19 Winthrop St. Midwood Sanatorium, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Midwood Sanatorium, now CAMBA offices
Address: 19 Winthrop Street
Cross Streets: Flatbush and Bedford avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Year Built: 1928-1929
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival
Architect: Philip M. Erickson
Other Buildings by Architect: Mostly small projects, like garages, in Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: The first Midwood Sanatorium was a four story wood-framed building built at this location, on Winthrop, near the corner of Flatbush Avenue. Like many small hospitals, the building was probably a private house, repurposed as a sanatorium. Period maps show the grounds of the hospital were quite large, as the buildings now on Flatbush weren’t there then. Northern Flatbush was just starting to see real urban style development, and only blocks away, the row houses of Lefferts Manor were being built. The neighborhood needed a private hospital, and Midwood opened its doors in 1907.

The word “sanatorium” brings to mind a mental hospital or a place where private patients could have quiet surgeries or recover from embarrassing things like out-of-wedlock pregnancies, but the word as Americans use it, usually meant a hospital for long term stays, generally because of tuberculosis. The words “sanatorium” and “sanitarium” are interchangeable. (more…)

720 Wash Ave, Natl theater, Ken Roe, Cinema Treasures 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former National Theatre, now supermarket
Address: 720 Washington Avenue
Cross Streets: Prospect and Park Places
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1921
Architectural Style: Unable to determine
Architect: Charles Sandblom
Other Buildings by Architect: Over 42 theaters mostly in Brooklyn, but also in Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan
Landmarked: No

The story:
Brooklyn is littered with former theaters. Any neighborhood worth its salt had at least three of four theaters in its history, and larger neighborhoods had many more. Everyone went to the local theater; there was something affordable to almost everyone, and something for almost everyone’s taste. When movies replaced live theater and vaudeville, many of the smaller theaters closed and were converted to other use, but there was still at least one decent sized movie theater around. Where else could parents safely get rid of their kids for a couple of hours?

When neighborhoods could no longer support a movie theater, for whatever reason, it seems that they generally become one of two sorts of places – a church or a supermarket. Many of the former theaters I feature here are generally churches, but here’s one that became a supermarket. Most people using it, or walking by have no idea what the building’s original use was. (more…)

225-247 E.31St, 225, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 225-247 E. 31st Street
Cross Streets: Cortelyou and Beverly Roads
Neighborhood: Flatbush
Year Built: around 1905
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: The town of Flatbush, in Kings County, did not become a part of the City of Brooklyn until 1894. They liked their independence, and had remained a separate entity since the Dutch began farming there in the 1600s. The architectural development of the neighborhood was sporadic, and is a combination of all kinds of urban and suburban styles, ranging from mega-mansions on large lawns to huge block long apartment buildings, and everything in between.

I’ve always found Flatbush fascinating from an architectural perspective. In taking the bus through the various parts of the neighborhood, and later, driving, you can pass late 19th century row houses, early 20th century two family houses, wood-framed suburban houses and six story apartment buildings all in a three block radius. (more…)

295 Gates Ave, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former private house, then club house, now church
Address: 295 Gates Avenue
Cross Streets: Franklin and Bedford Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1869-1870? Perhaps altered or replaced later
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Possibly Amzi Hill
Other Buildings by Architect: Row houses, mansions, flats buildings and tenements throughout Bedford Stuyvesant and Stuyvesant Heights. Also in Clinton Hill, Crown Heights, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope
Landmarked: No

The story: There used to be many more large mansions in Bedford Stuyvesant. If you walk or drive around the neighborhood, it’s possible to come across one or two on a block you never would have thought they’d be on. Many of them just didn’t survive the economic changes, and many of those that did are merely shadows of their former selves. They’ve been chopped up, covered up, covered over and made into lodges, schools and most often, churches.

Gates Avenue was once one of central Bedford Stuyvesant’s premier streets. It’s a long street, stretching from Clinton Hill to Bushwick, and was once home to some very successful and wealthy people, the most successful being John Gibb, whose enormous mansion is just down the street. When Gibb had his house built here, other wealthy people followed, moving into superior speculative housing, much of it developed by Mr. Gibb himself. Other people had houses built themselves.

That appears to have been the case for this house, which was built for Captain Frederick Bolton Langston, a wealthy ship captain. Amzi Hill, who designed many of the earlier houses in this neighborhood, as well as the Gibb mansion, may have designed this house.The house looks more Queen Ann than Italianate, the prevailing style of the day, so perhaps it was added on to in the 1880s, or replaced by an new facade. The records are not forthcoming, although the papers do emphasize that the Captain moved to this address in 1870. (more…)

347-359 Flushing Avenue, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Industrial buildings and garages
Address: 347-359 Flushing Avenue
Cross Streets: Classon and Kent avenues
Neighborhood: East Williamsburg
Year Built: Teens for the handsome brick garage, undetermined for the rest
Architectural Style: Taxpayer
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Ok, there is nothing significant or outstanding about these buildings. In fact, with the exception of the larger garage, which has some style, these are basic taxpayers: utilitarian buildings built to house rather humble pursuits. But, I chose these for a reason, because there is still a story here. A number of stories, actually, both past and present.

Before the BQE, back in the 1800s, this part of town was pretty much residential. Small tenement buildings, many with storefronts on the ground floor lined this side of Flushing Avenue, as well as a couple of houses. The people who lived here worked in the nearby factories, and at the Navy Yard. The buildings that stood where this group stands now were numbered 347-359 Flushing, and there were at least seven buildings here at the turn of the century. (more…)

187-189 Amity Street, KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 187-195 Amity Street
Cross Streets: Clinton and Court streets
Neighborhood: Cobble Hill
Year Built: 1847-1855
Architectural Style: Greek Revival (187-189), Anglo-Italianate (191-195)
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Cobble Hill Historic District (1969)

The story: Cobble Hill was originally settled by the Dutch way back in the late 1600s. It became an area renowned for its fruit trees and orchards. Skipping forward to the early 1800s, the area, now known as South Brooklyn, still had farms, especially along the areas facing the river where Henry Street is today. Several Manhattan merchants and businessmen bought the old Dutch farms with their magnificent views of the harbor.

They created their suburban retreats there, and could still commute to work via the Fulton Ferry, established in the 1820s. The South Ferry was established in 1836, an even more convenient commute. But it soon became apparent that the land was worth more as a development site, and one by one, the children of these gentlemen farmers cashed in. Streets were laid out, and houses starting going up, beginning in the 1840s. (more…)

396-414 Bergen St. NS, PS, 402

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 396-414 Bergen Street
Cross Streets: Fourth and Fifth Avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1878
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: John Monas
Other Buildings by Architect: 355-363 and 391-407 Bergen Street, as well as other buildings in Park Slope
Landmarked: No

The story: John Monas is listed in the records as the owner, builder, architect and carpenter of this group of houses. He also built and developed two other groups of houses on this block: 355-363 Bergen, which are three story and the basement/ground floor row houses, and 391-407, which, like today’s buildings, are called two story and a basement homes. All of them are very similar in style, materials and ornamentation.

Unlike today, where developers, architects and builders generally live far outside of the communities in which they build, the builders of our brownstone neighborhoods were by and large, local residents. This is especially in the early developmental days of the 1860s and 1870s. This was true in most neighborhoods, and especially true in Park Slope. The majority of the earlier Italianates and Neo-Grec houses inside and outside of the historic districts were built by men who lived within blocks of their work.

The practical side of that was that they were close to their projects, and didn’t have to commute very far to keep track of what their men were doing, and they also kept their money close to the cuff. But this also meant that they had a stake in building their neighborhoods, shaping the streetscape, and making their projects buildings that they were proud to live next to, and around. They could point to their rows of brownstones and say, “I did that.” (more…)

255 Butler St. KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally publishing plant for R. G. Dun & Company
Address: 255 Butler Street
Cross Streets: Corner Nevins Avenue Street
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1913-14
Architectural Style: Vaguely Renaissance/Gothic Revival early 20th century factory
Architect: Renwick, Aspinwall & Tucker
Other Buildings by Architect: American Express Building, 65 B’way, Manhattan, Grace Church Neighborhood House, Provident Loan Society Buildings, both Manhattan. Also Sanitarium additions to Seaview Hospital, Staten Island, and Dollar Savings Bank, Bronx
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed Gowanus Canal Historic District for the National Register of Historic Places

The story: The R. G. Dun Company was founded in 1841 as the Mercantile Agency by Brooklyn Heights merchant and financier Louis Tappan. He established the company as a network of correspondents who would be reputable, reliable and neutral reporters of companies and their credit worthiness. It was one of the first companies to give its subscribers business information, and helped create the modern business world. In 1849, Tappan turned the company over to his clerk, Benjamin Douglass. He capitalized on the telegraph and other modern means of transportation and information gathering, and was able to greatly expand the company across the country.

He created the profession of credit reporters; skilled in interpreting and reporting on financial measures. Four of Douglass’ many reporters went on to have impressive careers as President of the United States. They were Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Grover Cleveland and William McKinley. In 1859, Douglass turned the business over to his brother-in-law, Robert Graham Dun. He changed the name to the R. G. Dun Company, and further expanded the company during the Civil War and beyond, so that by the 20th century, R. G. Dun was one of the most respected national and international credit reporting firms. (more…)

134 Pulaski St. NS, PS. 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 134 Pulaski Street
Cross Streets: Marcy and Tompkins avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 2005
Architectural Style: Contemporary, based on Queen Anne style
Architect: Henry Radusky for Bricolage Designs
Other Buildings by Architect: Lots of contemporary apartment buildings and houses across Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: I was looking for good examples of modern row house architecture, and I came on this house in one of the less gentrified blocks of Bedford Stuyvesant. I’ve been told I don’t like new architecture, and that really isn’t true. I don’t like cheap and lazy architecture, and I refuse to believe that all new construction has to be ugly. Other cities in industrialized and urban areas across the country manage to build really nice looking infill and modern housing. Why does it seem so hard for us? (more…)

998-1006 Atlantic Ave, SSPellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former automobile dealership or service center
Address: 998-1006 Atlantic Avenue
Cross Streets: Grand and Classon Avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights
Year Built: 1920s
Architectural Style: 1920s brick factory with some Renaissance Revival touches
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Before this building was constructed, there were homes here, both private houses and flats buildings. Whenever I research Atlantic Avenue, I come across many newspaper stories about the people who used to live here. The avenue was much different in the 1880s. For one thing, the LIRR tracks ran down the center of the street, on street level, dividing the thoroughfare. The tracks weren’t buried or elevated until the early 20th century. In spite of the noise and pollution, many people called this street home. There were people living at these addresses until at least 1920.

I couldn’t find out any specific info as to who built this building, the architect, or for what business. I think it was a showroom or service center for the automobile business. The building was built, like many other such places nearby, in the 1920s. During that time, almost all of the residential buildings on Atlantic from downtown to Bedford Stuyvesant were replaced by buildings related to the auto trade. (more…)

64-66 St. James Pl. SSPellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats buildings
Address: 64-66 St. James Place
Cross Streets: Lafayette and Greene Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1907
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival, with Colonial Revival details
Architect: George Roosen
Other Buildings by Architect: Row houses and flats buildings in Crown Heights North, Sunset Park, Park Slope and Prospect Heights. Specifically 1280-1288, 1285-1289 Dean Street, in Crown Heights North
Landmarked: Yes, part of Clinton Hill Historic District (1981)

The story: Four story flats buildings and three and four story row houses went hand in hand on the brownstone blocks of our later row house neighborhoods, like Crown Heights North, Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Sunset Park. Developers could see that small multiple unit buildings could be placed on row house blocks and look quite nice together. Not surprising, really, as the same architects were quite adept at designing both kinds of buildings.

In Clinton Hill, the demand for smaller apartment buildings came as the Hill was still at its peak as one of Brooklyn’s most exclusive neighborhoods. Very often, if an apartment building was going to be built, it came at the expense of one of the many older single family mansions still standing on the major streets. This corner of St. James and Lafayette was a very nice location, so quality buildings had to go here and keep up appearances.

Both of the northern sides of the intersection were taken up by churches: Emmanuel Baptist and St. James Episcopal Churches. The corner opposite St. James was taken up by the buildings of the Adelphi Academy, and the fourth corner, just down the street from these flats, was a row of brownstones. When one turned the corner onto St. James, it was quite visually pleasing to see these two flats buildings. (more…)

25 Cranberry Street, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Semi-detached wood-frame house
Address: 25 Cranberry Street
Cross Streets: Hicks and Willow streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1829, or a tad earlier
Architectural Style: Federal
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District (1966)

The story: This is one of the oldest houses in Brooklyn Heights.Looking at this house really helps one imagine what Brooklyn looked like in the first half of the 19th century. Part of the difficulty in doing research here in one of the oldest parts of Brooklyn is that the streets have changed quite a lot over the centuries, and so have the street numbers. When this house was built, sometime around 1829, it was 45 Cranberry Street. The streets were renumbered in 1871, and 45 Cranberry became 25 Cranberry Street. (more…)