Building of the Day: 1217-1221 Bedford Avenue

Avon Hall, 1914. Photograph: Brooklyn Eagle

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Bishop, McCormick & Bishop dealership, eventually Concord Family Services
Address: 1217-1221 Bedford Avenue
Cross Streets: Halsey and Hancock Streets
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1919
Architectural Style: Mediterranean influenced commercial
Architect: Henry Holder
Other works by architect: loft buildings, factories and showrooms in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Landmarked: No

The story: In 1885, when this part of Bedford was still relatively undeveloped, a visionary developer named John Anderson built Avon Hall, an entertainment palace. At that time, Bedford Avenue, in this, the heart of the Bedford section, was home to a variety of buildings, but this was the biggest one around. When Avon Hall was opened, it was “an extensive and handsome new building,” the Eagle reported, it housed a concert and lecture hall, as well as a bowling alley and an upstairs 16 table billiard parlor. Anderson died soon after and the place changed hands.

Avon was a popular destination, and like most of Brooklyn’s halls, soon became a place where lectures and political rallies were held, as well as meetings of church groups, spiritualists and clubs. In 1901, the city needed to relocate the new Brooklyn Public Library, and Avon Hall was picked for the location, over the objection of many who felt that a building with a bowling alley was unsuitable for a library. In 1902, the city announced that a new municipal court would also be housed in the building, on the second floor. Both institutions stayed there until their respective new homes were completed for their use.

In 1914, Avon was purchased by a pair of developers who promised to restore it to its entertainment venue past. They intended to build out a dance floor, noting that Anderson had built the floor of the main assembly room on a foundation of rubber, providing the floor with “give”, which would be perfect for dancing. In spite of this, business was not good, and by 1919, this famous Bedford landmark was sold and torn down.

Bedford Avenue had become home to the automobile, and this stretch of Bedford belonged to the Bishop, McCormick & Bishop Company, home of Dodge Brothers automobiles. Eli Bishop had started his career in real estate, coming to Brooklyn from his native England as a young man, to join the construction industry. He soon became one of Bedford’s most successful builders and developers, with a great deal of the upscale Bedford neighborhood to his credit. In 1905, he turned from real estate to automobiles, correctly figuring that the car would be the biggest thing to hit the popular market, EVER. He was certainly correct.

He went into business with his partner and his sons, and their first showroom was further down Bedford, near Putnam Avenue. It opened in 1905, the first large dealership in the area, and grew rapidly, so that by the 1920s, Bishop, McCormick & Bishop had at least three different showroom buildings, plus a garage and a used car dealership, with locations on Halsey Street, Fulton Street, Atlantic Avenue and Bedford Avenue. They sold Dodge Brothers automobiles, trucks, used cars, even tractors.

This building was built as their premiere Bedford Avenue showroom in 1919, replacing Avon Hall. It was designed by Henry Holder, a Brooklyn architect who specialized in commercial buildings. He was a graduate of Pratt Institute and Columbia University. He lived nearby at 77 Halsey Street, just around the corner. He may not have been a flashy name in contemporary architecture, but he was well respected in the field, and was president of the New York Society of Architects for many years before his death in 1932.

The building had showroom facilities on the first floor, with the corporate offices above. Although it doesn’t seem like a lot of room, the building has a footprint of 60 x 82 feet. Plus they had several other showrooms along this street. B, Mc & B got so big that they were in the position to ask Dodge to design custom vehicles for them, and they were responsible for many innovations in automobile design, not to mention marketing. A few doors down from here, they even had a training automobile, permanently affixed on a platform, where people could learn to drive, shift gears, etc.

Before son Burton Bishop died in 1945, the dealership had grown to branches here on Automobile Row, as well as in Coney Island, Flatbush, Manhattan, and Long Island. They were one of New York City’s largest automobile dealerships in the first half of the 20th century. His death may have led to the company dissolving because try as I might, I couldn’t find out why or exactly when they folded, but Bishop, McCormick & Bishop disappear from the papers around 1954.

The building was used for various other purposes, and was purchased by Concord Family Services in 1992. The agency handled foster care and family services, and was contracted by the city to administer services to many of the thousands of children going into foster care, especially during the crack epidemic of the 80s and 90s.

Unfortunately, after a couple of investigations, in 2005, and later in 2008, they were brought down by scandals involving misuse of funds by the fiscal officers and directors of the agency, and some of their vendors and city contacts, as well as with some local politicians. The agency lost their contract with the city, and the building went into foreclosure a few years later, and was sold just this year. The new owner just took possession, but has not finalized his plans yet. He is fascinated by the building’s automotive past, and plans to honor both the building and the neighborhood in whatever he does. GMAP

1217-1221 Bedford Ave, Bed Stuy 1

1217-1221 Bedford Ave, Bed Stuy 3

Avon Hall, 1914. Photograph: Brooklyn Eagle

Avon Hall, 1914. Photograph: Brooklyn Eagle

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