Brighton Beach hotel, composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Even though winter has not even officially begun, already we are getting nostalgic over the thought of summer. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a luxurious summer resort by the sea, where you could have accommodations worthy of your pocketbook and status? There you could be waited on hand and foot, enjoy fine dining, be entertained by the biggest stars of the day, and best of all, enjoy the cool, salty breezes and one of the finest beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. Would you have journey to Palm Beach or some Caribbean Island? Nope, you could take the subway. Because the beach resorts of Gravesend, Brooklyn were the place to be back in the latter quarter of the 19th century.

It all started with a man named William A. Engelman, who had made a fortune during the Civil War selling horses to the Union Army. He took some of that money and bought several hundred acres of beachfront property in Gravesend for the princely sum of $20,000. This was in 1869. He had big dreams, and he named his beachfront property Brighton Beach, after the famous resort town in England, a popular summer destination for British royalty and the aristocracy. (more…)

627 Myrtle Ave, Johns Bargain Store, composite 3

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

If you are old enough to remember the Beatles, and grew up in New York, chances are you remember John’s Bargain Stores. Long before the dollar stores, and even the job lot stores that used to be everywhere in the city, there was John’s, and their signature red and white signage. The stores were mostly located in working class and lower income neighborhoods, and were popular shopping destinations for generations of people who didn’t have a lot of money, or for those who loved a good bargain. (more…)

Times Plaza, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Wow, Brooklyn’s changed in the last 64 years! Well, Downtown Brooklyn certainly has. This is one of Brooklyn’s busiest intersections, where Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues cross. Our “Past” photo from the Brooklyn Collection at the Brooklyn Public Library is from 1950. The Korean War was on the front page of the newspapers, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel opened that May, and the Cold War and Russia’s nuclear capability was on everyone’s minds.

Communists were seemingly everywhere, and Jay Leno, Samuel Alito, Bill Murray and Britain’s Princess Anne were born that year, among many others. Had any of them been taken for a ride up Flatbush Avenue that year, they would have seen what the camera saw here. And like many of us, they may not have known what they were looking at. (more…)

Brooklyn Art Assoc. site, composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

In 1857, a group of Brooklyn artists who had previously been organized as the Sketch Club formed the Brooklyn Art Association. The group not only included artists, but their patrons and general lovers of art. The group grew in size and by the late 1860s had enough members and followers of means to have a grand building erected in heart of Brooklyn’s civic and business district on Montague and Court Streets.

At that time, Court Street was becoming the financial hub of Brooklyn. Banks, trusts and insurance companies were leaving the Fulton Ferry and slowly moving up the hill to the City Hall area. Montague Street was becoming a cultural destination. The leaders of the city, including Abiel A. Low, Henry Ward Beecher and Richard Storrs, wanted Brooklyn to have the same cultural venues that other important cities had. They and others spearheaded the building of the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Montague Street, between Court and Clinton. It opened in January of 1861. (more…)

Central Wood yard on Pacific St..composite

Before the social service safety net programs of the New Deal, each municipality dealt with those in need in their own fashion. A great deal of charity was provided by churches, synagogues and other religious and private organizations, but most cities and towns also had their own alms and health programs, as well. In Brooklyn, much of this effort was coordinated by the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, a private blanket organization which oversaw a multitude of smaller charitable programs. The Brooklyn Bureau of Charities was one of the many contributions to Brooklyn made by one of her greatest citizens, Seth Low. (more…)

Fort Lafayette, Verr Bridge composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

When we look at New York City’s beautiful harbor, it’s hard to remember that this great seaport city needed defending. All of the city’s boroughs once held fortifications that were necessary to protect the harbor and the city from invading forces. Some of those fortifications were necessary and active, if not in our lifetimes, then certainly in most of our parents’ lifetimes.

After America gained its independence from Great Britain, we had a few rocky decades getting started. Our ability to trade through shipping was one of the great successes of the new nation, and that was one of the many factors that led to the War of 1812. We were trading partners with France, which was at war with England at the time. We also had a merchant navy with a lot of former British sailors, who had become Americans. England needed sailors for their navy, did not recognize the change of nationality and allegiance, and wanted them back. They raided ships and took them. There were plenty of other reasons for the war, as well. (more…)

Seney Hospital, NY Methodist Hosp. composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Park Slope’s New York Methodist Hospital is much in the news nowadays due to its plans to demolish the row houses and apartment buildings it owns in order to expand its hospital and clinic facilities. But how did Methodist end up being in Park Slope in the first place? Well, there is quite a difference between today’s modern hospital and the buildings that made up the original complex. There is even a difference in the name; Methodist Hospital was built as the Seney Hospital. It was founded by a man of great philanthropy and generosity named George Ingraham Seney.

George Seney was the son of a Methodist preacher. He began his professional career as a bank teller at the Metropolitan National Bank of New York. In 1855 he was promoted to cashier, a management position, and by 1877, he was president of the bank. He was also an astute stock investor, and actually made the bulk of his considerable fortune by investing in railroads. When one of his companies, the lucrative New York-Chicago-St. Louis Railroad was sold to the Vanderbilts, he had more money than most people could imagine. (more…)

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…)