A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Most of my Past and Present entries tell the story of what happened to buildings that are no longer — but this one is about a much-hyped building that never was.

Houses of Worship in Prospect Heights

With very few exceptions, Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods live up to the 19th-century epithet “City of Churches.” Many of our neighborhoods can boast of a church seemingly on every other corner, and some have more than one on a corner.

Prospect Heights is therefore an anomaly. It’s a later-19th-century community, developed at the same time as parts of Park Slope, Crown Heights North and Bedford Stuyvesant, but unlike those neighborhoods, very much lacking in large houses of worship. (more…)

Dumbo Clinton Hill Brooklyn John Arbuckle Coffee History

Read Part One of the Brooklyn coffee history series.

Coffee came to America as early as the late 1600s. By the mid-19th century, Manhattan was the green coffee capital of America, home to dozens of wholesale coffee brokers and coffee roasters.

Soon after the Civil War, the beans spilled across the river into Brooklyn, due to this city’s huge capacity for storage and processing. Brooklyn’s vast waterfront piers became the landing place for the coffees of the world.

Brooklyn’s largest coffee company belonged to brothers John and Charles Arbuckle, originally from Pittsburgh. They also left us several great additions to Brooklyn’s architectural legacy. (more…)

Brooklyn History Dumbo Empire Stores John Arbuckle

If coffee was a controlled substance, most of us would be addicts of the worst sort. Our national morning jones for caffeine has been the catalyst for fortune and failure over the centuries. Everyone loves a coffee shop, and most are welcomed into any neighborhood like a water fountain in the desert.

There have been countless arguments, discussions and even culinary classes about the world’s best coffee — how to grow the beans, roast them, package them and brew them. Our stores are full of different devices that do whatever we need to get us our fixes.

Although many people, especially in upscale urban and suburban communities, swear by their special blends, their small batch, artisanal and exotic coffees, most of the coffee brewed in America comes from a few large companies that supply supermarkets and restaurants across the nation.

The Arbuckle Brothers, working out of Brooklyn, were one the coffee giants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They roasted and packaged the first popular coffee brand, called Ariosa, and created Yuban coffee, a brand still on the market after 150-plus years. (more…)

Bay Ridge Brooklyn Bay Ridge Branch Brooklyn Public Library History

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

By 1880, Bay Ridge was developing as one of Brooklyn’s premier suburban neighborhoods. Its greatest asset was that wonderful view of New York Bay and the Narrows — close to New Jersey, while simultaneously tied to Downtown Brooklyn and on to Manhattan by trolleys, roads and ferries.

Many of Brooklyn’s moneyed folk were looking to Shore Road as a grand location for second homes. The largest of these homes was owned by Henry Murphy, a lawyer, past mayor of Brooklyn, Congressman, U.S. Ambassador to The Hague and one of the most influential voices in advocating the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. (more…)

Park Slope Brooklyn History 1915 Edward Reiss

Edward Reiss was a larger-than-life Brooklyn character in the early 20th century who often took matters into his own hands when a situation wasn’t to his liking. Our story today concerns his use of a racist power play to get his way in a feud with a developer.

Reiss was the owner of the Marine Wrecking Company, a very successful salvage company that plied the waters around New York City and the surrounding states, towing in damaged and abandoned craft, and salvaging underwater wrecks.

His name was frequently in the papers after 1910 for his yachting activities. A member of the Park Slope Civic Association, he was one of the Slope’s most aggressive and ardent boosters. When his plans to erect a statue in the area didn’t come to fruition, he was disappointed, but by 1915 he had more immediate problems. A developer was building a six-story apartment building right next door to him.

Edward Reiss and His Neighborhood

Reiss and his wife Jennie lived on the upper edges of Park Slope, in a rather modest row house at 461 15th Street. They were the first owners of this house, which was the lead in a group of four two-family houses built by architect Benjamin F. Hudson and developer Morris Levy in 1909.

The papers referred to the house as a “mansion in a highly desirable neighborhood,” which suggests Reiss may have made some serious upgrades to the home. But after four years of domestic bliss, the building became ground zero for a major feud. (more…)

Downtown Brooklyn Grand Opera House History

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Many of the grand store buildings built during the height of Downtown Brooklyn’s days as a pre-eminent shopping mecca are still with us. The Offerman Building, the buildings of Abraham & Straus, Namm’s, Loeser’s, Woolworth’s and Oppenheim & Collins still stand, even though all are now inhabited by new stores and businesses.

But if you look at old maps and photographs of the Fulton Street corridor, between Court Street and Flatbush Avenue, there’s one category of businesses that is totally gone: the theaters.

The only remaining vestiges of Brooklyn’s large theater district are those around and including the Brooklyn Academy of Music — but in the hundred years between the end of the Civil War through the 1960s, they were scattered along Fulton Street and its nearby side streets.

Some were later movie theaters, like the Albee, the Duffield, the Fox and Loews, but a fair number were legitimate stage theaters. One of the finest of these long-gone theaters was the Grand Opera House. (more…)

Brooklyn History Aftermath of Consolidation of New York City

We conclude our look at the “Great Mistake,” the creation of Greater New York City, and the end of an independent Brooklyn. Part One of our story gave the background of the move to consolidate and Part Two explained why it was so important to New York City. Now, the aftermath.

What must have it been like to wake up in Brooklyn on January 1, 1898, and realize that you were not in an independent city but instead part of Greater New York City? To be no longer the captain of your own team, but now a player on someone else’s?

I would imagine for most people, especially the average working man in New York, the consolidation meant nothing, and it was just another New Year’s Day. Some Brooklynites embraced the change, eager to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new rules. (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…)


A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

A search through the photo archives of the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection can often turn up mysteries. Take today’s period photograph, dated 1937. It shows the side elevation of a large brick building in the Queen Anne style, located on a crowded street.

The caption notes that this is the Adams Street Courthouse and Police Station, near Myrtle Avenue in downtown Brooklyn. The wooden tracks of the El train that snaked up from the Brooklyn Bridge to swing around Borough Hall and on to Fulton Street can be seen in the foreground.

We know that this building is long gone, but exactly where was it? A look at the maps reveals the answer.

This was 318-322 Adams Street, just down and across the street from the post office, between Myrtle Avenue and Johnson Street. Today, this address is part of the block-long Supreme Court Building site at Cadman Plaza. (more…)

It’s School Week here on Brownstoner — a series of posts celebrating the start of the school year.

Brooklyn School Buildings Repurposed Architectural History

We’ve been highlighting some of the wonderful school buildings in Brooklyn this week, focusing on the schools of James W. Naughton and C.B.J. Snyder, two of the greats of school architecture.

It costs a lot to build a building, so people have always repurposed buildings whenever possible and tailored them to fit their needs. Today we’re looking at buildings that had a different function before becoming a school, or were built as schools and have now been put to another use. Just as the P.S. 9 Annex became apartments, one should never let a good school go to waste.


It’s School Week here on Brownstoner. Stay tuned for more school-themed posts celebrating the start of the school year.

PS 9 Apartments - Brooklyn School History at 279 Sterling Place

The old P.S. 9 Annex in Prospect Heights is one of those buildings that everyone stops in front of and wonders, “What exactly is it and how can I live there?” I did the same thing before I moved in, and I’m still learning about the genesis of the building.

Living in a converted schoolhouse with a mysterious history could not be a better fit for me. As the author of a series of historical novels, I draw a lot of writing inspiration from my apartment building. Rumor has it that silent-film star and original It Girl Clara Bow went to school here back in the day.

Just walking into the building, with its tall, imposing iron gates, wide stairwells and carpeted corridors makes me feel simultaneously like I’m stepping back in time and as though I’m reliving my middle school years.

Labor Strikes -- Five Historic Brooklyn Labor Disputes

As Brownstoner’s Montrose Morris reminded us earlier today, the Labor Day holiday grew out of the 19th century labor movement — when workers banded together to powerfully advocate for better working conditions and higher wages.

From newsies to beer brewers, Brooklyn has a storied past when it comes to organized labor. Here, we take a brief look back at five famous Brooklyn strikes.