Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Former Sparrow Shoe Factory Warehouse, now the Forman Building
Address: 195 Broadway, corner of Driggs Avenue
Year Built: 1882
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec with Aesthetic Movement details (castironnyc.org)
Architect: William B. Ditmars
Other buildings by architect: St. Elias Greek Catholic (former Reformed Dutch Church of Greenpoint)
The story: Although it is now extremely fashionable to live in a loft in an old industrial building in Williamsburg, people still forget that one hundred years ago, much of Williamsburg was about business. The area around the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge, from the water’s edge up Broadway to Bedford, Driggs, and beyond, was a mixture of industry, business, commerce and residences. There’s a lot of really good architecture here. I used to work in Soho, and am very fond of that area’s cast iron architecture, and am quite pleased to see some great examples of that architecture here in Brooklyn. Case in point, the former Sparrow Shoe Factory Warehouse, across from the magnificent Williamsburgh Savings Bank.
The Sparrow Shoe Company was owned by James R. Sparrow and his son, James R. Sparrow, Jr. For Sparrow, senior, this was but one of his many businesses during his lifetime, and he is remembered as one of Greenpoint’s most prolific builders. This is an exceptional cast iron fronted building, now painted a very striking, dark, almost-black. The classical details; the rows of identical columns, and large, evenly spaced windows are classic cast iron goodness, but it’s the floral reliefs on the piers that catch the eye, and make this building special. The calla lilies rising from clamshell-like leaves predate the naturalism and bold floral forms of Art Nouveau by almost ten years, and are well done, and beautiful. The casting was done by Atlantic Iron Works, responsible for many of NYC’s cast iron facades.
William B. Ditmars designed several buildings in the Williamsburg/Greenpoint area, most notably what is now St. Elias Greek Catholic Church on Kent St, as well as some brownstones and other buildings. He was well known in the Eastern District, as this larger area was known, active in banking, and charities. Sadly, his career was cut short by personal problems, and he committed suicide in 1883, only a year after this building was built, at the age of 43. There have been five hearings held in the last ten years, to try to designate this building as a landmark, but none have been successful. Perhaps six will be the charm. It’s certainly worthy.