer Street. When the Meserole Theater opened in 1921, it had seating for two thousand people. (more…)
Name: Originally row houses, then Our Saviour’s Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, now American Legion Post 1636 Address: 193-195 9th Street Cross Streets: 3rd and 4th avenues Neighborhood: Gowanus Year Built: 1860s, remodeled as a church in 1885, more alterations, 1928 Architectural Style: Italianate under it all Architect: Unknown Landmarked: No
The story: As Gowanus grew as an industrial area, the thousands of workers who worked in the factories, warehouses and piers needed homes for themselves and their families. By the dawn of the Civil War, in 1860, a row of small two story Italianate row houses was built here on the eastern side of 9th Street, part of the effort to meet local housing needs. They weren’t fancy or grand; they were utilitarian houses for the working class. Most of them were probably subdivided into apartments or rented out as boarding house rooms. There were not too many people here who could afford an entire house.
As the war began in earnest, most people here were probably not aware that they lived on top of a battlefield themselves. This entire area was the site of the Battle of Brooklyn, where the newly minted Continental Army was almost destroyed at the very beginning of the Revolutionary War, in 1776. The British had far superior forces, training and guns, and the Americans soon found themselves retreating towards the harbor. (more…)
Name: Wood-frame row house Address: 333 Adelphi Street Cross Streets: Lafayette and Greene avenues Neighborhood: Fort Greene Year Built: 1855 Architectural Style: Transitional Greek Revival/Italianate Architect: Edward W. Genung, builder Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene HD (1978)
The story: Adelphi Street was named for the Adelphi, a neighborhood of terraced (row) houses in London, first begun in 1768. Nearby streets in Fort Greene, such as South Oxford and South Portland streets, are also named after neighborhoods or cities in England. Fort Greene’s early developers were trying to evoke the ambiance of those upscale places to their new projects, making living on those blocks even better than the houses themselves would suggest. Marketing really hasn’t changed all that much over the years. But even without the hype, most of the housing on these blocks was quite good, anyway. Look at this delightful example of mid-19th century charm. (more…)
Name: Originally Christ Church Chapel, now Red Hook Pentecostal Holiness Church Address: 110 Wolcott Street Cross Streets: Van Brunt and Conover Streets Neighborhood: Red Hook Year Built: 1899 Architectural Style: Romanesque/Gothic Revival Architect: W. & G. Audsley Other Buildings by Architect: Prince’s Road Synagogue, Liverpool, England. Also Bowling Green Offices, Manhattan, (NYC Landmark) and the Church of Edward the Confessor in Philadelphia. Landmarked: No, but should be.
The story: Few cities in the world are as blessed with as much great natural harbor space as New York City. When the Red Hook coastline of Brooklyn became one of the busiest ports in the metropolitan area, blocks of houses and tenements were built to house all of the people who made their living from the docks or the many factories and warehouses spreading out and away from the shore. Most of the inhabitants were the working poor, struggling to survive on the low wages and long hours required to keep their jobs. They certainly did not have the resources or time to build fine institutions for worship or education.
The churches in the more established areas of Brooklyn, in nearby Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, saw Red Hook as a field full of souls ready for harvest. There were both spiritual and physical needs to be met there, so many of Brooklyn’s churches established mission churches in Red Hook. One of them was established by Christ Church, the venerable Episcopalian Church on the corner of Clinton and Harrison Streets in Cobble Hill. (more…)
Throwback Thursday: An old post revisited, with an update
Name: Philadelphian Sabbath Church, formerly Kameo Theater, formerly Cameo Theater Address: 530 Eastern Parkway Cross Streets: Corner Nostrand Avenue Neighborhood: Crown Heights South Year Built: 1924 Architectural Style: Egyptian influenced Art Deco Architect: Harrison Wiseman Other Buildings by Architect: Our Lady of Vilnius Church, Yiddish Theater, 2nd Avenue, Manhattan. Also Albemarle, Alpine, Rolland, Pavilion and Loew’s Oriental Theaters in Brooklyn Landmarked: No
The story: Way back in the early 1980s, before I moved to Brooklyn, I sang with a choir that made a guest appearance at this church. I remember I didn’t know where I was, as I didn’t know Brooklyn at all, but that the church, obviously a former theater, was very cool. When I moved to Bed Stuy and wandered over here one day, what a pleasant surprise. There it was. It turns out that the place has quite a history, too. (more…)
Name: Midwood Trust Company, now Chase Bank Address: 1984 Flatbush Avenue Cross Streets: Corner Flatlands Avenue Neighborhood: Flatlands Year Built: 1926 Architectural Style: Flemish Renaissance Revival Architect: Slee & Bryson Other Buildings by Architect: Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival homes and apartment buildings in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights North and South, Park Slope and various parts of Flatbush, including Prospect Park South, Albemarle and Kenmore Terraces, and Ditmas Park. Landmarked: No, but should be
The story: Our city’s Dutch ancestry is most often represented by the streets and neighborhoods now bearing the surnames of the many Dutch families who settled throughout Brooklyn. Now and again, we also see buildings that draw on the famous Dutch gabled farmhouses that managed to survive over the centuries. And then we have these wonderful examples of Flemish-inspired architecture that are so quintessentially Brooklyn and Dutch. They come from Flanders, that part of the Low Countries that was part of France, and is now part of Belgium, yet culturally still part of the Netherlands.
Lots of late 19th century architects were inspired by the distinctive ziggurat shaped stepped gables of the Flemish Renaissance period. These simple but elegant facades graced the townhouses, guild halls and commercial buildings of the Netherlands for centuries. When the Dutch came to New Netherlands, they brought their architecture with them, and these shapes turn up throughout the Hudson Valley and in and around New York City, Long Island and New Jersey. (more…)
Name: Semi-detached wood framed house Address: 1020 Hancock Street Cross Streets: Broadway and Bushwick Avenue Neighborhood: Bushwick Year Built: 1885 Architectural Style: Italianate Architect: Theobald Engelhardt Other Buildings by Architect: Row houses, free standing mansions, churches, flats buildings, factories, breweries, warehouses and other buildings in Bushwick, Bedford Stuyvesant and Williamsburg, predominantly. Landmarked: No
The story: This house was not owned by anyone famous, and nothing newsworthy happened here. No scandals, no murders, no wayward children or horrible tragedies. There were no big weddings here, or parties, and no one who lived here made more than the average contribution to their communities or country. It’s a completely ordinary house on an ordinary block in Bushwick. And that’s why it’s so beautiful. (more…)
Name: Row houses Address: 396-398 Washington Avenue Cross Streets: Lafayette and Greene avenues Neighborhood: Clinton Hill Year Built: 1887 Architectural Style: Queen Anne Architect: Adam E. Fischer Other Buildings by Architect: Row and standalone houses in Brooklyn, German Hospital in Bushwick, apartment hotels, summer homes in Manhattan and Long Island Landmarked: Yes, part of Clinton Hill HD (1981)
The story: Adam E. Fischer was a successful architect with offices on Fulton Street, in Brooklyn. He lived in Bushwick. By the late 1880’s he was a member of the Architects Department of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, and was in the company of contemporaries such as George L. Morse, Frank Freeman, Rudolf Daus, Theobald Engelhardt and more. In 1894 he managed to beat out his fellow German-American architects Engelhardt and Daus for the design of the German Hospital in on Stockholm Street in Bushwick.
He was one of the founding members of the New York Society of Architects, a Brooklyn architectural organization, and was the First Vice President of the NYSA between 1918 and 1921. In 1931, Fischer was front page news for the Brooklyn Eagle, as he, Charles Infanger and William Debus, all familiar names to this column, were given medals to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Society. Fischer was also celebrating the 50th year of his practice. Not bad for a man about whom we know little more. (more…)
Name: Row Houses Address: 531-545 Lexington Avenue Cross Streets: Throop Avenue and Marcus Garvey Boulevard Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant Year Built: between 1885 and 1888 Architectural Style: Queen Anne Architect: Unknown Landmarked: No
The story: This row was once a group of twelve houses. They were built sometime between 1885 and 1888, and by 1888, made up the longest row on the block. For that matter, at the time; they were just about the only houses on this side of the block. They are an attractive and unique group, and were built as single family homes. Remarkably, most of them still are.
In 1885, the elevated train came to this part of Lexington Avenue. It was part of the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, and ran from Washington Street near the Brooklyn Bridge, to Broadway and Gates Avenue, where it connected to other lines. The elevated train line here helped spur development of this area, part of the newly established 25th Ward. (more…)
Name: Franklin K. Lane High School Address: 999 Jamaica Avenue Cross Streets: Dexter Court Neighborhood: Cypress Hills Year Built: 1936-37 Architectural Style: Neo-Colonial Architect: Walter C. Martin, Superintendent of Buildings for the NYC Board of Education, and staff Other Buildings by Architect: NYC schools built between 1928 and 1938 Landmarked: No
The story: Franklin J. Lane High School started out in a much smaller building on nearby Evergreen Avenue. It was housed in the old PS 85 building. By the end of the 1920s, this school, as well as many other high schools throughout the city, was bursting at the seams with students. Local politicians and school officials begged the Board of Ed to at least build an extension, and ground was obtained, but they dithered until at last it was decided that a new high school was needed instead. That was in 1931. (more…)
Name: Row houses Address: 894-916 Sterling Place Cross Streets: Nostrand and New York Avenues Neighborhood: Crown Heights North Year Built: 1889 Architectural Style: Queen Anne Architect: J. H. Herbert Other Buildings by Architect: Rowhouses, stables and renovations in Bedford Stuvyesant, Crown Heights, Park Slope. Landmarked: Yes, part of Crown Heights North HD, Phase 2 (2011)
The story: Before the mid-1880s, most of Brooklyn’s row houses were mostly rows of identical buildings stretching down a block. These were houses in the Greek Revival, Italianate, and Neo-Grec styles, with a few variations and cross pollinations tossed in. The repetition of their facades is actually part of their charm, but by the 1880’s, people were tired of it, and wanted something different. In came the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, followed closely by the Queen Anne style.
Here, diversity was prized. Most of the architects working in these styles designed in groups, repeating their facades as little as possible, depending on the number of lots available. Some great architects, like Magnus Dahlander, could do a block of 35 houses and never repeat himself once. Most of the time though, all of these architects, including Dahlander, designed smaller groups in sequences like ABBA, or ABCDCBA, each letter representing a specific façade. (more…)