Cresco Realty Co. BE, 1907 2

Developer Walter L. Johnson was a powerhouse. When he began building his Dyker Heights suburban community, he went with the best of the best. First of all, he had one of the best locations in Brooklyn to work with. His father had purchased the old DeRussy estate back in 1888 with the idea to develop it into an upscale suburban community. The estate was on high ground, with magnificent views of the New York harbor. You could see from the Narrows all the way out to Sandy Hook and beyond. The air was clean and cooling, and living here would be the best of both worlds; a seaside house with easy access to the big city. (more…)

Dyker Heights, Constantine Schubert house, Wiki. 1

Dyker Heights, one of the southernmost sections of Brooklyn, was developed as an upscale suburb. It was the vision of one family, the Johnson family. Patriarch Frederick Johnson bought the land that would become Dyker Heights in 1888. This was the DeRussy estate, established by Brigadier General René Edward DeRussy of the United States Army. He was a military engineer, responsible for the building of many fortifications and fortresses during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. DeRussy’s estate overlooked Fort Hamilton, which had been built to his specifications.

Frederick Johnson realized that this bucolic location, with its hills overlooking the harbor, the clean, cooling ocean breezes, and the vast amount of land, was ripe for development. By 1888, Brooklyn’s population was already moving further and further out from its central core downtown. Johnson knew it was only a matter of time, and he was sitting on a potential goldmine. His estate was part of the greater town of New Utrecht, one of the six founding towns that make up Kings County. He petitioned hard to have New Utrecht annexed to the City of Brooklyn, but died in 1892, two years before that happened. It would be up to his son Walter to take up the challenge. (more…)

Dyker Heights 1897 BE Ad

As most people know by now, the city of Brooklyn developed from the six original towns settled by the Dutch, or in the case of Gravesend, the English, in the mid-1600s. Using their English names, they were Brooklyn, Bushwick, New Utrecht, Flatbush, Gravesend and Flatlands. England took over the whole thing soon afterward, calling the territory Kings County. Over the course of the next two hundred years, those towns grew to encompass smaller villages, adjacent cities like Williamsburg and Ridgewood, and stretched and moved around to become the boundaries of Brooklyn that we know today.

As the city grew, those separate towns, which once had space between them, grew closer and closer to each other, as farms and estates became streets and plots. The city spread out in all directions out from the Brooklyn Heights shoreline, as roads and public transportation made it easier and easier for people in the outlying areas to be connected to Brooklyn’s piers, and on to jobs and markets in Manhattan. (more…)

Dean Street roofscape, Crown Hts North, S.Spellen

Back in 2004 or so, a periodical called, most appropriately, “Brooklyn Magazine” began appearing on the newsstands. The monthly magazine was of a high quality, with photographs and articles about neighborhoods, history, and culture, as well as articles about the new things coming into Brooklyn every day. I think Brooklyn author Jonathan Lethem may have penned an article or two for it. Brooklyn Magazine had its offices on Atlantic Avenue, in the antiques district, very prominently on the block between Hoyt and Bond, where the Hope Vet Clinic is today. This was back when there was an antiques district on Atlantic Avenue.

I liked the magazine, and subscribed to it. One of the topics in an article in 2005 was about the new thing in communication called blogging and the mag published a list of Brooklyn blogs. That was how I discovered Brownstoner. The blog was in its second year by then. I was working in a job with a lot of down time, and I had plenty of opportunity to immerse myself in the site. I was immediately hooked. (more…)

321A Jefferson Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn in 1983 was certainly not the Brooklyn of today. That’s a mixed blessing, if you ask me. My mother and I found a one family brownstone for rent in Bedford Stuyvesant through the Amsterdam News. We ran out from the Bronx to see it, and impressed the landlady and got the place. The house had only been purchased by the owner a few months before, and had belonged to the last little old white lady on the block.

We loved the house. It was a three and a half story Neo-Grec brownstone. Our house was one of a group of five smaller houses amidst larger four story buildings. The house was an old house lover’s dream come true – an untouched one family house, complete with just all of the original features. About the only thing that had been done to the house since it was built had been the installation of electricity and central heat. Even that was pretty old. Some of the wiring was still cloth covered cording, and the pan and glass fixtures from the early 20th century were all either on pull chains or operated with push button switches. There were only two outlets in each room. (more…)

Gilbertsville, NY 1

This week is a celebration of Brownstoner’s 10th anniversary. Ten years! How time does fly! Instead of a story about a historic Brooklyn place or person, this week’s two Walkabouts are about old houses, brownstones, fixer-uppers and my Brownstoner journey.

I grew up in an old house. I spent 17 years in an old Italianate farmhouse in a small town in upstate New York called Gilbertsville, population 400. The house was built in the 1850s or 1860s, a vernacular Victorian farmhouse with a wraparound porch overlooking a beautiful valley. We moved upstate from Queens when I was six, and I can still remember the first time we walked into the house. My parents had bought the property, which came with 254 acres, pretty much sight unseen, on the recommendation of my paternal grandmother, who for some never explained reason, had moved up there from Harlem some years before. They paid $10,000 for it. On a mortgage, of course. (more…)

St. Paul's Epis.Church, Troy, FriendsofStPaul's 3

In the early 1890s, the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Troy, New York had a serious problem on his hands. His church was in danger of caving in. The Rev. Dr. Edgar Enos had just returned from a tour of Europe where he had visited many of the great Gothic cathedrals. His tour took him to the monumental medieval churches of France, England, Germany, Italy and other countries, and he was filled with ideas for his church. St. Paul’s was one of Troy’s oldest churches. Episcopalians in the bustling city on the Hudson had established their first worship services in 1795. By 1804, the parish was established, and a brick church had been built a block away from the current church. In 1826, work was begun on the church building that we see today.

St. Paul’s was purposely designed to be a copy of Trinity Church in New Haven, Connecticut. That church, located on the town green, was begun in 1813, and was consecrated in 1816. It is the first true Gothic-style church in the United States, and predates the English Gothic Revival period by about 20 years. Trinity was designed by Ithiel Town, one of the first professional architects in the United States. When Troy wanted to build its first Episcopal church, the committee asked Ithiel Town for permission to copy Trinity’s design. Town may not have been in Troy to oversee the building, but the church is so much like Trinity, experts are sure that Town had provided Troy with the plans. He later came back to Troy to co-design the Cannon Building, one of the city’s most important buildings. (more…)

Stauch's Restaurant, Coney Island, 1

David MacFayden was a song and dance man. Matthew MacFadyen played Mr. Darcy. They are not even remotely the same man, but a certain search engine has a hard time making the distinction. That has nothing really to do with this story other than to mention Mr. Darcy, who no doubt, would never otherwise come up in a story about Brooklyn. This story is about David MacFayden, his wife, and their adventures crossing the great continent of North America in a wagon, for love and a song. (more…)

Hampton Place, SSpellen 1

Here’s another tale from the Montrose archives:

A developer, eager to capitalize on a building boom, a robust economy, and a hot neighborhood, takes a chance to build what he feels will be hugely successful and lucrative housing. But while everything seems to be in his favor, something happens, and the bottom falls out and bankruptcy looms. Will he succeed? Will the housing be built? More importantly, will it sell? What happens? Here on Brownstoner, we read about these situations every day, it seems. But this tale is not about Williamsburg or Park Slope in 2014. It’s about the St. Marks District, now called Crown Heights North, and the year is 1898.

At the end of the 19th century, the St. Marks District was one of the most fashionable areas of Brooklyn. As the mansions of the rich were going up on St. Marks Avenue, and adjacent streets, new blocks of more modest housing was going up all around the area. Most of this was speculative housing, and the developers of yesterday were doing much of what today’s developers are doing – trying to build in a popular neighborhood for those who could afford it. Sometimes this involved taking an innovative approach with a marketing hook. In this case, developing an exclusive enclave of two short blocks tucked in between two popular streets, and in between two busy avenues, all a block or two from a beautiful new park. (more…)

Sterling Place, SSpellen 1

Montrose is on vacation this week. If you missed it before, please enjoy learning how Sterling Place got its name:

As everyone knows, most of the named streets in our fair city are named after famous people, of one kind or another. We’ve got presidents, pastors, politicians, founders, prominent families and military men. Some of these people are quite interesting in their own right, and the stories of how they got streets named after them are often quite interesting, as well. One of the most interesting is stories involves Sterling Place, which runs from Park Slope through Crown Heights, running from 5th Avenue to East New York Avenue.

Sterling Place used to be called Butler Street, and traveling from Gregory Place, just west of 5th Avenue, to Court Street, it still is. The name change came twice, once in 1873, when Butler Street between 5th and Flatbush was changed to Sterling Place, and later in 1897, when the name was extended out to East New York Avenue. But who was Sterling, and why name a street after him? (more…)

PH Precint, SSpellen 1

The first Police Chief of Greater New York City was John McCullagh. The job was not something that most people, even most career policemen, would want. He was tasked with overseeing law enforcement in the largest city in the country; the now-sprawling metropolis created by the union of the five boroughs in 1898. On top of the logistical problems inherent in making one police department out of many smaller departments, he had to play politics. He was not only a stranger to Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens; he was a Republican in a Democratic administration. Worse than that, he was an honest man among a den of thieves. (more…)

Bergen Precinct, SSpellen 1

The first months of 1898 were rough on all of New York City. New Year’s Day heralded in the birth of Greater New York, with five boroughs, all operating from the central control of Manhattan. This new arrangement was hard on all the new city agencies, but nowhere was it felt more than in the departments of the police and fire services, two important agencies that were charged with keeping the city safe.

When Greater New York was created, the Bronx and Manhattan had already consolidated their civic infrastructure under one roof. Staten Island was too remote and isolated to really worry about right away, and Queens was a collection of towns, some of which were also pretty remote. The towns closest to Manhattan, like Long Island City, could be worked with, but Brooklyn was the biggest challenge for the new administration.

Brooklyn had been an independent city, with well-established civil institutions, including police and fire services that had their own headquarters, own uniforms, own equipment and own personnel, officers and procedures. All of that would now be under the control of central departments in Manhattan. This was not going to be easy. (more…)