07/24/14 4:00pm

brooklyn bridge park baylander

Brooklyn Bridge Park is now offering free tours of a 50-year-old naval ship docked at Pier 5, the Baylander IX-514. The tours aim to highlight the ship’s history, in addition to promoting the park’s under-construction marina. The 131-foot vessel first saw service in Vietnam in 1968. Since 1986, helicopter pilots in training have used the ship as a landing pad, and it’s seen 120,000 successful landings in the last 16 years. You can tour the ship Saturdays between 10 am and 4 pm and Sundays from 10 to 2 pm through Labor Day.

Photo via Brooklyn Bridge Park

07/24/14 10:45am

LIAC, Union St. 1909, NY Daily Trib 1

After nine years in five other locations, the Long Island Automobile Club finally got their headquarters near “The Gateway of Long Island;” Grand Army Plaza. As Brooklyn’s first, and most elite automobile club, with members of such social standing as William “Willy” Vanderbilt, they were now located in a building that was worthy of their wealth and prestige. Yes, it was another garage, but what a garage!

This building was something out of Europe, with a façade reminiscent of the Austrian Art Nouveau Movement, called the Vienna Secession. It was a four story building built in 1904 as the Plaza Garage. Art Nouveau architecture is very rare in New York City, and rarer still in Brooklyn, but this garage definitely qualified, with sinuous arches over the main entrance and flanking windows, and some rather overdone Germanic –style Roman eagles at the top. It was designed by an architect named Oscar Lowinson. (Thank you, Christopher Gray.) (more…)

07/22/14 10:45am

LIAC Cumberland Ave Clubhs, interior, BE,1904

You might think that any invention as wonderful as the automobile would be embraced by everyone. Anything that could be done to improve motoring in Brooklyn, Long Island and the general New York City area would immediately be approved, and the car would take its rightful place at the head of the transportation table. Well, if you were an early 20th century autoist; one of the first people to own an automobile, you would probably feel that way. If you were everyone else, it was going to be a much tougher sell.

The Long Island Automobile Club was founded in Brooklyn in 1900 by four wealthy men who wanted a place where they could indulge in their new hobby of racing, tinkering with, and talking about automobiles. In a few short years, they grew in membership to several hundred car enthusiasts; all well-to-do men who could afford a custom vehicle that cost as much as many a working man’s entire yearly salary. Like the bicycle clubs many had belonged to only a couple of years before, the LIAC sponsored races, enjoyed outings and social events, and advocated for paved roads throughout the city and out on Long Island. (more…)

coney island parachute jump sunset

Learn about Coney Island’s honky-tonk past and its present-day struggles to balance historic preservation and development on a walking tour organized by the Municipal Arts Society. Local historian and preservationist Joe Svehlak will lead the tour, which will happen this Saturday at 10:30 am. It will touch on the new Thunderbolt coaster, older amusement rides, and the memorials at MCU Park commemorating Jackie Robinson and 9/11. Tickets cost $20 or $15 for MAS members, and can be purchased here.

Photo by Michael Tapp

07/17/14 10:45am

LIAC Cumberland Ave Clubhs, 1907 BE

In 1900, a small group of rich Brooklyn swells organized this borough’s first automobile club. The automobile was still a novelty at this time; an expensive toy that only a few could afford. The Long Island Automobile Club (LIAC) was founded so these men could get together, discuss the wonders of this new technology, plan road trips, advocate for better highways and most importantly, race their automobiles. Whether they had fine horses, speedy bicycles or the new horseless carriages, wealthy men just loved races.

Part One of this history outlines the first years of the LIAC. The club grew fast, as more and more men bought automobiles. The earliest models were really just carriages with motors. They were open buckboards, some of them, with a steering wheel. They couldn’t go very fast, they stalled out a lot, and riding in one was a dirty and dusty adventure. As the technology improved, and automobiles got better, more and more people began motoring, and the national love affair with the automobile began. The autoists, as the club members were called, led the way. (more…)

07/15/14 10:45am

LIAC first run of season, 1905, BE

By the turn of the 20th century, bicycling had become the most popular sport in New York, as well as a practical form of transportation. Almost anyone could afford a bicycle of some kind, whether new or used, and almost anyone; young or old, rich or poor, male or female could ride. Cycling clubs brought people together for races, excursions and the shared love of biking and fun. The clubs and the sheer number of bikers had also successfully advocated for the improvement of streets. They put pressure on the city to pave more streets and open up dedicated biking paths.

Everything was going well for bikes and biking until the arrival of the car. When the first “horseless carriages” rolled down the street, they caught the imagination of the public like little has, before or since. Like small children whose attention is caught by some new toy, for a certain segment of the population, the bicycle was dropped like an old stuffed bear, as the car was taken up and embraced like an old friend. At this stage of the automobile’s development, it was a toy for only the wealthy. As quickly as the automobiles could roll out of the workshops, they were purchased by a select group of men who just as quickly formed clubs. Our story is about one of those clubs, Brooklyn’s own Long Island Automobile Club.

The first automobiles were not the sleek roadsters and touring cars of the Jazz Age, or even the practical designs of Henry Ford’s Model T’s. They were literally “horseless carriages.” The first car makers had taken carriage bodies and put simple combustible engines and a steering wheel on them. They were not enclosed, nor were they comfortable. They did not go particularly fast, and they were not mass produced. But they were still the coolest things on earth. (more…)

07/14/14 4:00pm

249 willoughby avenue sisters of mercy clinton hill

The Brooklyn Historical Society is giving visitors a look inside the 150-year-old Sisters of Mercy Convent at 273 Willoughby Avenue in Clinton Hill. The Sisters of Mercy, also known as the Walking Sisters, were forced to close their doors in 2008 after 146 years of sheltering the homeless, raising orphans and nursing the sick. (more…)

07/10/14 10:45am

Cycling 1898, GAP, NYParks 1

Brooklyn’s current cycling enthusiasm is not new. Today’s bicycle riders are continuing in the grand traditions of biking from the turn of the 20th century, when this two-wheeled adventure was at a peak that has yet to be matched. The bicycle was that period’s great equalizer. There were bicycles available for sale or trade for almost every income group, and the roads belonged to all. A poor laborer could find himself waiting to cross the street with one of the richest people in town. Men and women could ride together, and for the first time in memory, a modern single woman could ride the streets by herself, unaccompanied by chaperone or male companion. This relatively simple steel framed contraption on wheels was a major catalyst for change in American society, and after the bike craze of the fin de siecle, nothing would be the same again. (more…)

07/09/14 9:30am

133 carlton avenue fort greene 72014

A pre-Civil War house with a remarkably well preserved exterior (a former Building of the Day) at 133 Carlton Avenue in Wallabout is being marketed as a development site for $5,200,000, along with two neighboring lots that include another small wood frame house and a convenience store. The house at 133 Carlton Avenue, once used as a church, is a wood frame Greek Revival house built in the 1840s. (more…)

07/08/14 10:45am

Cycling, 1898, Home from CI, BE 4.98

The Sunday, April 3, 1898 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle features a special eleven page pull-out illustrated section devoted solely to the recreational sport that had captured the city – bicycling. It was probably the most comprehensive look at the phenomenon of cycling ever assembled in a newspaper before or since, and highlights cycling when it was at its peak, the first time around.

There were articles about advances in bicycle design and new accessories and innovations. The article featured a section about the newest cycling outfits for men and women. There was a story about long distance cycling trips, some as far away as Saratoga Springs, as well as shorter day trips within the five boroughs, Long Island and Westchester.

The state of roadways and the acceptance of bicycles as transportation were discussed, as was the political will to improve the pathways and streets for bicycle traffic. They wrote about the many different clubs that had formed, and lastly, there was even an article about trick riding, with illustrations. It’s fascinating, and one cannot help but make comparisons to the phenomenon of cycling in New York in 2014. (more…)

07/03/14 10:45am

BBG, Neptune Ave, CI, Showroom,1933 MCNY 8

In 1944, Mary E. Dillon was appointed the head of the New York City Board of Education. She was still the President of the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company, Coney Island’s independent gas company since the late 1800s. Miss Dillon had been an employee of the company since 1903, and had risen through the ranks to become the first female president of the utility in 1926. She was the first female president of any utility in the world. She was well equipped for the job, and ran BBG for a total of 23 years. When tapped for the position at the Board of Ed, she was already a long-time member of her local School Board 39.

She still remained president of BBG when she took the position at 110 Livingston Street. Used to being a first, she was the first woman to head the NYC Board of Education, too. Not bad for a woman who had to leave Erasmus Hall High School in her senior year to go to work to support her family. She never graduated from high school, which never stopped her from achieving great heights.

Brooklyn Borough Gas was one of the last hold outs in the great consolidation of utilities. Brooklyn Union Gas, the borough’s giant, had long ago absorbed almost all of the other gas utility companies in Brooklyn and was still looking to grow. Mary and BBG withstood several offers from BBG and other utility giants to consolidate. There are advantages to being smaller, but there are also restrictions. BBG needed several rate hikes over the course of the mid-20th century, and none of them were well-received, especially during the Depression and the early years of World War II.

Under Mary Dillon’s leadership, they had a new headquarters built at 809 Neptune Avenue, at the corner of Shell Road, which was opened in 1930. It was a beautiful state of the art campus, stretched along a large plot of land, and included company offices, a showroom and demonstration laboratory, repair rooms, garages and utility buildings, and the huge gas tanks that stood behind it all. It was the most beautiful utility complex in New York City, and it belonged to little Brooklyn Borough Gas. (more…)