1750 Bedford Ave, Firestone, composite

In recognition of 10 years of Brownstoner, here’s one of my favorite Past and Presents. It showcases a rare example of an interesting slice of life and culture that is still standing and has its original use.

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Bedford Avenue is the longest street in Brooklyn, stretching from Greenpoint to Sheepshead Bay. Because it was such an important north/south corridor, it was a natural location for the development of the automobile industry, in the early 20th century. Much of the street between Bedford and Flatbush was undeveloped, so what better place than a street that cuts through so many neighborhoods, to place automobile showrooms, garages, service stations and other related businesses? The fact that Bedford and Flatbush were affluent neighborhoods didn’t hurt, either.

By 1912, there were already twenty-five auto establishments on this section of Bedford, between Fulton and Empire Blvd, called Malbone Street until 1918. By 1929, the traffic along Bedford was so thick that the police had to erect a traffic station at Grant Square to control it all. (more…)

101 8th Ave, Unity Club, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

The Unity Club was founded as an upscale Jewish men’s organization in 1896. They organized in order to provide social, philanthropic and communal activities for their members, many of whom were not welcome in Brooklyn’s other clubs. Their first clubhouse was at 482 Franklin Avenue at Hancock Street. In 1914, they took over the Union League Club building at Grant Square, on the corner of Dean Street and Bedford Avenue. This large building was perfect for the clubs social and educational activities.

Many of the members were German Jews whose families had come to America just after the Civil War or a bit later. They had succeeded in business and assimilated in many ways into American society, with many leading citizens in their ranks. But the poorer, less skilled Eastern European Jews who came to the US at the turn of the 20th century did not fare as well. The Unity Club provided programs to teach these immigrants English, hone job skills, and help them make their way in American society, while still holding on to their Jewish traditions. (more…)

Ebbets Field, composite

Today’s vacation entry is the much lamented Brooklyn Dodger’s own home ballpark: Ebbets Field.

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

For many people of a certain generation, Brooklyn began and ended at the gates of Ebbets Field, where the beloved Brooklyn Dodgers played baseball. The years between 1913 and 1957 were the Golden Age of Brooklyn glory, especially in 1955, the year the Dodgers beat the hated Yankees in the seventh game of the World Series, score 2-0. The Dodgers were Brooklyn; proudly working class, with names like Campanella, Furillo, Snider, Hodges and Robinson. “Dem Bums” were the first team to integrate Negro players into the major leagues by hiring Jackie Robinson in 1947.

Ebbets Field stood at Bedford Avenue in the block bordered by Sullivan, McKeever and Montgomery Streets in what was called Flatbush then, and now considered to be part of Crown Heights South. Although it is now covered in nostalgia and glory like Camelot, the park was actually way too small by modern standards, and lacked parking and other facilities. (more…)

Henry C. Bowen mansion site, 88-96 Willow St. composite

There was a time in Brooklyn’s history when Mr. Henry C. Bowen was one of Brooklyn’s favorite sons. He was a wealthy man, owner of two newspapers, and his home on the corner of Willow and Clark Streets was described as the Heights’ most beautiful home. Henry C. Bowen was a very devout and religious man, whose strong moral beliefs led him to be involved in the founding of two churches, and made him one of the leaders in Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement. Those strong moral beliefs also would lead to him being one of the most hated men in the city, vilified on the streets, in the pulpit and in newspapers across the country. When he died in 1896, all of that was forgotten, and he is now fondly remembered once again as one of Brooklyn’s leading men. He had an amazing life, and this house was at the center of it all. (more…)

1005 Bedford Ave, Bklyn Traffic Court, composite

Here’s another look at one of the great buildings we’ve lost to “progress.”


A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

While this may look to be the fanciest Traffic Court in the world, this fine building started out with a much more sacred calling 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 was established in 1869, a place of worship and community for Brooklyn’s German Jewish residents. They held their first services in the old YMCA, located downtown, at Fulton St. and Galatin Place. In 1872, they purchased their own building, a now landmarked church, on Greene Avenue where the community grew until they needed to move, once again. By this time, many members of this German Jewish community were doing quite well, their membership included wealthy merchants such as Abraham Abraham, one of the founders of Abraham & Straus, and the congregation was able to commission one of the best architectural firms in the city to design a new temple. (more…)

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…)

Borough Park Clubhouse, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

William H. Reynolds was a developer like no other before or since. During the course of his life, he cut a swath through Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Manhattan, developing new neighborhoods right and left. He also managed to become New York State’s youngest State Senator, the mayor of Long Beach, Long Island, the owner of Dreamland Amusement Park, and a convicted felon. Not to mention his expertise in the manly art of fisticuffs and other athletic competitions.

Here in Brooklyn, by the turn of the 20th century, he was finishing up his extensive development of Prospect Heights. He had purchased a great deal of land cheap from the city; land left over when Prospect Park was laid out. He proceeded to build hundreds of handsome row houses there, and by 1895, most of them had already been sold. He needed a new project. (more…)

KCW, Grant Square, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

During the last two decades of the 19th century, there were no cooler men on earth that the members of the Kings County Wheelmen’s Club of Brooklyn. They were like rock stars and the championship Yankees rolled into one; a collection of men’s men, gushed over by young ladies and reporters alike, the intrepid “Knights of the Silent Steed.” They were Brooklyn’s best and most famous amateur bicycle club.

While pictures of mustachioed men in striped shirts and caps on enormous high wheeler cycles are in the popular imagination for this period, the truth is that the bicycle of the day looked pretty much the same then as they do now. They were easy to ride for men, women and children, and their mobility made them as popular then as they are today. Mass production soon made them affordable to almost anyone, and they sold like hotcakes. The Victorians were a very social bunch, and loved getting together in organizations, so it didn’t take long for bicycle clubs of all kinds to spring up all over the country. (more…)

Fulton theater site, composite

 

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Although Brooklyn had a thriving theater district downtown, many neighborhoods also had fine theaters in their own areas, with entertainment venues on main streets near public transportation. Bedford was a large neighborhood blessed with several major thoroughfares running through it – plenty of opportunities for clubs, theaters and entertainment halls. The economic center of Bedford was around the intersection of Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue, so it’s not surprising that there were quite a few theaters in that area. In theater’s heyday, the early 20th century, one of the finest establishments was the Fulton Theater.

The theater stood at 1283 Fulton Street, near the corner of Nostrand Avenue. It was designed by one of New York City’s finest theater architects, John B. McElfatrick. He was responsible for some of the city’s best theater buildings, including today’s BAM Harvey Theater and Manhattan’s New Victory Theater on 42nd Street. Many are now gone, but he designed well over a hundred theaters, plus other buildings, all across the country. (more…)

626 4th Ave, Max Huncke Chem. composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

A look through the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Collection revealed this picture of an attractive factory building on the Gowanus/Park Slope border. Today it’s the site of one of 4th Avenue’s many automobile service stations. Tomorrow it will probably be a condo tower, but 85 years ago, this was the home of the Max Huncke Chemical Company. There are chemical companies and there are chemical companies. This one specialized in chemicals for embalming. It turns out that chemist Max Huncke was the grandfather of the modern embalming process. (more…)

2nd Naval Battalion armory, composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Armories are fascinating buildings. They were built to house National Guard units; our volunteer citizen army, and provide them with permanent places to gather, train, and deploy. Many guard units gained great fame and honor from their service in the Civil War, and a grateful state and local government decided to honor them with facilities worthy of their service. These resulted in huge castle-like buildings built to impress and intimidate.

Every community wanted an armory. They wanted the protection of a citizen militia for emergencies and to put down social unrest. The late 19th century was a time of strikes and uprisings against the economic unfairness of the Gilded Age. They also wanted the armory because it was a great civic building for the community. Armories were perfect for large social gatherings, athletic events, trade shows, and the like. Architects and builders loved armories because they were prestigious commissions, and were cash cows for everyone concerned, and a source of jobs. An armory in one’s neighborhood was a win-win for all concerned. (more…)

Skillman St. gasholder site, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

There are no more gasholder buildings in Brooklyn. While we still have an example of just about every other kind of industrial building still standing somewhere within our borders, the gasholder houses are all gone. They were the most visible signs of an invisible necessity – gas, the substance that lit the houses and streets of the city throughout much of the 19th century.

We still use gas now, but now it’s natural gas. The gas of the 19th century was coal gas, a much different substance that needed to be contained in bulk. Coal gas had to be manufactured, and simply put, was the product of baking coal at high temperatures, and capturing the gases released by the process. The gases were then further purified and stored for later use. The coal burning gas plants were close by, if not right next door to, the gasholder buildings. (more…)