Max Levy, Professor Mac Levy. Brooklyn Eagle, 1903

On New Year’s Day, 1897, Brooklyn’s premiere physical culturist, Professor Mac Levy, received a late holiday gift from the fitness gods. That evening he was at the Union League Club, on Dean and Bedford Avenues, giving the membership a lecture and demonstration of his journey from a consumptive and puny teenager to a fit and super strong modern day Hercules. Afterwards, he had planned to join friends downtown for some New Year’s Day cheer. They all met near the Elks Club on Schermerhorn Street, after which Mac Levy was headed for the trolley that would take him to his home on Union Street.

Because it was New Year’s Day, and because it was cold and miserable out, the trolley was nowhere to be found. The Professor was no longer in a good mood. He was walking up Court Street and had almost reached Union when two men stepped out from behind a building and demanded his money. It was late, and cold, and the police patrol was nowhere around, and he had been made to walk home. The old Max Levy would have handed his money over, and prayed he got home in one piece. Professor Mac Levy, the “young Hercules” whispered a prayer of thanks for this gift, and got busy. (more…)

Strongmen, 1

We have been trying to improve the human body since we became aware of its strength and beauty. Mankind has been exercising for a very long time. We may have started with “run for your life” being a literal cry to escape predators, but in the centuries that followed our trip from the cave to the city, that mantra is still popular, although perhaps “run for life” is more accurate. The ancient Greeks and other civilizations glorified the perfect physical body, after all, they established the Olympics, and left an artistic record of their pursuit of the body beautiful, an ideal many still strive to reach. The Romans incorporated that ideal into their civilization, as they did so many of the ideals of their conquered foes.

The Dark Ages in Europe obliterated that Greco-Roman philosophy. Between plagues and religious zealotry regarding the sinfulness of the human body, physical perfection took a rest of a few centuries. But the Renaissance restored the glorification of the body human, and as nations rose and fell, so too did the idea of fitness. Of course, the lower classes utilized physical strength much more than the upper classes, so those above were getting weak, compared to those below. That did not go without notice, and over the course of the next few hundred years, various programs of physical fitness were delineated and put into practice in different countries and communities. (more…)

Throop Ave. Presbyterian Church, BE, 1890

In the early morning of January 9, 1895, a fierce windstorm rushed down the Hudson Valley and vented its fury on New York City. Gale force winds knocked down trees and power lines, and blew away anything that was not secured. Out on Fire Island, the roof was torn right off a hotel. In Brooklyn two buildings came crashing down. One was in East New York; a theater that was in construction on the corner of Atlantic and Alabama Avenues. The wind cyclone around the walls of the building and knocked them down. One wall fell onto Atlantic Avenue, the other on top of a house. The occupants of the house were injured, but no one was killed. On the edge of the Eastern District, on the corner of Willoughby and Throop Avenues, a similar scene played out. But in this case, two people died. (more…)

Throop Ave. Presbyterian Church,

January of 1890 saw another new year arriving in Brooklyn. All was normal; winter lay upon the city, but, as always, people were going about their business. In the Eastern District, a new church was being built for the growing congregation of the Throop Avenue Presbyterian congregation, under the leadership of their popular pastor, the Rev. Lewis R. Foote. The history of the church was told in Chapter One of this story. Nine days into that year, tragedy struck with the force of a tornado. (more…)

Throop Ave. Presbyterian Church, ebay

The Throop Avenue Presbyterian Church was founded in 1852 by Presbyterians who wanted to worship in the growing neighborhood known as the Eastern District. This part of Brooklyn contains most of modern day Bushwick, Eastern Bedford Stuyvesant, and parts of East Williamsburg. Most of this area would become heavily German Catholic and Lutheran, but back in 1852, there were enough Presbyterians to form a good sized congregation. The Presbyterian General Assembly approved the church, and by 1867, a church was built on the corner of Throop and Willoughby Avenues, Pastor-Elect John Lowry in charge. It was dedicated on October 18, 1867, with ceremonies officiated over by the Rev. R. S. Storrs, of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. (more…)

Today’s offering is a rerun of a story I wrote several years ago. It’s always been one of my favorites, and I hope you will enjoy it again. I’ll have a new post next time.

This sad furry tale began with a letter to the editor of the Brooklyn Eagle, printed on the last day of the year, December 31, 1900.“To the Editor of the Brooklyn Eagle: Won’t you print something to make people on our block in Van Buren Street, between Tompkins and Throop Avenues, stop poisoning pet cats? They poisoned my Bismark yesterday. He was 1 year, 9 months and 7 days. I am 9 years old. He was a lovely cat, black and not a white hair on him. He was beautiful. He taught our dog Fritz how to wash his face with his paw. He would steal bones from the kitchen table and throw then down to Fritz. He and Fritz would play tag on the street together and would go walking to the park together.

He caught four rats in two hours the other day. Someone kept stealing the ribbons and bells from his collar and now they have poisoned him. We found his body on the street this morning and buried him in the back yard, and Fritz tried to dig him up. Won’t you tell folks to keep their cats home and can’t you make those mean people ashamed of themselves? I couldn’t help but cry over it.” Myra Louise Matthews, 33 Van Buren Street. (more…)

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…)