Building of the Day: 81 Willoughby Street

(Photo: Jim Henderson/Wikimedia)

Address: 81 Willoughby Street, corner of Lawrence St.
Name: Former NY and NJ Telephone and Telegraph Building
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1897-98
Architectural Style: Beaux-Arts
Architect: Rudolph Daus
Landmarked: Yes. Individual landmark, designated 2004.

Why chosen: We don’t have any grand buildings that celebrate the personal computer. I’ve never seen Microsoft HQ, or Apple’s main office celebrated as great architecture. When the telephone became a new staple of our society’s existence, one hundred years ago, we got buildings like this, that showed everyone how important the telephone and telegraph were. The NY and NJ T&T was founded in 1883 as a subsidiary company of Bell Telephone. They served Long Island, Staten Island and northern New Jersey. By 1895, they had telephone lines as far out as Patchogue, and were working on extending them to Sag Harbor and beyond. By the first decade of the 20th century, they were already laying lines underground with the subways, and were modernizing their service in their entire service area. This building was built to house offices, as well as an enormous switching exchange. Since clean air was important in maintaining an ideal environment for the equipment, the building had an elaborate filtration system that drew air in from the roof, down to the basement, through multiple cloth filters, and forced up by means of fans and ducts. The building was also super fireproofed to protect the valuable switching equipment. The architect, Rudolph Daus, was very well respected in his field. A graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, opened his own practice in 1885. He designed both private homes and public buildings, including four of the Brooklyn Carnegie Libraries, hospitals, churches, banks and corporate headquarters. His largest building is the 13the Regiment Armory on Sumner and Jefferson, in Bedford Stuyvesant. The NY and NJ Telephone and Telegraph Company liked Daus’ work, and employed him several times, including other locations in Brooklyn. As mentioned earlier, this building, in the majestic Beaux-Arts style, was mean to impress, with its best features being the multi-storied arched windows flanked by columns on the upper floors, and the rounded bay with the striking round window surrounded by an elaborate cartouche. The terra-cotta trim on the building is quite beautiful, and feature motifs of early telephone equipment; wires, receivers and earpieces. Even though the building is now offices and a trade school, it has been maintained quite well, and is still one of the most impressive structures in Downtown Brooklyn.

(Photo: Carl Forster for LPC)

(Photo: Carl Forster for LPC)

What's Happening