03/24/14 3:00pm

1768 St Johns Pl, Parkway theater, smallbones for Wiki 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Built as the Rolland Theater, then Parkway Theater, now Holy House of Prayer for All People
Address: 1768 St. Johns Place
Cross Streets: Corner Eastern Parkway
Neighborhood: Brownsville
Year Built: 1929-33
Architectural Style: Neo-Moorish
Architect: Harrison Wiseman
Other work by architect: Theaters around New York City, including Yiddish Art Theater, 2nd Ave, Manhattan. In Brooklyn, Kameo, on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand, the Pavilion, on Prospect Park West, the Loew’s Oriental, on 86th Street, and the Alpine, on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge, the Albemarle, on Flatbush Avenue at Albemarle Road
Landmarked: No, but on National Register of Historic Places (2010)

The story: I feature a lot of former theaters in my BOTDs, as I am fascinated by their architecture, history, and place in the cultural life of our city. Before we spent our lives staring down into handheld devices or at a screen on the wall, we used to get out and watch and participate in the special wonder of live theater, or a grand cinematic spectacle. Even if we do get out to theaters and movie houses today, they are almost always now in districts far from residential neighborhoods or homes.

For most of us, gone are the days when we could get that magic in our own community, within walking distance for most people, or a short bus ride for some. Every neighborhood in Brooklyn had several theaters, with a variety of entertainment offerings. Almost all of the theaters or former theaters I’ve featured were built for live theater, but then converted to movies. This one is one of the few which was never a movie theater. Until it closed forever, the Rolland Theater was always live theater, and what a history it had. (more…)

02/13/14 3:00pm

1521 ENY Ave, Googlemaps 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former National Surgical Stores, now boarded up
Address: 1521 East New York Avenue
Cross Streets: Rockaway Avenue and Prospect Place
Neighborhood: Brownsville
Year Built: Around 1925
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: To me, there is not much sadder than unrealized potential. That goes not only for people, but for neighborhoods and the buildings in them. When the enthusiastic and forward thinking people who settled in the part of Brownsville, near the Crown Heights border, at the turn of the 20th century, they thought their homes and businesses would last the ages. The city built handsome civic buildings, like the 65th Precinct, just up the block from here, and East New York Avenue was developed as a fine commercial and residential thoroughfare, worthy of its proximity to the famous Eastern Parkway, only a block away.

One of the growing companies to build a factory and headquarters here was the New York Truss and Instrument Company. They manufactured and sold orthopedic medical aids such as elastic hosiery, braces, trusses and arch supports. They first worked out of a wood-framed building with a large wagon shed angled on the Prospect Place side of the building. That building would be replaced by this rather impressive structure, which still has the angled shipping entrance on Prospect. (more…)

01/31/14 9:00am


At the Brownsville Recreation Center in Brownsville yesterday, Mayor de Blasio announced the city would drop its appeal of lawsuits over stop and frisk. The location of the announcement was significant because an eight-block area of Brownsville had the highest concentration of stop and frisks in the city, according to a 2010 New York Times report. Above, Brownsville’s main thoroughfare, Pitkin Avenue, in September 2012.

Police Commissioner Bratton was on hand and said in a prepared statement: “We will not break the law to enforce the law. That’s my solemn promise to every New Yorker, regardless of where they were born, where they live, or what they look like. Those values aren’t at odds with keeping New Yorkers safe — they are essential to long-term public safety.”

In a separate but related development, Bratton said the department will no longer send rookies out to blanket high crime areas such as Brownsville, Ocean Hill and Bushwick as part of Operation Impact, where they are liable to make mistakes. Instead, they will send more experienced officers.

In Brownsville, Mayor Announces Settlement of Stop and Frisk [NY Times]
Bratton Tells Chiefs He’ll Stop Sending Rookies to High-Crime Areas [NY Times]

The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development recently finished an affordable housing development on the site of a former Catholic church in Brownsville called the Monsignor Anthony J. Barretta apartments. The $18,000,000 development on Atlantic between Eastern Parkway and Sackman Street consists of eight four-story buildings that house 64 units. The apartments, mostly one- and two-bedrooms, were rented through a lottery process run by the city. Rents range from $597 to $860 a month for a family making a maximum of $49,800, according to a chart from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department. Also, eight units were set aside as Section 8 housing for very low-income tenants. RTKB Architects designed the buildings, and Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR) was the developer.

Before construction began last year, the site had been home to the 100-year-old Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Church and school, an architectural gem that preservationists struggled to protect. The church closed its doors in 2009 due to low attendance. Within two years, the Brooklyn diocese sold the land to the city, which preserved the original church building and built the development next to it.

Fight to Preserve Ocean Hill Church [Brownstoner]
Brownsville Church Saved from Wrecking Ball [Brownstoner]

Photo by Briarwood Organization

08/30/13 12:00pm

Community arts organization Groundswell Mural Project unveiled a new mural yesterday called “Intersections Humanized” in Brownsville. Fifteen young people, some with a history of court involvement, collaborated with artists Chris Soria and Don Christian Jones to design and paint a 35-foot-high and 55-foot-wide mural on the side of a Lane Bryant store at 1550 Pitkin Avenue. The piece depicts a “central constellation of individual portraits” that “highlight the strength and diversity present in Brownsville, while creating a positive shared identity for the neighborhood’s 116,000 residents,” according to Groundswell.

The city is also awarding a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to Groundswell for a larger mural project in Brownsville called “Transform/Restore: Brownsville,” which will involve high-risk young adults, local businesses, and community members. As many as forty young people on probation will interview community members and then paint five murals inspired by Brownsville’s strengths along vandalized parts of Pitkin Avenue. GMAP

Photo by Groundswell

06/18/13 4:00pm

The Pitkin Avenue BID is hosting its 5th Annual Summer Plaza weekends again this year. The first event was held last Sunday and the next two are scheduled for Sunday, June 23rd and Saturday, June 29th. All the events, which are free of charge, go from 11am to 5pm. They include face painting, games for children, educational activities, health screenings, music and live entertainment. According to the BID, “The events are an opportunity for Brownsville’s retail businesses to celebrate their customers.” Check out photos from last Sunday’s event at the Pitkin BID Facebook page.
Photo via Facebook

06/03/13 10:00am

When the 625-unit, low-income housing complex Marcus Garvey Village opened in Brownsville in the mid-’70s, hopes were high that the low-density housing with separate entrances for each family would give its occupants a sense of ownership and pride and help to reduce poverty and crime. That has not happened, alas, as The New York Times noted, and the idea that architecture can create social change has been largely abandoned. After all, bigger forces than architecture affect the poverty rate, which has risen from 29 percent to nearly 40 percent in the area since the complex opened. However, the article notes, courtyard areas in the Village became an important link in the drug trade of the ’80s and ’90s because they were shielded from public view. So it seems as though architecture and design, as Jane Jacobs so clearly saw, has an effect after all.
A Housing Solution Gone Awry [NY Times]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

05/24/13 9:30am

The use of controversial police tactic stop and frisk has decreased in the City after coming under increased scrutiny and a lawsuit, but spiked in select areas of Brooklyn, The New York Daily News reported. Specifically, stop and frisk was up 66 percent in Brownsville and 45 percent in East New York from 2011 to 2012. Its use in Bed Stuy increased 6 percent, 3 percent in Greenpoint and 2 percent in Bensonhurst, while it dropped precipitously in Williamsburg — by 44 percent. As has been the case for years, very few of those stops found actual law breaking: 89 percent of stops did not result in an arrest or summons, the Daily News reported. Those that did were mostly for marijuana; 12.6 percent of those stopped were carrying a gun or other weapon. Interpretations of the change in policing varied widely. “We are seeing the next chapter,” said John Jay College professor and former officer Eugene O’Donnell. “Good stop-and-frisk should be targeted. They’ve identified a pattern, a spike in crime, and they are throwing resources at it.” And, on the other side: “The Police Department continues, against any possible rational analysis of the data, to insist that the stop and frisk program is both necessary and effective, and to target young black and Latino New Yorkers, who are so innocent of any wrongdoing that they walk away without a summons,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. What do you think? Is stop and frisk effective and constitutional, or are the police just harassing law abiding citizens who happen to live in the poorest parts of Brooklyn?
Stop and Frisk Is up in Brooklyn [NY Daily News]
Photo by jag9889

05/15/13 9:30am

Have any hipsters been sighted on Pitkin Avenue in Brownsville? No. But it won’t be long, according to the New York Observer. The evidence: “East Bushwick” is “again heating up,” and during the last boom, developers made it out as far as the Halsey Street L train stop. Plus, there was that DNAinfo story Friday about renters searching for more space and lower rents along the Crown Heights-Brownsville border. (That’s Pitkin Avenue above, which in the 1950s was one of Brooklyn’s biggest shopping districts, and the recently revamped Pitkin Theater, now Brownsville Ascend Charter School.) FWIW, our two cents: We live one stop away from Brownsville’s Broadway Junction, and plenty of “hipsters” or whatever you want to call them have moved here in the last year or so. So, yeah.
Closing in on Brownsville: Brooklyn Gentrification Nears the Final Frontier [Observer]

04/26/13 12:00pm

Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, the Director of the Brownsville Partnership. The Brownsville Partnership is a part of Community Solutions, a national not-for-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen communities to end homelessness.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
Rasmia Kirmani-Frye: I live in Fort Greene. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for about 20 years, and have lived all over. I started in Windsor Terrace, and then Sunset Park, Fort Greene, Crown Heights, and back to Fort Greene. I ended up in Fort Greene the first time when I came back from my PhD fieldwork on the West Coast and needed a roommate and somewhere to live – I totally lucked out on both! When my husband and I got married we needed to find a place and ended up two blocks away from where I was living the first time in Fort Greene – we love it. And I should add, my husband grew up in Bed-Stuy, on Putnam and Throop.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of the Brownsville Partnership, and how you became involved?
RKF: The Brownsville Partnership – an initiative of Community Solutions, a New York-based national not for profit – was launched in 2008 by Rosanne Haggerty. She and a team started working in Brownsville in 2005 doing community organizing. Rosanne met Brownsville’s unofficial “mayor” Greg “Jocko” Jackson – lifelong resident and agent of hope in Brownsville – and the Brownsville Partnership was born with Greg as the founding director. He passed away last May, but it’s his legacy of hope-in-action that we are carrying out [that] lives on. Prior to working at the BP, I was a community organizer in Brooklyn, and then consulted with community-based organizations in Brooklyn for the past 15 years. I became involved in January 2008. My long-time mentor, and founding president of the Times Square BID, Gretchen Dykstra, was working with Rosanne to conceptualize the work in Brownsville and, knowing that I have a long term love of Brownsville, she suggested I talk to Rosanne. I did and I met Greg, and I was totally inspired by both of them, and that was it. Love.

After the jump, how rapid gentrification in Brooklyn is changing Brownsville, hopes for the community in ten years, and Ras’s favorite spot in the neighborhood… (more…)

04/26/13 11:30am

An unusual, tree-house-inspired playground is going into an existing park in Brownsville, the Architzer blog reported. It’s called the Imagination Playground, and its central feature is big building blocks made of blue foam, designed to encourage children to play creatively on their own. A similar playground already exists in Manhattan at the South Street Seaport, and others have been springing up around the country; the playgrounds and the blocks were designed and donated by architectural firm Rockwell Group. The multi-level space at Brownsville’s Betsy Head Park will incorporate sand and water, and a long, winding play ramp will weave through the surrounding trees, said the blog. (more…)

03/01/13 10:00am

This week Community Board 16 approved the DOT’s proposal for bike lanes in Brownsville. A representative at the nonprofit Community Solutions, which works in the neighborhood, said, “We have been working with the DOT and partner orgs for two years on this and we are thrilled that this is finally happening. It is another step forward as we work to create a safer, healthier and more prosperous Brownsville.” Streetsblog reported that 15 miles of Brownsville streets will get the green paint, including New Lots Avenue, Pitkin Avenue, Mother Gaston Boulevard, and a north/south lane pair on Hendrix Street and Schenck Avenue. Expect installation to happen this spring. The DOT will also install 600 bike racks around the neighborhood.
Bike Lanes Come to Brownsville [Community Solutions]
Brownsville Will Get Bike Lanes After Supportive Vote From CB 16 [Streetsblog]
Photo by the NYC DOT via Streetsblog