235 Duffield, SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 235 Duffield Street
Cross Streets: Fulton and Willoughby Streets
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: Early 20th century
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Like all of Downtown Brooklyn’s side streets, Duffield Street was once mostly residential. It was lined first with wood-framed row houses, and later, brick and mortar row houses and small tenements.

This lot used to have one of those wood-framed row houses on it, part of a group which included the neighboring house. These houses have evidence of use as safe houses and escape routes on the Underground Railroad.

This building replaced one of the frame houses, and was built sometime in the early 20th century. It is first mentioned in the papers in 1906.

It was constructed as the block was rapidly transitioning from mixed use residential to commercial, and was probably built with the two storefronts on the bottom two floors.

This white brick Renaissance Revival building is somewhat a rarity in the neighborhood. Most of the row houses are much earlier, dating from either before or just after the Civil War. They were made of wood or brownstone.

This would have been considered quite a modern building for its day, as innovative as one of the modern glass buildings that are rapidly replacing its neighbors.

This was the building that hair built. In the beginning, it was known as the Gem. (more…)

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Mon dieu. As we teased in our recent post on Paris Baguette, Downtown Brooklyn is about to get another French bakery. Maison Kayser, the artisanal “authentic Parisian” boulangerie, will open at 57 Court Street — the last vacant retail space at the base of the Brooklyn Municipal Building — in late September.

Brownstoner has the first renderings of the interior of the store, which will feature a 108-seat cafe “reminiscent of a Parisian bistro” in addition to a bakery counter with a selection of to-go items. Kayser’s famous bread will be hand-kneaded, shaped and baked on site.

“We wanted to bring the Maison Kayser experience to Brooklyn, a community rich with artisans and an appreciation of authentic cuisine,” a spokesperson for Maison Kayser told Brownstoner. (more…)

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LED skyscraper: It sounds like an electronica group from the ’00s. But it’s actually a shorthand description of a 28-story tower with an unusual nighttime lighting scheme planned for a Downtown Brooklyn development site at 16 Nevins Street.

As we told you last year, Williamsburg-based developer Bushburg Properties was planning to put up 149 rentals here, along with some ground-level stores. Now subsequent investor-owners are flipping the property to Adam America Real Estate and Slate Property Group, who plan condos instead of rentals, according to a story in The Real Deal. They’re in contract for more than $50,000,000.

The buildings on the site were demolished in April, as we reported at the time, and plans for the skyscraper were approved the same month. However, a full permit has not yet been issued, slightly increasing the possibility the new owners might commission a new design. The applicant of record on the new-building application is the Stephen Jacobs Group, a large and award winning firm best known in Brooklyn for designing The Edge on the Williamsburg waterfront. (more…)

KC Courthouse and Muni Bldg. undated 1

In Part 1, we met Clarence R. Van Buskirk – architect, engineer, preacher’s kid, and well-regarded Assistant Engineer for the Brooklyn Department of Highways. He would one day be the architect of Brooklyn’s most iconic structure: Ebbets Field Stadium. But before that, he needed to get out of deep trouble. In 1907, the Department of Highways was on the hit list of a local politician looking to make a name for himself by rooting out corruption. And he had Van Buskirk in his sights.

Bird S. Coler was the Borough President of Brooklyn, coming into office in the fall of 1905. But he had higher political ambitions, and was consumed with a fanatic’s zeal to weed out corruption in the borough. If it happened to further his political ambitions? Well, all the better.

Self-serving or not, he did have a point.

At the time, all of New York City was a hotbed of corruption of one kind or another, some forms more blatantly corrupt than others. Over at Brooklyn’s Department of Highways, where Coler first set his sights, the head of the department, Frank Ulrich, had continued a long-standing tradition.

He bloated his department with patronage jobs, played favorites with certain inspectors, accepted kickbacks, and hugely overbilled utilities like Edison Electric Company and Brooklyn Union Gas.

Ulrich overstepped and got caught accepting payoffs in exchange for jobs. He was indicted, arrested, and let out on bail awaiting trial. He submitted his resignation towards the end of 1906.

Coler called for a Grand Jury to determine if charges could be filed against anyone else in the department, especially Ulrich’s junior staff, which included Clarence Van Buskirk.

Investigators came to the offices and boxed up billing and other records pertaining to the utilities, and put them under lock and key, intending to remove them for review.

But in the early hours of February 25, 1907, at least two men entered the Department offices on the top floor of the old Municipal Building, broke into the locked desk which held the keys, and made off with the records. (more…)

146-148 Lawrence St. Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Downtown Brooklyn has probably physically changed more than any other neighborhood in Brooklyn. That makes sense, since it has been the center of Brooklyn’s civic, retail, and entertainment life for much of the last century and a half.

Because of all of the changes, it’s sometimes hard to imagine what the streets looked like before the big stores came and cemented in many minds the idea that Downtown has always been a shopping hub.

It wasn’t always that way. The shopping district supplanted a residential neighborhood, one that had started to develop by the 1840s, as Brooklyn’s homes began to spread eastward, away from the harbor and the ferry.

This history has been easiest to see on the side streets. Gold, Duffield, Bridge and Lawrence streets between Fulton and Willoughby were all residential originally, and these blocks used to be the place to find many of the surviving remainders of this early residential enclave. But many of these buildings are now giving way to new mega-towers.

Today’s Past and Present highlights the few surviving buildings on Lawrence Street. (more…)

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After years of drama and controversy, the rent-regulated apartments at 406 Albee Square downtown stand empty, ready for the bulldozers. They were acquired by the city as part of a bigger package for $40,000,000 and will be turned into a park, as per the downtown rezoning plan established over a decade ago, in 2004.

The tenements, which have seen more than 100 years of humanity pass through its doors, occupy a clearing in the middle of high-rise development downtown. Directly across the street is the City Point mega-project, where towers as high as 60 stories will eventually be built. Behind it, on the next block over, the 35-story Ava DoBro is under construction at 100 Willoughby Street. (more…)

C.R. Van Buskirk, Ebbetts Field composite

Some of Brooklyn’s greatest architectural treasures were designed by people whose names we either never knew or can’t remember. Most people don’t really care about architecture anyway, but in spite of that, a few names become part of the cultural conversation.

Some of them we manage to remember: the Brooklyn Bridge – that Roebling guy. He died.

The Brooklyn Museum – um, oh yeah, McKim, Mead & White. White was the guy who had the mistress on the red swing in his private playroom and her husband shot him. That’s easy to remember. Unfortunately it’s less easy to remember that White didn’t actually design the museum, McKim did. But still, not bad.

So what about one of Brooklyn’s most famous icons? What about the ballpark with the name that can cause a native Brooklynite of a certain age to get teary and wax nostalgic? We know the name of the team and the exploits of the players in that temple of baseball. Their names are whispered the way one speaks of a saint in church.

But who was the architect of this sacred space? Who designed Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers?

Clarence R. Van Buskirk, that’s who. Well, maybe. More on that later. But first, who?  (more…)

204 Livingston St. SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Mixed-use commercial and residential building
Address: 204 Livingston Street
Cross Streets: Smith and Hoyt streets
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Clarence R. Van Buskirk
Other works by architect: Ebbetts Field baseball stadium
Landmarked: No

The story: Before this building was constructed this address was taken up by a four-story row house, one of many built in the 1860s on this once-residential street.

Over the years following, most of these houses went from one-family homes to multi-family rooming houses. Many of them also lost their ground and parlor floors to storefronts.

Number 204 Livingston ceased being a one-family residence, but maintained its original configuration on the parlor level. In 1893, a charitable group called the Women’s Health Protective Association took over the floor as their headquarters. (more…)

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Downtown Brooklyn may soon become known as the place where New Yorkers fill their prescriptions for medical marijuana, if a dispensary opens on the Fulton Mall as planned. Long Island-based medical marijuana company PalliaTech announced Thursday it had leased a second-floor space for the purpose at 425 Fulton Street, between Jay and Pearl streets, the site of a former Wendy’s, Crain’s reported. The firm has applied to be one of five licensed in the state to sell the tightly controlled drug.

Each company can have only four outlets. PalliaTech has chosen Utica, Newburgh and Rochester as its other locations. A production facility would be located upstate, in Plattsburgh, Crain’s said.

We asked our resident medical marijuana expert to explain what this means for Brooklyn. Jim Rendon is a longtime Brownstoner commenter and a freelance Brownstoner contributing editor and writer. He is the author of “Super-Charged: How Outlaws, Hippies, and Scientists Reinvented Marijuana,” published in 2012 by Timber Press.

Brownstoner: Why do you think PalliaTech chose Brooklyn?

Jim Rendon: Certainly Brooklyn has a large population and good transit, however much of the city’s medical infrastructure is in Manhattan.

BS: What effect do you think this medical marijuana store will have on Brooklyn?

JR: Probably not a ton, but it will get a lot of attention because it’s marijuana. New York is not like California where if you stub your toe you can get a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana. What’s happening in New York is very small scale. If you’re a pot smoker you’re not going to get a card. There are a very narrow group of illnesses that qualify, such as cancer, HIV and Parkinson’s. There won’t be a lot of traffic.

BS: Crowds of people won’t be making a beeline to this second floor office?

JR: Even in California where it’s more freewheeling you wouldn’t know the dispensaries are there necessarily. The only difference is there tends be a big security guard and cameras to make sure no one is smoking weed out front or getting robbed in the parking lot because dispensaries are forced to run all cash businesses because banks won’t allow them to open accounts. (more…)

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Phase 2 of City Point is taking shape in Downtown Brooklyn, in an oddly shaped lot between Dekalb Avenue, Albee Square West and Flatbush Avenue Extension. The tallest portion, a 43-story residential tower, has topped out and its glassy facade is almost complete. Meanwhile, the facade of the retail base is developing on the bottom floors along Albee Square West.

When we last checked in January, the tallest tower had not reached its full height, and the glassy facade was just starting to climb. When complete, Phase 2, located in the center portion of the three-phase site, will consist of a five-story, 650,000-square-foot mall and 690 apartments, 125 of which will be affordable, as we have reported before. (more…)

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As the first two phases of City Point chugs along in Downtown Brooklyn, developer Extell Friday purchased development rights for the last unbuilt parcel in the mega-development for $115.5 million, bringing some clarity to future plans for the site, aka City Point Phase 3. The residential tower planned will likely be rentals, an Extel exec told The New York Times, and although plans have not yet been filed or finalized, could reach 60 stories with 500 units. (If so, it would be the tallest building in Brooklyn.)

The bottom four stories of the building will contain a 60,000-square-foot mall. The building could break ground before the end of the year, with the mall opening by 2017 and the rentals leasing by 2019, according to the Times. City Point said today in a prepared statement that the project will break ground in 2017 and be completed in 2020.

The whole thing is as-of-right, but Extell may conduct a public design review, according to the Times. (more…)

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The glassy facade of Brooklyn’s tallest tower has nearly reached the top floor on two sides. Originally slated to be complete in the third quarter of this year, Ava DoBro at 100 Willoughby Street in Downtown Brooklyn launched leasing earlier this month for units on the first six floors. Move-ins are expected to start August 14.

Pre-construction condo sales are nothing new, but we haven’t seen too many cases of renter move-ins while construction is still under way. The building does not yet have a certificate of occupancy, according to the Department of Building’s website.

Formerly known as Avalon Willoughby West, the building was renamed Ava DoBro in March. The 35-story building stands 595 tall and will have 861 apartments when complete. Its long list of amenities include indoor and outdoor lounges, a fire pit and barbeques on the 30th floor, heated indoor and outdoor pet runs, and 24-hour concierge service, as we have reported before. (more…)