04/21/14 3:00pm

450 Union St. Google Maps 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Formerly Thomas Paulson & Son, Inc., now the Green Building
Address: 450 Union Street
Cross Streets: Corner Bond Street
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1931
Architectural Style: Utilitarian factory
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed Gowanus Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: Gowanus has a lot of great factory buildings, with the best of them, architecturally speaking, dating back to the 19th century. According to some sources, this one dates back to that time, as well, but some research shows that that is not true. It was built in 1931, but that takes nothing away from its size, placement in the overall street grid, and charm.

In 1849, when the Gowanus was first being developed, this part of the area was a swampy part of the Gowanus Creek. The canal was dredged and the bulkhead was built around 1869, raising up the land. The first company to use the site may have been the Cement Drain and Water Pipes Company, which shows up on a map after 1869. No buildings stood on the location.

The block of Bond Street between Union and President was taken up by the T.H. Lidford Coal and Wood Yard, which shows up on Brooklyn city maps from at least 1888 until 1904. The entire block consisted of wood framed buildings, including two very long buildings that held the company’s supply of coal. One of these long buildings occupied the same space as today’s building. (more…)

04/21/14 10:45am

The iconic coal pockets on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, a reminder of the area’s industrial past, were torn down last week, Pardon Me For Asking reported. The Burns Brothers coal pockets sat on 6th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues, not far from Whole Foods. The century-old concrete cylinders were demolished to make way for a new office development, according to Curbed.

The eight pockets were built between 1915 and 1924 and used until 1938, said PMFA’s Katia Kelly. The 40- and 50-foot-tall structures were used to store coal that had arrived on the barges in the canal for subsequent delivery on wagons and trucks. Meanwhile, Lightstone began knocking down the large silos on Carroll Street earlier this month to prepare for its huge 12-story, 700-unit residential development.

“Gowanus, as we know it, is disappearing before our eyes,” Kelly wrote.

Another Gowanus Landmark Bites the Dust: Burns Brothers’ Coal Pockets [PFMA]
Photo by Eymund Diegel for PMFA

04/11/14 4:00pm

Council Member Stephen Levin has announced the five community improvement projects in District 33 that will receive $1,560,000 of city discretionary funds. Residents voted last week on how their tax dollars should be spent in the district through a process known as participatory budgeting. Here are the projects that received the most votes, in order:

  1. Repairs at four NYCHA playgrounds – Gowanus Houses, 572 Warren Street Houses, Wyckoff Gardens, and Jonathan Williams Plaza – will receive $400,000.
  2. The Gowanus Community Center, pictured, will get $325,000 for renovations.
  3. The McGolrick Park Playground will be completely reconstructed, to the tune of $450,000.
  4. BOOKlyn Shuttle: $198,000 will be set aside to buy and retrofit bus a bus designed by Pratt Institute to “inspire, stimulate and improve the literacy of North Brooklyn’s youth.”
  5. The bathrooms at P.S. 261 will be renovated and repaired with $175,000 in funds.

Image of Gowanus Community Center via Better Late Than Never


04/03/14 9:30am

The first of four new but traditional-looking single family townhouses has hit the market at 449-453 Degraw Street in Gowanus, BuzzBuzz Home reported. Each of the “Four on Degraw” homes has four stories spread across 3,800 square feet.

The first house up for sale is a four-bedroom, four-bath townhouse at 451 Degraw asking $3,999,000. All the houses have features such as gas fireplaces on the garden level, multi-zoned central heating and A/C and energy-efficient tankless water heaters. The homes share a garden, roof deck and central laundry room.

Correction: Each home has its own garden, laundry room and roof deck.

Boerum Hill’s 449-453 Degraw Townhouses on the Market [BBH]
451 Degraw Street [Corcoran]
New Look for Four Traditional Townhouses Going up on Degraw Street [Brownstoner]

04/01/14 3:00pm

421-431 Bond St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Empire City Hygeia Ice Company
Address: 421-431 Bond Street
Cross Streets: 3rd Street and Gowanus Canal
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1904
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed HD on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: If you are interested in the rise and fall of industry in Brooklyn, there are few places with more industrial history than the Gowanus area. After all, the swamps were drained and the canal was built to serve industry, and for the last hundred and sixty years, businesses have risen, prospered and fallen in this part of Brooklyn. Today, the push is away from industry and to turn many of the old factories and lofts into residences, or else tear them all down for new residences, but very few people seem to know or care what went on in those buildings in the first place. There are many fascinating buildings in Gowanus, some of which are active today as businesses, others have been converted into residential or cultural use, and some are just sitting there, boarded up or exposed to the elements, waiting.

This great Romanesque Revival factory building was first used by the Empire City Hygeia Ice Company, in 1904. There were a lot of seemingly independent ice companies in the Northeast called “Hygeia,” and I have not yet been able to determine if that was a generic name for pure factory manufactured ice, or if they were all part of a larger corporation. New York City and Brooklyn had at least six different companies called “XXXX Hygeia Ice Company.”

At any rate, they all manufactured ice in factories, as opposed to harvesting natural ice from rivers and lakes. By the beginning of the 20th century, factory ice was slowly edging out natural ice, as it could be made all year round, and could easily be transported from the factory to customers, and it could be guaranteed pure and unpolluted. Many factory ice companies also were able to escape the price gouging of the natural ice monopoly in New York City, which I wrote about in a series of Walkabouts called “It’s Nice to Be Ice.” (more…)

03/31/14 11:30am


A large property in Gowanus that houses an old brass foundry, now performance and events space The Green Building, is up for sale as a development site, as Pardon Me For Asking was the first to report.

Massey Knakal is marketing the property, a 28,500-square-foot lot at 450-482 Union Street between the Gowanus Canal and Bond Street. A reader sent us a photo of the flyer, which shows the property in question shaded in green, above.

The area was rezoned to allow for mixed-use residential and commercial development, according to the flyer. But PMFA says it is not zoned for residential, and that in 2002 developers were denied a rezoning to residential. The Green Building’s lease runs through 2027 but terminates for residential development, according to the listing.

Site of Green Building in Gowanus for Sale for Development [PMFA]

03/27/14 3:30pm

12 Whitwell Pl, Googlemaps

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Mixed use commercial and residential building
Address: 12 Whitwell Place
Cross Streets: First and Carroll Streets
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: 1910
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed Gowanus HD on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: The idea of draining the swampy Gowanus lands and building a canal for industrial purposes knocked around the Brooklyn halls of power for many years, beginning in the early 19th century. But nothing really happened until Edwin Litchfield came along. The powerful railroad magnate bought up the land much of the land now part of Park Slope, from 4th Avenue to Prospect Park, where his home stood. He took a chance on purchasing the worthless swampland between 4th and the shoreline, and then lobbied hard for draining the swamp and establishing a canal.

Digging the canal began in 1853, and muddled along for a number of years as work was completed sporadically. Litchfield had the streets in the Gowanus area mapped out, and other local landlords got involved, and in a long and complicated series of city and private efforts, the bulk of the canal was finished in the 1870s. The creation of the flushing system and flood water sewers, and all of that important development came much later, and has been a never-ending story ever since.

But more important to the BOTD here, as businesses grew along the canal, and on the other streets of Gowanus, homes for the workers who would toil in the warehouses, factories and the docks were also built. There had been homes here since the Dutch settled in the area, but most of them were in Red Hook and Carroll Gardens. The swampland that became Gowanus was not really settled until the 1880s. (more…)

03/24/14 10:45am


We contacted Preservation Program Analyst Daniel McEneny at the National Register of Historic Places to clear up lingering questions about the effort to designate the Gowanus Canal area a historic district. What he revealed: The National and State registers are more or less interchangeable. An owner of a listed property is free to demolish or alter his or her property. And, most surprising of all, an “eligible” property, which the Gowanus area has already been for eight years, is almost as good as listed. Read on for more details.

Brownstoner: What are the criteria for designation and why might an area such as Gowanus be eligible?
Daniel McEneny: To be eligible for State and National Register listing, a property or district must represent a significant theme in local, state or national history and be intact enough to illustrate that theme. Significant themes might include architecture, industry, commerce, invention, engineering, planning, science, economics, social history, or any number of other subjects. Integrity means that the property or district retains aspects of location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling and association that relate to the identified theme.

The Gowanus Canal Historic District is significant as a cohesive collection of industrial and manufacturing facilities and associated resources located adjacent to the Gowanus Canal that together represent the development of water-borne transportation and industrial development in a South Brooklyn neighborhood between the mid-nineteenth century and the mid-1960s. Factories and industrial operations in the Gowanus district were directly associated with the canal as a primary source of materials, power and supplies; the majority of the single and multiple family residences in the neighborhood were constructed so that the workers could live close to their places of employment. The character-defining features of this district are those that illustrate its industrial past. A full copy of the draft nomination is available on the New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) website: www.nysparks.com

BS: Is designation as a Historic Place the same thing as landmarking? (more…)

03/21/14 4:00pm

Head down to Gowanus tomorrow afternoon for the grand opening of School of Rock, where kids and parents can take part in sample music classes, live performances, workshops and jam sessions. There will also be food and giveaways during the event, which will run from 1 to 4 pm tomorrow at 327 Douglass Street between 3rd and 4th avenues.

To reserve a spot in a class during tomorrow’s opening, email brooklyn@schoolofrock.com. The international franchise has 100 locations around the world, including another New York location on the Upper East Side.

Image via School of Rock

03/21/14 9:30am

Demolition crews have started gutting and demolishing the six 19th-century wood-frame houses and two commercial buildings near the corner of 11th Street and 4th Avenue where developer Adam America is planning to put up a large 12-story apartment building on seven tax lots. The house at the far left end of the row on 11th Street, No. 233, has been knocked down, above, and most of the others are in the process of being gutted, their windows and doors gone.

A construction fence went up a week and half ago at 470 4th Avenue, and new building permits for the project were filed at the end of February. The building will have 105 units with ground floor commercial space, a medical office and underground parking, as we’ve previously reported. More photos after the jump.

470 4th Avenue Coverage [Brownstoner]


03/20/14 9:30am


After no activity for years, permits have recently been filed to construct a 10-unit, five-story residential building on a commercial site at 203 9th Street in Gowanus. The lot, which houses a one-story retail space that was once an auto body shop, is part of the area that local preservationists believe may be the burial ground for soldiers who died during the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War. They have previously said they hope to get the area on the National Register of Historic Places and create a park.

We heard a rumor the property sold or was in contract in December, but no sale has appeared in public records. The most recent sale recorded is to an LLC for $1,670,000 in 2010.

That LLC’s name is on the most recent permits, dating from 2013 and 2014, as well as the original permit to change the use of the building and add more stories, which is dated 2004, well before the current LLC owned the property. The photo above shows the building in 2012.

More Momentum for Contested Park Slope Burial Site [Brownstoner]
Photo by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark 

03/14/14 10:30am

514 4th Ave, composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

An eBay search for photographs came up with this great shot of the storefront building on the corner of 4th Avenue and 13th Street, on the Gowanus side of the street. The shot is from 1910, and shows the establishment of Mr. Henry J. Luck on the ground floor. Who knows, that may even be the man himself standing in front of the building. I love ordinary shots of everyday people and places, and these candid moments can also tell us a lot about how the average person lived in 19th century Brooklyn. I did a little research on Mr. Luck and establishment and here’s a bit of his story:

According to those who are experts on surnames and national origins, the name “Luck” is of German derivation, a variant of Lukas or Lϋck. It can also be English, or Dutch, as in “Van Luck.” All of those possible origins match nicely with the people who settled in Gowanus and lower Park Slope at the turn of the 20th century. Henry J. Luck’s business may have been a grocery store, or some kind of saloon. The corner location would have been excellent for either. The names on his awning or banner are all beers from Brooklyn breweries, three of the most popular brews, from three of the largest Bushwick breweries. (more…)