Building of the Day: 180 Graham Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats building with storefront
Address: 180 Graham Avenue
Cross Streets: Meserole Street and Montrose Avenue
Neighborhood: East Williamsburg
Year Built: 1891
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: John H. Scheidt was a successful Brooklyn entrepreneur. For many years he had run a booking agency on Broadway in East Williamsburg, which today would be classified as a travel agency. He booked steamship tickets, arranged for passports and visas, and generally took care of passenger’s needs for traveling overseas. Most of his clients were like him, German-American Eastern District residents who needed to go home or abroad, and trusted him to know the ins and outs of travel. He did very well.

Well enough that he started to dabble in the rich man’s sports of banking, politics and real estate. He commissioned this handsome building in 1891, built on busy Graham Avenue, near Meserole Street. It’s a stately four story building with a storefront and three floors of apartments above. Although I couldn’t find the architect in my search, I’m sure he’ll turn up. It’s a beautiful brick building with terra-cotta trim, and a pressed zinc cornice. It may well be the work of Theobald Engelhardt, whose talented hands seem to be on a majority of the great buildings in this area, during this time. We do know the builder was Jacob Rauth, who crossed a picket line to pass bricks along to the bricklayers building the structure.

John Scheidt moved his booking office here, and also used some of space as a meeting hall. It’s not clear if that was behind his office, or upstairs. He often hosted meetings of his Democratic political club here, and was a local player in Democratic politics. In 1894, his name was submitted as a possible political appointment by Brooklyn Mayor Adolph Schieren. Political insiders were horrified, because Scheidt was, as one of them put it, “a machine Democrat,” and the mayor was a staunch Republican. He didn’t get the position.

But he did get his name out there. In 1907, the East Williamsburg area was looking for a new location for a magistrate’s court. Scheidt offered this building, for $41,000. The comptroller’s office was seriously considering it, even though critics said the building was too small, and the price outrageous. They charged political cronyism and graft and demanded a grand jury. After vociferously denying any kind of sweetheart deal, the offer was rejected.

Meanwhile, Scheidt had gotten into banking. He was elected a vice-president of the Williamsburg Trust Company, a disastrous move in the long run, as this was the bank run into the ground by the financial impropriety of the powerful Jenkins family. In 1908, when he was appointed VP, the Jenkins’ were just about to lose everything. The papers do not report Scheidt’s involvement or financial repercussions. Ironically, Mr. Scheidt’s next door neighbor wanted to put a bank in his building on the corner. That didn’t work out well, either.

John Scheidt died at the age of 70, in 1920. In 1925, the entire first floor of the building was gutted in a fire. It was home to a furniture store at the time. Many, many years later, a bank was established at this location, a Chemical Bank branch. It eventually closed, but nothing had been removed. In 1985, police found a ten year old boy hiding in the false ceiling of the bank. The police were responding to a silent alarm that had been triggered in the vault door. The boy said he was just playing around with friends, but the friends were long gone. When the police answered the alarm, they had to search for the boy for three hours before they found him. They were considering charging him with a number of offenses. GMAP

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