Building of the Day: 25 Elm Place

Photo: Municipal Arts Society

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Built as extension of Frederick Loeser & Co. department store, now miscellaneous retailers and offices
Address: 25 Elm Place
Cross Streets: Fulton and Livingston streets
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1899-1900
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Francis H. Kimball
Other buildings by architect: In Brooklyn, Emanuel Baptist Church in Clinton Hill and Montauk Club in Park Slope
Landmarked: No

The story:
At the turn of the 20th century, Frederick Loeser & Co. was the second largest department store in Brooklyn. This was during the time of mega department stores when huge emporiums stretched entire blocks, offering customers just about anything one can imagine, all lavishly displayed across tens of thousands of square feet of space. Today, Macy’s on Herald Square in Manhattan is one of the last of these types of stores. The Fulton Street shopping corridor was home to quite a few of these giants, and after Abraham & Straus, nothing was larger than Loeser’s.

From descriptions, Frederick Loeser & Co. may have been even more upscale than Abraham & Straus. The store was owned by Frederick Loeser and the Gibb family. Loeser and partners had started the dry goods store on Fulton Street in the 1850s, and were hugely successful. In 1887, Loeser dumped his former partners for John Gibb, a wealthy Manhattan-based lace manufacturer, and the two grew the company to become one of Brooklyn’s largest and most upscale department stores.

By the turn of the century, Frederick Loeser & Co. owned most of the block of Fulton Street between Livingston, Elm and Bond, as well as a building facing the property, on the other side of Bond. Needing to further expand, they bought the lot facing Elm Street, formerly occupied by a charity, and hired architect Francis H. Kimball to design a store annex.

Kimball’s work is no stranger to Brooklyn, and two of his best buildings are here: the magnificent Emanuel Baptist Church, on the corner of Lafayette Avenue and St. James Place, built 1887, and the iconic and quite eclectic Venetian-style Montauk Club, on Eighth Avenue in Park Slope (1891). Kimball was also a prolific designer of office buildings, with several prominent structures in lower Manhattan, and it is these buildings that his design for Frederick Loeser & Co. most resembles.

The soaring multi-storied arcades are quite elegant, with classical pilasters, garlands and other detailing in terra-cotta. Kimball loved terra-cotta, and handled it expertly, sometimes in its natural color, sometimes, as here, in glazed white, resembling limestone or marble. This is a very elegant and classy building, designed for a classy and elegant store, where fine art, pianos and other musical instruments, and rugs and carpets all vied for space alongside the clothing, decorative accessories, fabrics, silver, and other merchandise. It must have been quite impressive.

As the 20th century progressed, the shopping experience changed, and gradually Frederick Loeser & Co. became Loeser’s, a more middle-class establishment, and in 1952, the store closed, a victim of Brooklyn’s changing demographics, the rise of the new suburbs and other economic factors. In the years since, the store building on Fulton Street became May’s Department store, and the annexes were sold to other businesses. The 1960s and ’70s saw “modernization” in the form of horrific additions to the ground floors and uncaring changes to the façade. But enough of the original building remains to show us what once was and, hopefully someday, what can once be again. GMAP
(Photo: Google Maps, 2011)

Photo: Municipal Arts Society

1980s tax photo: Municpal Archives

Early 20th century postcard, showing Frederick Loeser & Co. on Fulton Street. This building on Elm Place can be seen on the right side, in the back, behind the building facing Fulton Street.

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