41 Fifth Ave, composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Brooklyn’s 5th Avenue starts in the shadow of the Barclays arena at Flatbush Avenue, travels down and forms one of the borders of Green-Wood Cemetery, and then extends far out into Bay Ridge. In the past decade, this beginning part of the street has changed greatly from garages, mom-and-pop shops and neighborhood bars to trendy eateries and fancy watering holes mixed in with the turn-of-the-20th-century tenement buildings. But as much as some things change, other things don’t. It’s interesting to find a period photo and compare then and now.

Our period photograph, part of the collection of the New York Public Library, was taken in 1942 by Percy Loomis Sperr. He was a prolific photographer of the streetscapes of New York City. Beginning in 1924, through the 1940s, he took over 30,000 photographs of the city. He was called the “Official Photographer of New York,” and he lived in Staten Island. He wandered around every neighborhood, in every borough, chronicling the growth and changes in the city over the years. He especially liked to photograph buildings and infrastructure, and his photos offer clear views of the details of buildings, as well as the construction of bridges and highways. (more…)

J. Kayser, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

We all know that they used to make things here in Brooklyn, but it’s rather mind-boggling how much manufacturing went on in neighborhoods that are now largely residential. Clinton Hill is a fine example. We know that there was a lot of manufacturing going in in the Wallabout area, but in reality, factory and warehouse buildings did not end at Park or Myrtle Avenue, they continued on to DeKalb and in places, beyond. The area around Pratt Institute was very industrial, which made sense, as many of the Pratt Institute’s students were headed towards careers in industries of all sorts. What better place to put an industrial institution but in the heart of the city’s industry?

One might also think that this industry died in the early 20th century, but that too would be a fallacy. Many of the factories around Pratt were going strong until after World War II, and on into the 1960s. In fact, the war gave many of them more business than they had ever had, depending on what they produced. We’re not talking small businesses, either. Some of these companies were huge, with large manufacturing facilities, some of which consumed blocks, and hundreds of thousands of square feet of space. One of the largest of these was the Julius Kayser Company, located on Taaffe Place, between DeKalb and Willoughby Avenues. (more…)

Vandergaw Carriage, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Long before the Dime Savings Bank, long before City Point, the Albee Square Mall that preceded that, and the Albee Theater that preceded the mall, and on back into the 1850s, when this area was more like a small town than a big city, a man named John Vandergaw had a thriving establishment on this site. He made carriages and coaches, a much needed product for a growing city of Brooklyn.

Today’s “Past” photograph dates from a bit after 1850, and is one of the oldest photographs I’ve featured here. It is part of a series of postcards assembled by the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. Their postcards, which were mostly a collection of photographs taken for news stories, were packaged in sets, and sold through the paper and by retailers in the early 20th century. The collection is quite eclectic, with photographs of schools, churches, banks, important civic buildings, a few mansions of the rich, and several older photos, like this one, that they discovered in their archives. (more…)

751 St.MarksAve, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

It’s hard to believe today, but right after the Civil War, most of what is Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights was regarded as the suburbs. Because of excellent public transportation along major thoroughfares such as Atlantic Avenue, Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue, Central Brooklyn became a desirable place to build a large country villa, allowing one to have the best of the both worlds – a country house in the city.

The street grid had been laid out as early as 1840, although most of the land remained rural for another 10 or 15 years. Most of it belonged to the Bedford branch of the Lefferts family, and what didn’t directly belong to them was the property of relatives by birth and marriage. Beginning in 1854, the heirs of Judge Lefferts Lefferts began selling off the property for development.

Our “past” picture shows a large wood framed Italianate house with a tower, sitting on generous grounds. The photograph was taken in 1935. The house is almost to the corner of New York Avenue on St. Marks. The house was probably built in the 1860s, just after the Civil War. It was built for James Hazelhurst, a wealthy dry-goods merchant. (more…)

Eastern Parkway, at Franklin Ave, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

It’s relatively easy to imagine Brooklyn before the Dutch took over. The land probably looked like undeveloped virgin land anywhere in New York State. There were woodlands, hills and valleys, streams and fields. The Canarsee people who were here when Henry Hudson sailed into Coney Island harbor were primarily hunters and gatherers. Their villages and small agricultural fields did not make much of an impact on the land. Then the Europeans came.

Fast forward several hundred years, and Brooklyn is a city. The land was farmed, and then leveled for development. But as we all know, some parts were developed faster than others. We generally think of the spread of urban Brooklyn to be like a wave washing out into the rest of Brooklyn from its origins in Brooklyn Heights, but that’s not the whole story. There were six original towns in Kings County, not just Brooklyn, and some of those towns had smaller villages, as well. Growth occurred in pockets and spread out, meeting other pockets, and filling in, until the entire city was developed. In general, this took time. But sometimes…. (more…)

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…)