Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: The Nassau Brewery Ice House
Address: 1024 Dean Street
Cross Streets: Classon and Franklin Avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1884
Architectural Style: Rundbogenstil German, Romanesque Revival
Architect: John Platte
Other buildings by architect: 709 Bushwick Avenue (private house) and a former Brewers and Builders Bank on the corner of Meserole and Graham.
The story: As we all know, the brewing of beer was one of Brooklyn’s largest and most lucrative businesses. Breweries were concentrated in the Bushwick/Williamsburg area because of the large concentration of German immigrants in those communities, and they were responsible for bringing beer into the lives of millions. But breweries existed outside of Bushwick, and one of the larger breweries was here, on a corner of Bergen and Dean Streets and Franklin Avenue. The brewery opened in 1849 as the Liberger and Walter Brewing Company. In 1866, the business exchanged hands and was re-named the Bedford Brewery. In 1883, the brewery again exchanged hands, and became the Budwiser Brewing Company. A lawsuit from Anheuser-Busch caused them to change their name to the Nassau Brewing Company. While it was still Budwiser (their spelling), the company expanded, and this ice house was built.
The architect, John Platte, was a member of Bushwick’s German community, and most of his buildings on record are in that area. They include several storefront tenements, brick rowhouses, and a bank building for the Brewers and Builders Bank. He also seemed to specialize in ice houses, and his name appears in connection with several in the Bushwick area. He also got sued by one of them, for shoddy workmanship. Hmmm. The most popular beers in New York were lagers, and these beers were traditionally stored in caves to keep them cool, with that sparkling quality that made them so tasty. Ice houses were the caves of city and this particular ice house is a sturdy and attractive building, with thick walls and floors for insulation. The Nassau Brewery was in production until 1914.
The building, along with the rest of the brewery complex, then belonged to the Heinz company, a metal fabricator, and by the 1970’s, a moving company. When Sue Boyle and her husband, Benton Brown, bought the ice house in 2002, it had been abandoned for twenty years. They had fallen in love with the building, and proceeded to transform it into six apartments and studio space. Although they had made loft space from another building in Williamsburg, neither was experienced in the green and sustainable technologies they wanted to employ in this building. They hunkered down and learned, and over the course of several years, a lot of loans, grants, mistakes, and sweat and tears, they transformed the Nassau Brewery Icehouse into one of Brownstone Brooklyn’s most important, acclaimed and successful sustainable projects of its kind, which led to entirely new careers for both. Today, the Ice House is still one of the best “green” projects in Brooklyn, as attractive as it is innovative. GMAP
Please join me in a walking tour of Crown Heights North, this Saturday at 11 am. Tour starts at the corner of Dean and Bedford, in front of the former Union League Club. Cost is $20, and the tour takes about 2 hours. Hope to see you there. See website for more details. UPDATE – DUE TO THE HURRICANE, TOUR HAS BEEN CANCELLED.