201-249 Lexington Avenue, SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row Houses
Address: 201-249 Lexington Avenue
Cross Streets: Bedford and Nostrand Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: sometime between 1880 and 1886
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec with Queen Anne details
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: We have a mystery here. The 1880 Bromley Atlas for the City of Brooklyn clearly shows elevated tracks along Lexington Avenue in Bedford. Yet a history of that elevated line states that the trains didn’t start running until 1885. Perhaps they were building them, or were going to start to build them back in 1880, so they put them on the map. Who knows? What is more interesting is the development on Lexington Avenue itself.

We know today that a street with trains rumbling by overhead is not seen as prime real estate, or having optimal living conditions, with noise, lack of sunlight and soot. But back then; this was new technology and new opportunities for public transportation. In 1880, the Bromley Atlas shows there was no development on the north side of the block of Lexington between Nostrand and Bedford. Not a single building. The south side had only one group of row houses, in the middle of the block. What a difference six years makes! (more…)

154 Lawrence Ave, 70Pct, KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally 72nd, then 74th, now 70th Precinct House, NYPD
Address: 154 Lawrence Avenue
Cross Streets: Ocean Parkway and Seton Place
Neighborhood: Kensington
Year Built: 1904
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival/Beaux Arts
Architect: Washington Hull
Other Buildings by Architect: Grace Church Reading Room in Brooklyn Heights, Clark Mansion in Manhattan (demolished)
Landmarked: No

The story: Architect Washington Hull only designed a few buildings in Brooklyn. This was one of them. He won the commission in 1902, but the precinct house, prison and stable complex for the 72nd Precinct did not go into construction until 1904. Ironically, one of the first buildings in this young architect’s career turned out to be one of his last. Here’s the story:

The old 72nd Precinct house was on Coney Island Avenue and was thought by many to be haunted. Many officers there swore that the building was a “hoodoo station,” as they called it, with a curse on it that had caused the deaths of several patrolmen over the years. They said the building was haunted by the ghosts of past prisoners, and they pointed to the recent death of the precinct’s Captain Short, while in command of that station, as proof of the curse. Sources show the captain died from more mundane causes, but why let that interrupt a good story? (more…)

697-703 Bushwick Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Tenement buildings
Address: 697-703 Bushwick Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Suydam Street
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: 1889
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Theobald Engelhardt
Other Buildings by Architect: In Bushwick – Ulmer Office and Brewery, Arion Hall, St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, Frederick Cook house, Bossert house, and many more row houses, churches, tenements, mansions, breweries, banks, hospitals, factories and warehouses in the old Eastern District and elsewhere in Brooklyn
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed Bushwick Avenue Historic District

The story: By definition, a tenement is a building with multiple tenancy, nothing more sinister that that. In 1867, the New York State defined it as “any house, building, or portion thereof, which is rented, leased, let, or hired out to be occupied or is occupied, as the home or residence of more than three families living independently of one another and doing their own cooking upon the premises, or by more than two families upon a floor, so living and cooking and having a common right in the halls, stairways, yards, water-closets, or privies.” The term became forever attached to horrible, crowded and substandard slums populated by the poorest of the poor, giving a stigma to all multiple unit dwellings that wouldn’t disappear until the first quarter of the 20th century. (more…)

62 Joralemon Street, SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Grace Church Reading Room, now co-op apartments
Address: 62 Joralemon Street
Cross Streets: Hicks and Willow Place
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1895
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Washington Hull and James Hewlett of Lord, Hewlett & Hull
Other Buildings by Architect: William Clark mansion, Manhattan (demolished), 70th Precinct in Kensington, mausoleums in Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, and several suburban mansions.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights Historic District (1966)

The story: This morning, in my Walkabout column, I began the story of the life and career of Washington Hull, one of Brooklyn’s many forgotten architects. He didn’t design very much in Brooklyn, but he was a part of the large architectural community that was quite busy at the turn of the 20th century. One of his few Brooklyn buildings was this Reading Room, designed for Grace Episcopal Church in Brooklyn Heights. It was designed by Hull, along with one of his partners, James M. Hewlett, of Lord, Hewlett & Hull. The three principles of the company had all worked together at McKim, Mead & White when they decided they had the experience and talent to go out on their own. This was one of their first commissions.

James Hewlett and Washington Hull were both from Brooklyn, and were cheered by the press as representing the borough in the high stakes game of big time architecture. They, along with Austin Lord, were coming down from a second place win in an important competition to design the new Philadelphia Museum of Art. They came back to Brooklyn with a $3,000 consolation prize, and were awarded the design for the Reading Room. (more…)

226 Nevins Street, SSPellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former City of New York Water Supply-Distribution, Gowanus Station
Address: 226 Nevins Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Butler Street
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: Around 1911 for Butler St. Nevins street building, after 1916.
Architectural Style: Late 19th-early 20th century brick factory style buildings
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Everyone who loves all kinds of industrial architecture should wander around Gowanus. Perhaps you should do it sooner rather than later, if recent rumors of mass construction prove to be true, especially in the outer parts of the district, away from brownfields and the canal. In a car, Gowanus can be a maze of one-way streets and short streets with familiar names that are suddenly blocked off by other streets, the canal, or housing projects. But walking – that’s where you can really get a feel for the Gowanus that was, a hub of industry and manufacturing, with layers of history stacked on top of each other, with buildings that span the businesses that thrived from the last quarter of the 19th century, to the present day.

As times change, so too do the functions of these buildings. Some are easily converted into new kinds of businesses, while others don’t do so well. Some could be, and have been, converted into new housing, or event spaces, restaurants and galleries, while others can’t be imagined as anything but an empty lot upon which new buildings can be built. I always enjoy wandering around Gowanus, because I don’t know it well, and am always surprised when I run across a building that I’ve never seen before. Like this one, the former City of New York Water Supply, Distribution – Gowanus Station. (more…)

759 President St. KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Built as the Skene Sanitarium, now apartments
Address: 759 President Street
Cross Streets: 6th and 7th avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1884, with addition added in 1902, and another in the 1930s
Architectural Style:Italianate
Architect: Original architect — R. B. Eastman, others unknown
Other Buildings by Architect: Hospitals and other public buildings in Brooklyn and Vermont
Landmarked: No, but in proposed expansion district for the Park Slope HD

The story: Alexander J. C. Skene was the descendant of Scottish lairds. His family story extended far back into Scotland’s history and included participation in many famous battles and encounters with historical figures. But young Alexander wanted to expand his horizons beyond the Highlands, and came to the United States at the age of 19 to further his education and to study medicine. He enrolled in the University of Michigan and completed his medical studies at the Long Island School of Medicine in 1863. The Civil War was raging on at the time, and Dr. Skene enlisted and served as a doctor for the Union Army, seeing the aftermath of some of the worst battles in the war.

After the war, he returned to Brooklyn, and became an adjunct professor at LICH. He soon gained great renown for his skills as a diagnostician. The horrors of war may have influenced his move into the relatively new field of gynecology and women’s medicine, and by the 1880s, he was one of the most influential doctors in the field. (more…)

56 Court St. Christopher D. Brazee for LPC 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally the “Collegiate Building”, now mixed-use commercial/residential
Address: 56 Court Street
Cross Streets: Joralemon Street and Aitken Place
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights border/Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1926-1927
Architectural Style: Neo-Gothic
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of the Brooklyn Skyscraper District (2012)

The story: Court Street has a fascinating history, and is one of Brooklyn’s most important streets. In the 19th century, the blocks that run through Downtown, and make up Brooklyn Heights’ northern border were a mixture of commercial and residential buildings. This address was part of a group of mid-19th century four and five story brownstone buildings that had retail stores on the ground floors and residential or office space above.

The blocks between Joralemon and Atlantic had all kinds of things going on in them, including theaters, assembly halls, offices, shops and rooming houses. The two buildings that stood on this location prior to this one had a very musical heritage. This address was home to the Mollenhauer Conservatory of Music in 1874, as well as Smith and Bunce Pianos, later in the century, and in 1907, Muller’s Orchestra. There were also rooms for rent. In 1921, a distraught man who worked as a plumber, and who rented a furnished room here, committed suicide by inhaling gas from a tube. He left a note to his mother saying that life was not worth the struggle. (more…)

1213-1215 Atlantic Ave, CB,PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Wood-framed row storefront/houses
Address: 1213-1215 Atlantic Avenue
Cross Streets: Nostrand and Bedford Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Late 1860s, before 1872
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: If you want a good idea of what a mid-19th century commercial street in Brooklyn may have looked like, you can get a good idea from these buildings. They are among the oldest remaining wood framed buildings in this part of Bedford Stuyvesant. And considering their age, and where they are, they are in remarkable shape. If these buildings could talk, they would have an amazing story to tell. (more…)

259 21st Street, KL, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally St. John the Evangelist School, now St. John’s Condominium
Address: 259 21st Street
Cross Streets: 5th and 6th avenues
Neighborhood: Greenwood Heights
Year Built: 1904-1905
Architectural Style:
Architect: T.H. Poole Company, renovation into condos – Van J. Brody
Other Buildings by Architect: St. Joseph’s Orphanage, Flushing
Landmarked: No

The story: The parish of St. John the Evangelist was established in Greenwood Heights in 1849. They were established for the growing Irish Catholic population in this neighborhood, which at this time was made up of small working class wood-framed homes. The first church was also a wood framed structure, built in 1850, on 21st Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues. By 1888, the wood framed church was still there, and the church also had two schools attached to it, both masonry buildings. One was the St. John’s School next door, the other behind it on 22nd Street, run by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s, with a convent next door. That was probably the girl’s school, and St. John’s was for boys. (more…)

1148-1150 Pacific Street, SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 1148-1150 Pacific Street
Cross Streets: Bedford and Franklin Avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1890s
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, could possibly be in a Phase 4 of Crown Heights North HD

The story: Many people don’t realize that Pacific Street used to be one of Bedford’s mansion streets. Back even before this area was called the St. Marks District, Pacific Street was lined with large single family houses on very large lots. Most of them were wood-framed, and probably dated back to just after the Civil War, if not just a little bit before. At the time, this area was considered the suburbs, and wealthy people built large homes here; an easy commute to work in Downtown Brooklyn or Lower Manhattan. Pacific Street would have been convenient to the LIRR train, only a block away, as well as to horse-drawn trolley cars called omnibuses, running along Fulton Street.

I say probably, because they are all gone. We’ve still got three later single-family homes on Pacific between Nostrand and Brooklyn still remaining today, but all the rest were long ago replaced by row houses and flats buildings. As you can see on the 1888 map below, the streetscape on Pacific was very different. The 23rd Regiment Armory hadn’t been built yet, and there were five large houses on large plots on this block. One large plot was empty of buildings. The yellow buildings are wood-framed structure, and in the next ten to fifteen years, these houses were all torn down. (more…)

60-64 Washington Ave, SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Van Glahn factory and warehouse buildings
Address: 60-64 Washington Avenue
Cross Streets: Park and Flushing Avenues
Neighborhood: Wallabout
Year Built: 1892
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: John G. Glover
Other Buildings by Architect: other Van Glahn factory/warehouse buildings on this block, also Van Glahn homes at 229-231 Washington Ave. Row houses, tenements and factories in several Brooklyn neighborhoods.
Landmarked: No, but listed on Rookwood Chocolate Factory Historic District (1984). Also on proposed State and National Registers of Historic Places, Wallabout Industrial District. Also proposed LPC Wallabout Industrial District.

The story: Wallabout is one of my favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods. I never get tired of walking around there, for a number of reasons. I really like industrial buildings of a certain era, first of all, and I find the mix of industry and residence in a neighborhood fascinating from view of how the society developed and how it shaped the neighborhood, and the greater city’s history. The Brooklyn of today is literally built on the past, and buildings are the most tangible legacy of that past.

It’s remarkable how some of the products that flourished in Wallabout during the late 19th and early 20th century still are with us today; Drake’s Cakes and Tootsie Rolls, for instance. Wallabout was best known for its grocery and foodstuff businesses. The Wallabout Market, a huge wholesale meat and produce market, similar to Hunt’s Point Market, was located here, on grounds now part of the Navy Yard property. The market attracted all kinds of similar businesses, and by the end of the 19th century, was home to bakeries, candy factories, and many wholesale grocers and producers. (more…)

231 Front St. BenMoore, SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Benjamin Moore & Co. factory, now offices
Address: 231-233 Front Street
Cross Streets: Bridge and Gold streets
Neighborhood: Vinegar Hill
Year Built: 1908
Architectural Style: Early 20th century commercial
Architect: William B. Tubby
Other buildings by architect: Charles M. Pratt mansion, Pratt Institute Library, and other Pratt commissions in Clinton Hill. Also fire houses, libraries, row houses and freestanding houses throughout Brooklyn
Landmarked: Yes, part of Vinegar Hill Historic District (1997)

The story: Benjamin Moore is one of America’s most well-known commercial products. Anyone who has ever chosen a paint color for their walls knows about Benjamin Moore paint, whether one uses their products or not. But very few people realize that the Benjamin Moore Company started right here in Brooklyn. Even fewer realize that Benjamin Moore himself did not go it alone. He had a brother, and the original name of their paint company was Moore Brothers, and it was headquartered on Atlantic Avenue.

In 1883, Benjamin and his older brother Robert M. Moore opened up their paint and varnish business at 55 Atlantic Avenue, in the middle of an industrial complex that once stood between Hicks, State and Columbia Streets, the same block that now holds the iconic Montero’s Bar. The brothers were from County Monahan, Ireland, and came to the United States in the 1870s. They had pooled their money and with $2000, rented a floor of a five story factory building nestled in the middle of the block, behind the tenement buildings that faced Atlantic. (more…)