04/16/14 3:00pm

245 Front St. SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 245 Front Street
Cross Streets: Bridge and Gold Streets
Neighborhood: Vinegar Hill
Year Built: 1852-55
Architectural Style: Greek Revival
Architect: Unknown.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Vinegar Hill HD (1997)

The story: Like stumbling upon Brigadoon, Vinegar Hill is hidden from most people’s view, tucked away between Dumbo and the Navy Yard, cut off from Downtown Brooklyn by the ramps of the BQE and the approaches to the Manhattan Bridge. The residential buildings of Vinegar Hill were built at the same time as parts of Brooklyn Heights, share architectural styles and features. But the distance of a mile, and the development of the Navy Yard made all the difference in the histories of these neighborhoods.

Shipbuilder John Jackson purchased a large parcel of land after the Revolutionary War, and opened a shipyard on Wallabout Bay. He built his shipyard at the base of Hudson Street, and then built homes nearby for his workers. In 1801, he sold 40 acres of his waterfront land to the United States government for the Navy Yard. He then built more houses, and called the area “Vinegar Hill” in honor of the last major battle between the Irish and English, in 1798.

Meanwhile, the Sands family, brothers Comfort and Joshua, were buying up land like crazy. At one point they owned most of Dumbo, all of the land to the west of Jackson’s holdings. They were very wealthy land speculators and merchants. Comfort Sands was one of the founders of the Bank of New York, and Joshua was one of the members of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Brooklyn. They parceled their land off into lots very early, in 1787, but did not build in the Vinegar Hill area until the 1830s.

By the late 1830s, early 1840s, the descendants of John Jackson had sold off all his remaining Hudson Street plots. The Greek Revival homes built here date from the late 1840s, early 1850s, and represent the boom years for Vinegar Hill as a neighborhood of shops, businesses and homes. Most of the residents were Irish, giving the neighborhood the nickname of “Irishtown,” although many others also lived here as well. Most of the people here, no matter what their ethnicity, worked at the Navy Yard, the waterfront, or for industries that supplied both. (more…)

04/15/14 3:00pm

1301 Grand Street, Google Maps 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Charles J. King Iron and Scrap, formerly Louis Bossert & Son Co.
Address: 1301 Grand Street
Cross Streets: Gardner Avenue and New Town Creek
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: Unknown
Architectural Style: Eclectic factory
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Louis Bossert was a lumber man. He was one of the thousands of German immigrants who came to the United States and settled in Bushwick and Williamsburg in the mid to late 19th century. Bossert was an officer during the Civil War, and began a lumber business after the war. It was a fortuitous move, as Brooklyn had a series of building booms for the next fifty years, and Louis Bossert & Son was there to meet the needs of their customers.

By the end of the 19th century, in the 1890s, if not sooner, Louis Bossert’s lumber company was located here on Grand Street, along the Newtown Creek. The company was huge, with lumberyards, planing mills, warehouses and offices. Having the canal just behind the plant enabled Bossert to move goods by barge, and deliver large amounts of lumber to projects in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn with ease. This building was the headquarters and office of the company.

Lumber yards often had fires, so this may be the reason the Bossert HQ looks like a fireproof fortress. I was not able to find the date it was built, or the architect, and since the design is so eclectic, it’s also hard to date, but I’m going to go with early 20th century, in the ‘teens. By that time, Bossert’s plant was well established, and this building consolidated their operation, and replaced the company’s offices on Union Street. It’s an interesting building, certainly not pretty, but strong in personality. (more…)

04/14/14 3:00pm

267 Lewis Avenue, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 267 Lewis Avenue
Cross Streets: Madison and Monroe Streets
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Sometime between 1882 and 1888
Architectural Style: High Victorian Gothic
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story:
When I first started this column, it was a paragraph or two about a building. As time went on, and also as more on-line resources became available for researching, I was able to get more info, and the columns grew. But sometimes there are great buildings in Brooklyn that just don’t have a lot of info available on them. But there they are; often anomalies in the middle of a block, a building that I think is unusual, or spectacular, or just eye catching for some reason. Some research into its architect, date, occupants or events turns up nothing much. But still there is a great building there, and sometimes we just have to call attention to them because at the rate Brooklyn is changing, they may not be here the next time you pass.

I saw this house on my way out of Brooklyn last week, as I rolled down Lewis towards the parking lot that is the BQE. I did not have time to stop and take pictures, except from the side, at the light. The bay that juts out is quite eye catching, even from a car, and the brickwork at the top caught my attention. The building looks as if it could be a school or some kind of institution, but it’s not, it’s “just” a house. (more…)

04/11/14 3:00pm

672-694 President Street, KL, PS 3

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 672-694 President Street
Cross Streets: 5th and 6th avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1886-87
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: J.W. Bailey
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed extended Park Slope HD

The story: Park Slope’s named blocks have wonderful homes on them, but most people seem to pay attention to those only between 7th Avenue and the park. To do that is to really miss out on some treasures on the blocks between 7th and 4th avenues. Virtually all of the houses on these blocks were built in the building boom years between 1875 and 1895, with only a few hiccups every once in a while for recessions and short financial crises. During that time, developers snapped up the land and hired architects and builders; some well-known, others long forgotten, to build speculative housing for the people eager to buy and move into this fashionable neighborhood.

Some developers were able to buy entire sides of blocks, while others could only get two or three plots. The result is a delightful mishmash of architectural styles and quality of design. While the better known and better paid architects certainly delivered great designs, sometimes a total unknown came up with a masterful group of houses, and then disappeared from view. This group is a fine example of that.

James C. Jewett was the developer of the row of twelve houses on north side of President Street, numbers 672-694, between 5th and 6th avenues. He hired J. W. Bailey to be the architect. I couldn’t find any other examples of Bailey’s work, or find out anything else about him. Mr. Bailey may not have been flashy, but he delivered a nice group of houses, which add tremendously to the Park Slope streetscape. (more…)

04/10/14 3:30pm

Editor’s note: In honor of the 50-year anniversary of the Pratt Area Community Council, we are pleased to feature historic buildings PACC has redeveloped as our Building of the Day for four consecutive days. PACC is a community development corporation that preserves and develops affordable housing in central Brooklyn. Brownstoner is a proud media sponsor of PACC’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which takes place April 23.

218 Gates Ave,Gibb Mansion,  sspellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: John Gibb Mansion
Address: 218 Gates Avenue
Cross Streets: Franklin and Classon Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: late 1860s
Architectural Style: Second Empire
Architect: Unknown. 2003 Exterior restoration – Kaitsen Woo. Additional housing and interior architecture by Beth Cooper Lawrence Architect PC.
Landmarked: No

The story: The Gibb Mansion is one of the great storied houses of Brooklyn. Built for a millionaire merchant, it remained in the news long after its original owners had died or family members moved elsewhere. The house went from fine mansion to hot pillow hotel over the course of its 150 plus year history, and could have met the wrecking ball a couple of times, but survived and is now thriving. Much of its history has involved helping those in need, so it’s fitting that its current incarnation is continuing this grand tradition. Here’s the story:

Scottish-born John Gibb was a very successful lace merchant, by 1865, a partner in the firm Wells & Gibb, in Manhattan. They were the largest importers and wholesalers of lace goods in New York, with a large warehouse on the corner of Broadway and Grand, in what is now Soho. Today that building now holds the International (formerly French) Culinary Institute of America, among other tenants. It’s a huge building, giving one an idea of the size and success of Gibb’s company.

Like many wealthy merchants, John Gibb lived in Brooklyn, away from the hustle and bustle of commerce, first living in Fort Greene, and then moving to a home he had commissioned, sometime after 1865. Gibb bought a great deal of land in Bedford, near the growing Clinton Hill neighborhood, and had his house built right in the middle of it. For many years after the house was built, there were no buildings between the mansion and Classon Avenue. John Gibb did not want to be crowded. Or bothered, but that comes later.

The Gibb mansion is a very large Second Empire brick house, with a mansard roof and a grand front porch. The house has several bays and rear extensions, and in his day had a grand parlor and receiving rooms, a large dining room in the rear extension, two bathrooms, and plenty of bedrooms. The Gibb family needed all the room they could get, as John and his first wife Harriet had eleven children. Harriet died in 1878, her funeral taking place in the house. Four years later, John Gibb remarried, and his second wife, Sarah bore him two more children. (more…)

04/09/14 3:00pm

Editor’s note: In honor of the 50-year anniversary of the Pratt Area Community Council, we are pleased to feature historic buildings PACC has redeveloped as our Building of the Day for four consecutive days. PACC is a community development corporation that preserves and develops affordable housing in central Brooklyn. Brownstoner is a proud media sponsor of PACC’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which takes place April 23.

Fire HQ, 365 Jay St. pacc.org. 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Brooklyn Fire Department Headquarters, now affordable housing
Address: 365 Jay Street
Cross Streets: Willoughby Street and Metrotech Roadway
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1892
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Frank Freeman. 2013 Rehab architect: Nomad Architecture. Historic Preservation Architect: Thomas A. Fenniman.
Other work by architect: F. Freeman – Eagle Warehouse in Dumbo, Herman Behr mansion on Pierrepont Street, in Brooklyn Heights, among others. Nomad – Reno of Actor’s Temple, Manhattan, as well as many other nonprofit, commercial and residential projects nationwide and globally. T. Fenniman – Historic restorations in New York City, including St. Francis Xavier Church, Manhattan
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1966) National Register of Historic Places (1972)

The story: A great city has great civic buildings, and Brooklyn, near the end of the 19th century, was well on its way to making its mark with a collection of excellent municipal buildings. The Fire Headquarters was one of them, along with fine schools, courthouses, houses of worship and clubs, a monument to the power and pride of a great city. It was designed by the great Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman, who was responsible for many of the late 19th century’s most important buildings. The beautiful Behr mansion on Pierrepont and Henry Street is his design, as is the massive Eagle Warehouse in Dumbo. He also designed banks and other commercial and civic buildings in the Downtown and Brooklyn Heights area, but unfortunately, most of them did not survive.

Fire fighting in Brooklyn had become a professional affair, and a large headquarters was needed to consolidate the various offices and divisions, as well as to provide this part of downtown with a firehouse. But what a headquarters! The Romanesque Revival style of architecture was considered to be the highest form of architecture, especially for civic buildings at the time, and so it’s no wonder some of the best civic buildings were built in that style. The massing of shapes, with bays, turrets, dormers, varying rooflines, the voluminous arches, the use of florid terra-cotta ornament, and the contrasting use of texture in building materials — all of those elements of the style are here.

The building opened with great ceremony in 1892. The sight of fire vehicles and men rushing out of that magnificent archway was inspiring to all. Little did they know that only six years later, there would be no Brooklyn Fire Department. In 1898, the consolidation of New York City made the BFD redundant, and it was absorbed into FDNY. All of the Brooklyn fire houses were re-numbered, and this headquarters was no longer needed. It remained an active firehouse, however, and thereby was one of the largest and finest in the city. (more…)

04/08/14 3:30pm

Editor’s note: In honor of the 50-year anniversary of the Pratt Area Community Council, we are pleased to feature historic buildings PACC has redeveloped as our Building of the Day for four consecutive days. PACC is a community development corporation that preserves and develops affordable housing in central Brooklyn. Brownstoner is a proud media sponsor of PACC’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which takes place April 23.

15 Quincy St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Apartment building called “Quincy 15”
Address: 15 Quincy Street
Cross Streets: Downing Street and Classon Avenue
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 2007-2008
Architectural Style: Brick apartment building
Architect: ND Architecture & Design P.C.
Other work by architect: Modern and adaptive use projects throughout Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: Today’s BOTD is another of the Pratt Area Community Council’s affordable housing buildings. PACC has been at this for 50 years, with many of their projects being rehabs of existing historic buildings. This is one of their new-builds; a 48-unit building providing affordable housing in the form of nine studio apartments and 41 one-bedroom apartments for low-income residents, some of them formerly homeless people.

The building is on the same block as last Friday’s BOTD, the former Frederick Loeser & Co. stables and warehouse building, and occupies the space once taken up by another important Brooklyn business. This was one of the locations of the Borden Milk Company, which had a block wide plant here, with its main entrance on Lexington Avenue.

That plant had been there since at least 1904, and held a number of industries over the years. In 1911, it was home to a bakery called Mills Homemade Bread. By 1922, it was W. M. Evans Dairy, and by 1926, belonged to Borden’s, which used the entire building to pasteurize and bottle milk shipped in from New Jersey. The milk, which actually came in daily from upstate New York, was loaded into special glass lined refrigerated train cars, shipped to Hoboken, and then trucked over in special glass lined refrigerated trucks to Brooklyn. (more…)

04/07/14 3:00pm

Editor’s note: In honor of the 50-year anniversary of the Pratt Area Community Council, we are pleased to feature historic buildings PACC has redeveloped as our Building of the Day for four consecutive days. PACC is a community development corporation that preserves and develops affordable housing in central Brooklyn. Brownstoner is a proud media sponsor of PACC’s 50th Anniversary Gala, which takes place April 23.

418-422 Classon Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses, now called “The Hawthorne”
Address: 418-422 Classon Avenue
Cross Streets: Gates Avenue and Quincy Street
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: Early 1890s
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Langston & Dahlander. Rehab by Feder & Stia Architects, LLP
Other work by architect: L&D – numerous row houses and flats buildings in Bedford, Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights, Park Slope. F&S – 272 Gates Ave for PACC
Landmarked: No

The story: This is one of those great examples of rehabilitation that shows that even the worst looking group of buildings can be brought back from the dead, if you have a vision, good architects and a reason to do so. Of course, it always helps to have something great to work with in the first place.

This group of three houses was designed by Frederick B. Langston and Magnus Dahlander in the early 1890s. The two men, both talented architects on their own, were partners for a couple of years, during which time they designed some of Brooklyn’s most interesting row houses and flats buildings. They specialized in the Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne style, characterized by massing of shapes and forms, a combination of building materials, such as smooth and rough-cut brownstone, brick and terra cotta, along with ornamental stained glass and decorative pressed metal.

The use of Romanesque style arches was a big feature of these styles, and here, Langston & Dahlander used them with great skill and even daring, as in stretching the arch all the way across the building, and incorporating the door into the arch. The partners used this building-wide arch only four times, and their buildings are the only houses with this feature in Brooklyn. The other houses are on Herkimer Street and Jefferson Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant and on Garfield Street in Park Slope. (more…)

04/04/14 3:00pm

22 Quincy St. NS, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Frederick Loeser & Co. warehouse and stable, now Salvation Army depot and store
Address: 22 Quincy Street
Cross Streets: Corner Downing Street
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1902
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival factory/warehouse
Architect: Unknown, perhaps George W. Morse, or Francis Kimball
Other work by architect: Morse: Downtown store buildings for Frederick Loeser, Abraham & Straus, as well as Temple Bar Building and Franklin Trust Building, Brooklyn Heights. Kimball: Buildings for Frederick Loeser, as well as Montauk Club and Emmanuel Baptist Church
Landmarked: No

The story: Most of this week’s BOTD’s have been commercial or factory buildings, and here’s another. I’ve been shopping or donating to this Salvation Army facility since the early 1980s, but only recently actually looked at the building. It’s quite nice, and has not been changed much since it’s been built. It’s had a long history, and started out as a warehouse and stables for Frederick Loeser & Company, one of Brooklyn’s largest and most prestigious department stores.

Frederick Loeser & Co. was founded as a dry goods store in 1850, on Fulton Street. Loeser partnered with lace importer William Gibb in 1887, and the two built one of Brooklyn’s finest and largest department stores. By the early 1900s, the Gibb family was running the store, and expanded their warehouse and storage facilities well beyond their huge downtown Fulton Street location. They appealed to the upscale carriage trade, and one of their amenities was door to door delivery. They started out with horse drawn delivery wagons, and then moved to gas an electric powered motor vehicles.

The building is a great old Romanesque Revival warehouse, with arched windows and decorative banding and terra cotta trim. The architect may have been either Francis Kimball or George Morse. Both did work for Loeser’s, and both were adept at this style and both were quite used to using terra cotta ornament and other details of the building. Morse designed the beautiful Abraham and Straus warehouse on Gallitan Place and Livingston Street, while Kimball designed the large extension of the Loeser store, on Elm Street. Both were prominent architects with a large history of fine buildings in Brooklyn. (more…)

04/03/14 3:00pm

195A-197 Dean St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Double row house
Address: 195A-197 Dean Street
Cross Streets: Hoyt and Bond streets
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1855
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Boerum Hill HD (1973)

The story: Between 1833 and 1834, Charles Hoyt and Russell Nevins bought up much of the land in Boerum Hill from the estate of George Martense. The Martense and Garritsen families owned the entire area what would become Boerum Hill. They were joined by marriage, and had been there since the Dutch began spreading out from Brooklyn Heights. The men began portioning off the land into lots, and the development of modern Boerum Hill began in the 1840s. Wood frame row houses went up, and were soon overtaken by handsome brick Greek Revival homes. The neighborhood was a popular home for merchants, shopkeepers, artisans and small business owners who made their livings in Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan.

The Garritsen family was still selling off parcels in 1855, but development in Boerum Hill was slow. It would get even slower when the Civil War broke out. But after the war, development in Brooklyn took off. Boerum Hill, as well as Fort Greene, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens were in the first wave of this development, as people moved ever outwards out from the Heights. The 1860s and ‘70s saw great growth in Boerum Hill, as speculative construction continued. (more…)

04/02/14 3:00pm

461-467 15th St. CDB, LPC

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Two-family row houses
Address: 461-467 15th Street
Cross Streets: 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: French Renaissance Revival
Architect: Benjamin F. Hudson
Other work by architect: Two houses in Fiske Terrace
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD Extension (2012)

The story: We didn’t have much when I was growing up, but I never knew that, and neither did too many other people. I grew up in an upstate small town with a New England-like frugality, where people just didn’t throw their money around in ostentatious shows of wealth. We mowed our lawn, tended the landscaping that had been in place for a century, and had a beautiful old house that looked quite nice from the road. No one could tell the place leaked like a sieve, and we didn’t have the money to do more than patch. Many years later, subsequent owners of the property cut the trees down, plowed up the peony bushes and stored junk cars on the property, making it look like something out of “Deliverance.” These people actually had money, so I heard. They replaced the roof, at least.

Point being, you can’t look at the outside of a building and know anything definite about what’s going on inside. Real estate developers and home owners alike took that to heart when brownstone Brooklyn began running out of room for single-family row houses at the end of the 19th century. Flats buildings and larger apartment buildings were starting to be quite popular, but they were still a hard sell to people who had qualms about living in multiple-unit dwellings, no matter how nice they were purported to be. (more…)

04/01/14 3:00pm

421-431 Bond St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Empire City Hygeia Ice Company
Address: 421-431 Bond Street
Cross Streets: 3rd Street and Gowanus Canal
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1904
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed HD on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: If you are interested in the rise and fall of industry in Brooklyn, there are few places with more industrial history than the Gowanus area. After all, the swamps were drained and the canal was built to serve industry, and for the last hundred and sixty years, businesses have risen, prospered and fallen in this part of Brooklyn. Today, the push is away from industry and to turn many of the old factories and lofts into residences, or else tear them all down for new residences, but very few people seem to know or care what went on in those buildings in the first place. There are many fascinating buildings in Gowanus, some of which are active today as businesses, others have been converted into residential or cultural use, and some are just sitting there, boarded up or exposed to the elements, waiting.

This great Romanesque Revival factory building was first used by the Empire City Hygeia Ice Company, in 1904. There were a lot of seemingly independent ice companies in the Northeast called “Hygeia,” and I have not yet been able to determine if that was a generic name for pure factory manufactured ice, or if they were all part of a larger corporation. New York City and Brooklyn had at least six different companies called “XXXX Hygeia Ice Company.”

At any rate, they all manufactured ice in factories, as opposed to harvesting natural ice from rivers and lakes. By the beginning of the 20th century, factory ice was slowly edging out natural ice, as it could be made all year round, and could easily be transported from the factory to customers, and it could be guaranteed pure and unpolluted. Many factory ice companies also were able to escape the price gouging of the natural ice monopoly in New York City, which I wrote about in a series of Walkabouts called “It’s Nice to Be Ice.” (more…)