brooklyn book fest

The Brooklyn Book Fest is descending on the park behind Borough Hall in Downtown Brooklyn this Sunday, and it’s bringing a full slate of Bookend events throughout the borough every night this week. Literary discussions and events on everything from comic books to parenting will take place from 10 am to 5 pm on Sunday. The slate of speakers includes Zadie Smith, James McBride, Jonathan Lethem, Joyce Carol Oates and Salman Rushdie. Check out the full list of Sunday’s festival events and Bookend events happening throughout the week.

Photo via Brooklyn Book Fest

Downtown Brooklyn from Temple Bar Building

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Downtown Brooklyn is one of my favorite neighborhoods to compare what was with what is. Because it was the center of civic and commercial life in the city, changes in that part of town happened often, sometimes dramatically. But also because of the area’s importance, many of the buildings there are now important landmarks, and still stand. Because of this, we have a wonderful frame of reference when looking at old photographs and postcards. Here’s another example. (more…)

Lane Bryant, SB, PS

By the time Lane Bryant, the maternity and plus-sized women’s clothing chain, reached its 50th year anniversary in 1954, it was on top of the fashion world. Who would have dreamed that maternity and “fat ladies’ clothes” could not only be lucrative, but would be on the cutting edge of fashion? The reasons were simple – good products, and a respect and love for the customer. Lane Bryant made fashionable, stylish clothing of all kinds for their special-sized customers. They didn’t marginalize them to a rack hidden in the back of the store, or design down for them. They made their customers feel that they were just as worthy of a fine shopping and fashion experience as their thinner sisters, and offered products and services that reflected that philosophy.

Downtown Brooklyn saw its first Lane Bryant store in 1922. It was a large four story building constructed for Lane Bryant, with entrances on Hanover Place and Livingston Street, near Flatbush Avenue. By the end of World War II, they had outgrown the space, and in 1950 moved to the former Balch-Price Building on the corner of Fulton and Smith Streets. Lane Bryant herself, now 71 years old, was on hand for the opening ceremonies and the ribbon cutting. (more…)

80-84 Livingston St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Storefronts/offices with apartments
Address: 80-84 Livingston Street
Cross Streets: Court Street and Boerum Place
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1915
Architectural Style: Vaguely neo-Georgian
Architect: Volckening & Holler
Other Buildings by Architect: Station “D” Post Office, 4th Ave and 13th Street, Manhattan; addition to Bethany Deaconess Hospital, Brooklyn
Landmarked: No

The story: Downtown Brooklyn is filled with all sorts of large and important buildings. Sometimes we overlook the smaller, less architecturally impressive buildings that stand cheek to jowl with the masterpieces or the places where BIG THINGS happened. But often, it is here that the real lives of Brooklynites took place; the small businesses, civic organizations, and the apartments of ordinary people.

As it usually happens, I came upon the architects of these buildings while researching another building. I rarely pass up an opportunity to report on a building with a named architect, so I was hoping there would be a story here. In researching these three buildings, which were built as two stories of offices/stores below two stories of apartments, I found my story for today. (more…)

Lane Bryant, 50th anniversary, BE 1954

It’s never been easy being a woman of, shall we say, operatic proportions. Society is not kind, to say the least, and neither was the ready to wear clothing market. Larger sized women have always desired to be fashionable, elegant, and feel good about themselves, just like everyone else. Had it not been for a tiny Lithuanian Jewish lady named Lena Bryant, who knows how long it would have been until someone took notice and did something about it? Since 1904, Lane Bryant, the clothing company she started in her apartment in Harlem, has been providing beautiful and stylish clothing to pregnant women, larger sized women and girls. If you were in one of these categories, you were probably a Lane Bryant customer.

Part One of this story tells of Lena Bryant’s start, and early life. Part Two chronicles the rise of a huge retail and mail order business that branched out to locations in cities across the country, including, of course, Brooklyn. The first Lane Bryant store in Brooklyn was in a building constructed for them, a modern reinforced concrete, L shaped, four story building with entrances on Hanover Place and Livingston Street. The store opened with great fanfare in 1922, and joined Abraham & Straus, Loeser’s, and Fulton Street’s other grand clothing emporiums as shopping destinations for women and girls. (more…)


In an unusual turn of events, Junior’s Cheesecake owner Alan Rosen has decided not to sell the building that houses the iconic Brooklyn restaurant after all. “This is Junior’s identity, is this building,” he told The New York Times. “This is the one where I came on my first dates. Not the one down the street, not the one below 20 stories of condos. This one.”

He turned down an offer of $45,000,000 from a developer that would not have included a space for Junior’s. He also turned down offers of about half that size that would have given Junior’s a permanent home on the ground floor of any new development. (more…)

321 Ashland Pl, BAMFisher, beyondmyken for Wiki 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Salvation Army Citadel, now BAM Fisher (Richard B. Fisher Building)
Address: 321 Ashland Place
Cross Streets: Lafayette Avenue and Hanson Place
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1927-8, New incarnation: 2010-2012
Architectural Style: (Original building) Georgian Revival
Architect: Original building –Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker, New building – H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, Hugh Hardy architect
Other Buildings by Architects: (VH&W)-Manhattan: Salvation Army headquarters and residence, 14th St, Barclay-Vesey Building, Western Union Building, both Tribeca. Brooklyn: Bell Telephone Building, Municipal Building. (Hugh Hardy)- Many theater and cultural facilities, including work on New Amsterdam Theater, Victory Theater, Joyce Theater, Bridgemarket, and other BAM projects
Landmarked: Yes, part of BAM Historic District (1978)

The story: The Salvation Army held its first meeting in America in Philadelphia in 1879, with a chapter in New York City a year later. The organization was founded in England in 1865 by Catherine and William Booth. By 1882, they had also established a chapter in Brooklyn, meeting at the old Lyceum Theater downtown on Washington Street. They met there every Saturday night, and then also began preaching on the steps of City Hall. That was not appreciated by some, and violence often erupted.

In order to maintain some identity and pride, the Army had uniforms made up by a Brooklyn tailor named Schmidt, giving the organization its recognizable look that is still followed today.Eventually, the Salvation Army’s mission of “Soup, Soap, and Salvation” was a familiar and welcomed one, all across Brooklyn, and the organization spread its chapters throughout the borough. Of course, over the years, they had also grown exponentially across the country, and established their national headquarters in Manhattan. (more…)

172 Cadman Plaza E. SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

(Throwback Thursday: a look at an old piece, rewritten and updated with new info)

Name: Brooklyn War Memorial
Address: 172 Cadman Plaza East
Cross Streets: Cadman Plaza West, Cadman Plaza East, near Orange Street
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1952
Architectural Style: Neo-Formalism, perhaps?
Architect: Eggers & Higgins (building), Charles Keck (sculptures and memorial)
Other Buildings by Architect: (Eggers & Higgins) – Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center; Vanderbilt Hall, NYU Law School; Jacob Javits Building, NYC Civic Center; Silliman College, Yale University
Landmarked: No

The story: This huge monument honors Brooklyn’s war dead from World War II, and is a somber reminder of the sacrifices ordinary people have made for our country. Unfortunately, for something as large and important as it is, this is the most lost memorial in Brooklyn. I think it’s because of where they put it, at the back end of Cadman Plaza, a huge chunk of land that doesn’t flow as a park, or as a plaza. (more…)


A reader stent us this photo of signs for Paris Baguette going into the empty retail space at the busy corner of Court and Schermerhorn in Downtown Brooklyn.

We presume this means a Paris Baguette will actually be moving into 51 Schermerhorn Street soon, and that this is not merely advertising for the chain. The Korean franchise has dozens of shops around the world and sells sandwiches, bread and pastries.

Our tipster seemed displeased “another chain” was moving into the area. Do you think this will be a plus for the downtown lunchtime crowds or would you prefer to see something else here? GMAP

Lane Bryant Ad, new store opening, BE 1950

In 1909, dressmaker Lena Bryant was working out of a shop on 5th Avenue and 120th Street in Harlem. There, under the Lane Bryant label, she designed and manufactured maternity clothing for stylish women -– some of the first mass produced lines of maternity wear in the world. Before Lane Bryant, women who wanted to venture out while pregnant had few clothing choices. They had to either have clothing custom made to accommodate their growing bodies, sew them themselves, or wear oversized baggy clothing that would help them hide their pregnancies.

For most of the Victorian era, nonworking, well-to-do women simply stayed home and received their female guests. No self-respecting woman of that age would walk the streets in the advanced stages of pregnancy. It just wasn’t done. The women who discovered Lane Bryant and her clothing were able to take advantage of her design genius, and Lane Bryant became the head of one of the most successful fashion houses in America. (more…)

Lane Bryant Ad, maternity gown, 1911, BEWestern society has long had a strange attitude towards pregnancy. Throughout much of its history, much has been made of producing children, whether they are the heirs to the throne, or workers on the family farm. We’ve told women that it is a biblical duty to have children, but up until the end of the 20th century, many Western societies have been loath to see a woman walking around pregnant. As soon as a woman was showing, in polite society, she entered her “confinement” and rarely left home until after the baby was born. It all has to do with attitudes about sex, and the war between fulfilling the biological and societal imperative to go forth and multiply, and the fact that one has to have sex in order to do it. We are a conflicted and messed up people.

At any rate, this is a story about a fashion empire and Brooklyn’s part in that empire. Pregnancy is at the heart of our story. At the turn of the 20th century, maternity clothes were not available the way they are now. Women of means had their maternity clothing custom made. Those who could sew made their own, and everyone else made do by letting their clothing out, or wearing larger clothes. Or they didn’t leave home much.

But this was not the Middle Ages. Women were out and about, unescorted, in record numbers. Many middle and upper middle class women had jobs, many more were active in sports like bicycle riding, and most did not want to spend half their pregnancies locked behind closed doors. There was a real need for well-fitting maternity clothing, including the ever present corset, so women could go out, be pregnant, and look beautiful and healthy. The conditions were right for the right person to come along and revolutionize the market. That woman was a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant named Lena Himmelstein. (more…)