Stuyvesant Heights Brooklyn -- 406 MacDonough St History

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

As the automobile’s importance grew, sometimes a plot of land was more important as a garage than as dwellings. Here’s such a case from 1916.

Name: Garage
Address: 406-410 MacDonough Street
Cross Streets: Stuyvesant Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard
Neighborhood: Stuyvesant Heights
Year Built: 1916
Architectural Style: Early-20th-century garage
Architect: Eric O. Holmgren
Other works by architect: 122-134 Brooklyn Avenue in Crown Heights North; Evening Start Baptist Church (former LDS Chapel) on Gates Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant; 189 Ocean Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens; theaters in Williamsburg; Alku Toinen Cooperative Apartments in Sunset Park
Landmarked: Yes, part of Stuyvesant Heights Expansion Historic District (2013)

In 1905, the first automobile show in Brooklyn took place at the 23rd Regiment Armory, at the corner of Bedford and Atlantic avenues. It was the beginning of Brooklyn’s love affair with the automobile. (more…)

Greenpoint Brooklyn -- 138 Milton St Thomas C. Smith House History

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

This free-standing mansion was home to Thomas C. Smith, who also designed and built it. Smith was one of Greenpoint’s important residents — an accomplished architect-builder and successful businessman.

Name: Former Thomas C. Smith house, now Greenpoint Reformed Church
Address: 138 Milton Street
Cross Streets: Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue
Neighborhood: Greenpoint
Year Built: 1866-67
Architectural Style: Federal, Greek revival, with embellishments
Architect: Thomas C. Smith
Other Buildings by Architect: 111, 117, 119-129 Milton Street, as well as most of the rest of the south side of Milton Street
Landmarked: Yes, part of Greenpoint Historic District (1982)

Thomas C. Smith was a man blessed with both talent and business savvy. He was born in Bridgehampton, Long Island, in 1816. He came to NYC as a young man and was a builder’s apprentice for several years. In 1830, he went out on his own as a builder.

Most builders of that day were their own architects, and Smith was no different. He established a fine business that would lead to Brooklyn. He retired from building in 1863.

The Union Porcelain Works

In the course of Smith’s business he had acquired a small pottery company at 300 Eckford Street as payment for a debt. Due in part to the ongoing Civil War, the firm was in bad financial shape. They had been in business since 1854, mostly producing porcelain doorknobs.

Smith was ready for a new challenge, so he went to France and England to investigate porcelain factories there. He got quite an education and learned the porcelain industry in full. (more…)

Bushwick Brooklyn -- 81 Beaver St, William Ulmer Brewery History

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Brooklyn has been a beer lovers’ town since the 1850s. But there are only a few of the original brewery buildings still standing. This one is the most well known.

Name: William Ulmer Brewery — main brew house and addition
Address: 81-83 Beaver Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Belvidere Street
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: 1872, 1881
Architectural Style: Rundbogenstil Romanesque revival
Architect: Theobald Engelhardt
Other Works by Architect: The William Ulmer Brewery office next door and William Ulmer’s mansion on Bushwick Avenue, as well as mansions, row houses, tenements, churches, factories and breweries mostly in Bushwick, Williamsburg and Eastern Bedford Stuyvesant
Landmarked: Yes, the entire brewery complex was landmarked in 2010.

In 1871, German immigrant William Ulmer became a partner in the Vigelius & Ulmer Continental Lagerbier Brewery, on the corner of Belvidere and Beaver streets in Bushwick. By 1879, Ulmer had become sole proprietor and renamed in the William Ulmer Brewery.

The Bushwick section of Brooklyn had become home to most of Brooklyn’s German immigrants, starting in the late 1840s. They brought many different industries and products to this country, but are best known for lager beer, which soon became the drink of choice in New York and, eventually, the entire country.

Before Prohibition Brooklyn had at least 24 breweries, many of them in the predominantly German Eastern District, which included Bushwick, parts of Williamsburg and Eastern Bedford Stuyvesant. The Ulmer brewery was one of the most successful. (more…)

Brooklyn Heights -- 18 Cranberry St History

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

This elegant Brooklyn Heights row house was built back when the “fruit blocks” were at the center of the Heights.

Name: Row house
Address: 18 Cranberry Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Willow Street
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: Around 1845
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights Historic District (1965)

Cranberry Street, like Orange and Pineapple streets, was named by the Hicks brothers, who owned this land before the street grid was laid out in the early 1800s. Cranberry once stretched from Columbia Heights out beyond Fulton Street, now Cadman Plaza West.

By 1821 there were 15 houses along the length of the street. This house was built around 1845 and included the fenced-in yard and the carriage house behind it, today a separate address.

The house is similar to 15 Willow Street, on the corner of Middagh Street: both are brick Greek Revivals, with side entrances. The side of 18 Cranberry faces Willow Street, and was designed to complement and complete the adjacent row of houses.

This house was built to be the same height as its neighbors, but sometime in the 20th century an extra story was added and the cornice was removed. The elegantly curved staircase is original.

The bricked-in windows may or may not be original. Interestingly, 15 Willow has the same windows bricked in. They may have been false windows to begin with, or filled in when Brooklyn’s row houses became boarding houses and apartments. (more…)

666 Fulton St Fort Greene Brooklyn Cast Iron Architecture

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

This corner building is one of seven rare cast iron–fronted buildings built in the commercial center of Fort Greene.

Name: Cast iron–fronted mixed-use building
Address: 666 Fulton Street
Cross Streets: Corner of South Elliott Place
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1882
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Charles A. Snedeker
Other Works by Architect: Row houses on South Elliott Place
Landmarked: Yes, part of BAM Historic District (1978)

Cast iron–clad buildings began appearing in Lower Manhattan as early as the late 1850s. By the 1880s, they had reached the height of their popularity, with all manner of styles and ornamentation available.

They were touted for being more fire resistant, their construction allowed for larger and greater fenestration, and, let’s face it, they could be gorgeous. The ornamentation and degree of design detail that could be cheaply worked into sheet metal cladding made for beautiful buildings.

New York’s mercantile and commercial strength was made manifest in the cast iron palazzos along Manhattan’s Broadway and SoHo, the Ladies Mile and the buildings of Tribeca. This trend carried over into Brooklyn as well, but in a smaller way. (more…)

Victorian Flatbush Brooklyn Beverley Sq W 317 Rugby Rd

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Who doesn’t love this colorful, perfectly sized and proportioned Victorian Flatbush house? It is one of many built by developer and architect T.B. Ackerson in suburban Flatbush.

Name: Single-family detached wood-frame house
Address: 317 Rugby Road
Cross Streets: Beverley and Cortelyou roads
Neighborhood: Beverley Square West (part of Victorian Flatbush)
Year Built: 1902
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Thomas Benton Ackerson
Other works by architect: Almost all of the houses in Beverley Square West, as well as houses in Beverley Square East and Fiske Terrace
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed and long-overdue Victorian Flatbush Historic District

Although parts of the suburban neighborhoods we collectively call Victorian Flatbush are landmarked, there are large parts that are not. Many of them contain exceptionally fine residential architecture; some designed by and built by the same men who created their landmarked neighbors.

Efforts are still underway to petition the LPC to protect these neighborhoods, all of which contain homes that have already been torn down for new construction, or architecturally re-muddled beyond recognition.

None of the neighborhoods in Victorian Flatbush developed on their own, or without plan. All had the guiding hand of a visionary planner and developer. They built for profit, but they also wanted to create beautiful neighborhoods that would be their legacy. All succeeded. (more…)

Crown Heights Brooklyn 947 Prospect Pl Cottage Living

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Who wouldn’t want to live in these charming cottages? These six houses are unlike any others built in Crown Heights North.

Name: Row house cottages
Address: 935-947 Prospect Place
Cross Streets: New York and Brooklyn avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1920-22
Architectural Style: British Arts and Crafts
Architect: A. White Pierce
Other Works by Architect: 759 E. 17th Street and other suburban houses in Victorian Flatbush and Laurelton, Queens
Landmarked: Yes, part of Crown Heights North Historic District (2007)

We visit this row of charming little cottages in my Crown Heights North walking tours, and I am always asked if they were built as servants’ quarters for the now-vanished mansions of St. Marks Avenue, which is right behind this block.

No, they weren’t. The earliest owners of these houses would probably have been highly offended at the suggestion. After all, they themselves were of more-than-moderate income, had domestic help and were fixtures in Brooklyn’s society pages. (more…)

Gowanus Brooklyn 543 Union St National Packing Box Company

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

This Gowanus factory building once housed the successful packing-box manufacturer James Dykeman. Today, artists work and exhibit here, alongside a museum dedicated to the famous and infamous canal.

Name: National Packing Box Factory
Address: 543 Union Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Nevins Street
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1889
Architectural Style: Typical late-19th-century brick industrial building
Architect: Robert Dixon
Other works by architect: Factories, row houses, storefront, tenement and flats buildings in Gowanus, Park Slope, Bedford Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill/Wallabout and other brownstone communities
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed Gowanus Canal Historic District for the National Register

James H. Dykeman was a successful Brooklyn carpenter. In 1877, he decided to branch out and open up a box-factory business.

We tend to think of boxes in terms of cardboard, but back then, wooden boxes of all sizes, shapes and strengths were used to transport everything from fragile china to machine equipment. Someone had to make them — who better than a carpenter? (more…)

Automobile Row Brooklyn 73 Empire Blvd Crown Heights

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

When Ebbets Field opened in 1913, thousands of people flocked to the ballpark from all over. Since the automobile had worked its way into the hearts of Americans as securely as the love of baseball, many of those people had cars. They had to park somewhere, right?

Name: Former garage
Address: 73-97 Empire Boulevard
Cross Streets: Corner McKeever Place
Neighborhood: Crown Heights South
Year Built: Somewhere around 1913-14
Architectural Style: Brick commercial, with Gothic ornament
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

Baseball Meets Automobile Row

The site for Ebbets Field was chosen for several important reasons, one of which was the availability of public transportation. This was the edge of Flatbush, on Bedford Avenue near Malbone Street (now Empire Boulevard) and Flatbush Avenue, all heavily traveled streets with trolley and rail service. (more…)

Park Slope Brooklyn 515 4 Ave PS 124

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Last week we featured some of the great C.B.J. Snyder’s Brooklyn schools. There are a lot of them, and here’s one more great addition to the Brooklyn streetscape.

Name: Public School 124, Silas B. Dutcher School
Address: 515 4th Avenue
Cross Streets: 13th and 14th Street
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1899-1900
Architectural Style: Beaux-Arts
Landmarked: No

This beautiful Beaux-Arts-style elementary school is just one many built by C.B.J. Snyder, the Supervisor of School Buildings for the City of New York. It one of his earliest Brooklyn schools, planned a year after Brooklyn became part of Greater New York City in 1898.

As we posted last week, Snyder revolutionized school building with his H-shaped schools. This is not one of them; instead it’s a massive old-style rectangular school, built on a block-wide lot with lots of room around it for maximum use of windows on all four sides.

Snyder was well aware of the impact a handsome, well-built school had on a community. The 1893 Chicago World’s Exhibition had introduced the nation to the Beaux-Arts style — an ornate, classically inspired French Baroque style that lent itself well to public buildings of all kinds. (more…)

Sunset Park Brooklyn 6301 2 Ave Brooklyn Arsenal Building of the Day

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

No matter how big or small, excess stuff has to be stored somewhere. Before this great building became a self-storage facility, it stored armaments and supplies for the National Guard.

Name: Former Brooklyn Arsenal, now Extra Space self-storage
Address: 6301 2nd Avenue
Cross Streets: 63rd and 64th streets
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1924-26
Architectural Style: Fortress
Architect: Sullivan W. Jones
Other works by architect: Alfred E. Smith Building in Albany, City Hall in Buffalo. Also armory in Hempstead, Long Island
Landmarked: No

The crenellated castle armories of the late 19th century were the inspiration for more-modern armory architects. The fortresses on many of our neighborhood streets were built for shock and awe, and that tradition carried through into the new century. But here, overlooking New York Bay, the inspiration came from another military installation.

This arsenal is next door to the U.S. Army Military Ocean Terminal, architect Cass Gilbert’s massive reinforced concrete staging area and warehouse for the military built in 1918. This building was designed to complement it.

Gilbert may have brought the “awe,” but this building provided the “shock.” After all, it was designed to be filled with guns, ammo and the armaments of war. (more…)

It’s School Week here on Brownstoner. Stay tuned to check out more school-themed stories.


I was asked to pick my favorite school building for this series of school posts. Of course, I have to go with Boys High School. It’s a masterpiece. Filmmakers think so too — the school’s been used as a setting for at least two major productions.

Name: Boys High School
Address: 832 Marcy Avenue
Cross Streets: Putnam Avenue and Madison Street
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1891, with additions 1905-1910
Architectural Style: Richardsonian Romanesque Revival
Architect: James W. Naughton, additions by C.B.J. Snyder
Other works by architect: Girls High School (Bed Stuy), P.S. 9 Annex (Prospect Heights), P.S. 107 (Park Slope); Snyder: Erasmus High School (Flatbush); John Jay High School (Park Slope); for both, many, many others
Landmarked: Yes, individually landmarked (1975); National Register (1982)

Brooklyn, as an independent city, led the metropolitan area in public education. Educators had long felt that public schooling beyond elementary school was necessary for an educated populace and workforce.

In 1885, the first high school in New York City, Girls High School, opened nearby on Nostrand Avenue. Originally planned to hold both boys and girls, it was too small for both before the doors even opened. The boys had to wait until September of 1892, when this school was completed.

James W. Naughton, who was Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn (put that title on your door), held his office from 1879-98.

During that time, this Irish-born, Cooper Union–trained architect was the sole architect for more than 100 schools built during his tenure. He was active right at the peak of Brooklyn’s ascendency as one of America’s finest fast-growing cities.

A Majestic School Worthy of a City on the Rise

By the mid 1880s, the Romanesque Revival architecture style was seen as a fitting style of architecture for important civic, commercial and residential buildings in America.

The style had complex massing of shapes and textures, soaring arches and ornamental elements, all perfect for showing off in a spectacular way.

In the 1890s in Brooklyn, the fire headquarters, post office, Eagle Warehouse, Germania Club, Alhambra Apartments, Hulbert, Behr and Schieren houses, and many more were designed in the Romanesque Revival style. But the Boys High School would top them all. (more…)