Robert Graves Wallpaper Company Brooklyn History

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

If you’ve ever restored an old house and come upon 19th- or early-20th-century wallpaper, it could have been made by the Robert Graves Company of Brooklyn.

Between 1843 and 1929, the Robert Graves Company produced some of the metropolitan area’s finest wall coverings. It did it all: one-of-a-kind commissions and limited editions for interior decorators, as well as more modest mass-produced papers for middle-class homes.

Robert Graves was born in Ireland. Unlike many of his fellow Irish immigrants, he did not arrive on our shores with nothing. His father, Sir William Graves, was a well known artist. Robert came to America as a successful wallpaper manufacturer. (more…)

1005 Bedford Ave, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

While this may look like the world’s fanciest traffic-court building, it started out with a calling more sacred than the adjudication of parking tickets. 1005 Bedford Avenue — at the corner of Lafayette Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant — was the home of Temple Israel, one of Brooklyn’s oldest Jewish congregations.

Temple Israel, established in 1869, was a place of worship and community for Brooklyn’s German Jewish residents. It held its first services in the old YMCA, located downtown at Fulton Street and Gallatin Place.

In 1872 the congregation purchased its own building, a now-landmarked church on Greene Avenue, where the community grew. By the time it had to move again after a number of years, many members of this German Jewish community were doing quite well.

Membership included wealthy merchants such as Abraham Abraham — one of the founders of Abraham & Straus — and the congregation was able to afford to commission one of the city’s best architectural firms to design a new temple. (more…)

275 Clinton Ave, Clinton Apts. Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Joseph Fahys was born in France in 1832. His father died young, and Joseph and his mother immigrated to the United States in 1848, settling in New York. He apprenticed himself to Ulysses Savoye, in Hoboken, one of the first watch case manufacturers in the United States.

He worked for Savoye for five years, learning the business, and then set out on his own. By 1857, he had bought out Savoye, changed the name to Joseph Fahys & Company, and brought the manufacturing business to Nassau Street, in lower Manhattan.

Through different partnerships over the years, the business continued to grow, with watch case plants in New Jersey and Long Island. By the time he and his partners established the Brooklyn Watch Case Company in 1887, Joseph Fahys was a very important and wealthy man. (more…)

117-119 Livingston St. Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

New York City changes so rapidly. Buildings can literally be here today and gone tomorrow. We pass sites that are either big holes in the ground or construction sites, and think “What was here before?”

I was downtown only a few weeks ago, and was shocked to see the corner of Red Hook Lane and Livingston Street had lost its buildings. I especially remember the corner building, festooned for the past number of years with the map-like artwork of artist Steve Powers.

Red Hook Lane is the last remnant of one of Brooklyn’s oldest roads. Like many of Brooklyn’s original streets, it was a trail used by the Canarsee people who lived here centuries before the Dutch and English showed up.

In Colonial times, Red Hook Lane connected the town of Brooklyn to the shores of Red Hook. It was a major transportation road, one used by both the Continental Army and the British during the American Revolution.

By the end of the 19th century, there wasn’t much left of the Lane, only a one block oddity allowing people to take a shortcut to Fulton Street.

People lived here, especially in the days when Livingston was still a quasi-residential street. (more…)

Bedford Rest composite 2

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

The Bedford Rest was established as a destination and rest stop in the late 1890s for the hundreds of cyclists enjoying Bedford Avenue and Eastern Parkway. As the years passed, and the cycling fad waned, the Rest maintained its reputation as a fine restaurant and event space near the excitement of Ebbets Field and Automobile Row. All was well, until Prohibition.

When we think of Prohibition today, it’s remembered as a time when the nation disastrously toyed with a powerful experiment in social engineering. Banning alcoholic beverages seems ridiculous today. No doubt people thought so then, too, and were shocked when it actually happened.

Between 1920 and 1933, alcohol was illegal in the United States. The effects were devastating not only to consumers, but to businesses.

Across the country, breweries, distilleries, wine and spirits merchants, restaurants, saloons and bars went out of business by the thousands.Organized crime, based on bootlegging, grew and flourished.

The country went dry on January 17, 1920. By November of that year, the Bedford Rest was finished. Although the Rest had been running out of steam for years, Prohibition was the final nail in its coffin. (more…)

Coney Island Bike race, 1890s, theroadswerenotbuiltforcars.com 1

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Last time we visited the Bedford Rest, a unique restaurant/café/rest stop developed primarily for the thousands of people from all walks of life enjoying the cycling craze of the 1890s. A place like that would be equally popular today. The owners wanted to expand with the new century. But how far could they go?

The Bedford Rest was Brooklyn’s most popular restaurant/café/event space of its day. Opening in the last years of the 19th century on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Eastern Parkway, it catered to the young men and women of the new leisure class.

Eastern Parkway was still primarily a beautiful road through undeveloped fields at this point. The Rest stood alone, a large tented structure on the northwestern side of Bedford and the parkway. It was a convenient rest stop for the many cyclists taking a break here at the top of the hill.

Bicycles were enormously popular at that time. Cycle technology had advanced the bike so that it resembled and rode like the single-gear bikes of today.

Unlike most sports, bicycling was equally popular with men and women, and it was one of the few sports a couple or a family could do together.

The streets of Brooklyn were filled with cyclists, and on weekends they rode up and down Bedford Avenue and Eastern Parkway by the hundreds, even thousands.

Bedford Avenue was part of a popular route to both Long Island and Coney Island. Professional and amateur racing clubs and excursionists used the Bedford Rest as a starting and ending place for their trips. (more…)

Bedford Rest Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

As the 20th century loomed before them, the middle class Victorians of Brooklyn found themselves with a new phenomenon on their hands — leisure time. Their ancestors never had too much of it, unless they were wealthy. Those below them on the economic scale wouldn’t have any for a long time to come.

As it is again today, bicycling became the favored mode of transportation for those seeking fresh air. Individuals bicycled everywhere they could, and bicycle clubs formed, encompassing members of just about every group of people in the society.

Everyone liked to bike, and the “wheelmen,” (and wheelwomen) as they were called, took to the streets looking for nice long rides within the city. Soon, they began to look for places to stop and rest. (more…)

Cumberland St. Hospital, composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

As much as Brooklyn has changed and improved over the last 200 years, one thing has not changed for the better — the number of health care facilities.

In Brooklyn’s prime as an independent city, during the last two decades of the 19th century, the city was filled with all kinds of hospitals, sanitariums, clinics and dispensaries, both public and private. Today, only a handful remain.

Those who were well off enough to have private medical care could always depend on a doctor’s house call, or a visit to his practice. Most of Brooklyn’s doctors could be called upon in emergencies, but there were very few hospitals and very few hospital beds.

The poor had to rely on the charity of individual doctors, or their services in a small number of charitably run dispensaries — clinics that took care of basic medical needs, emergency operations, and dispensed medicines at low or no cost.

City government didn’t address the needs of the poor until a growing awareness of public health opened their eyes. It took a lack of hospital beds for such random emergencies as traffic accidents to help even the most jaded and tight-fisted realize that more needed to be done for the public good. (more…)

St. Johns Home for Boys, Albany Houses Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the eastern part of Central Brooklyn radiating north and south of Atlantic Avenue became the go-to neighborhood for large charitable institutions.

Encompassing parts of the present-day neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, this area once teemed with hospitals, old age homes, orphanages and sanitariums. There were multiples of all of these facilities, as all were segregated by race, religion and gender. Land was cheap.

The St. John’s Home for Boys was founded in 1868, a part of the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum Society. It was a time when more and more poor Catholic immigrants (especially Irish) were pouring into Brooklyn, and the need for charitable facilities was on the rise.

St. John’s Home for Boys was located on the block of St. Marks Avenue running to Prospect Place, between Albany and Troy Avenues. Back then, the neighborhood was in Bedford, but today we’d call it Crown Heights North. (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…)

Apartcot composite 1

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Ah, summertime in New York City as enjoyed at a bungalow by the sea!

A chance to get away from the heat and crowding of the city. An opportunity to feel the salty breezes of the Atlantic Ocean waft over you as you sit in a lawn chair on your own porch in front of your own little cottage, only a block or less from water.

Who wouldn’t want that? But who could afford it in New York City, unless you were rich?

Brooklyn has always had some great beaches. When Coney Island, Manhattan and Brighton Beaches became Brooklyn’s Riviera in the late 19th century, it looked as if only the rich swells would get to enjoy the sun and sand.

They flocked to the shore to stay in enormous luxury resort hotels where they were waited on hand and foot. They were entertained by John Philip Sousa and his marching band, and feasted on food from the finest chefs in the city.

But that all ended when Coney Island became a working-class amusement park. The rich abandoned the hotels for quieter places on Long Island or the Jersey Shore, and eventually the big hotels either burned down or were torn down.

Developers realized that there was opportunity here. Clearly, the working class wanted to enjoy the ocean as much as any upper class family did. If they built it, they would surely come.

But the question was how to build efficiently and cheaply. The answer was found in watching Henry Ford’s cars roll off the assembly lines – mass production. (more…)

951 Prospect Pl, Composite 1

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Most of the Past and Present pieces involve photographs of old buildings that are now either gone, replaced by something else, or transformed into something less than what they were.

Here we have something different. This is a building that was pretty great to begin with, was totally wrecked for a generation, but now is back, better than ever.

Number 951 Prospect Place was built as the standout corner building in a set of four, along Brooklyn Avenue, right across the street from one of Brooklyn’s prettiest small parks, Brower Park.

When developer Louis Meyer had these flats buildings built in 1906, this area was known throughout the city as the St. Marks District. A block away stood the huge, opulent mansions of some of Brooklyn’s wealthiest people. (more…)