Building of the Day: 437-441 4th Avenue

Photograph: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally the Delmar Association, now Good Shepherd Services
Address: 437-441 4th Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner 9th Street
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1875-76
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec
Architect: George L. Morse
Other buildings by architect: Park Slope-Old First Brooklyn Reformed Church, several groups of row houses in Park Slope, as well as houses in Clinton Hill, Bed Stuy, Prospect Heights. Also Temple Bar Building, Franklin Trust Building, A&S Annex, and many more
Landmarked: No

The story: Politics has always ruled this city, and the atmosphere in the 19th century was just as partisan as it is today. Brooklyn fell under the rule of the Republicans in the 1870s, and the Democrats waged war for decades trying to get it back. Party “bosses” rose and fell on both sides, and political clubs abounded. These clubs were generally founded in each neighborhood or ward to support local candidates. The clubs met in local public event and assembly halls, which were quite numerous and popular in just about every neighborhood.

As power ebbed and flowed, better-known candidates and local bigwigs often had enough money and support to enable them to build a dedicated clubhouse of their own, where they could gather for speeches, rallies, campaigns, and probably more often than not, a lot of drinking, card playing and partying. The Democrats of Brooklyn’s 22nd Ward had gathered enough power and money to enable them to move out of their temporary digs and into a new clubhouse they were calling the John Delmar Association, on the corner of 4th Avenue and 9th Street.

Judge John Delmar was the patron saint of this Democratic Ward club. He was a very influential ward “boss” ostensibly under the control of the powerful Democratic Boss of Brooklyn at the time, Hugh McLaughlin. He controlled not only the 22nd Ward, but also the 8th, and had enough independence and nerve to buck McLaughlin whenever possible; defying him at every turn, until McLaughlin finally shut him up by making him County Clerk, the third highest position in the city. Delmar used his appointment to get rich and then retired to Manhattan to live the good life. But while he was still a powerful figure in the 22nd Ward, his followers named their club after him.

The building was designed by George L. Morse, one of Brooklyn’s best architects. Morse was only at the beginning of a long and fine career when he designed this building in 1875. The Brooklyn Eagle described the building in great detail, noting that the building was to originally have two large statues of deer flanking the entrance on 9th Street. Inside, the basement held a large banquet hall that could seat hundreds. The kitchen and the janitor’s apartment were also down here. On the parlor floor, a large reception and assembly room faced out towards 4th Avenue, and the floor also included a large full bathroom, complete with a bathtub, and a spacious reading room/library. Upstairs were billiards and game rooms, with card tables and other games. There were also party offices and more bathrooms.

The article noted that the clubhouse had a large bay facing 4th Avenue where club members could watch their friends and neighbors pass by. The house was furnished with fine walnut and oak woodwork, as well as all of the most high class and modern finishings and furnishings. Since the buildings on 9th Street were set back from the sidewalk enough to have planting space, the front of the building would be landscaped with flowers and shrubs.

The Club met here for many years, as the neighborhood grew up around it. The first president was a close friend and political ally of the Judge, and as the years passed, the club grew in local power, as well as in size and wealth. They changed their name to the 22nd Ward Democratic Club. By 1893, the club had outgrown the clubhouse, and moved down the street to 341 9th Street, to a new building that is now long gone. The location is now the CVS Drug Store. They sold their old building to St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church.

The church was new to that corner, and the club predates it by 10 years. Their cornerstone was laid in 1884, and the church dedicated a year later. The old club was used as a convent, then it became home to the St. Thomas Aquinas Academy. That institution had begun in 1884 as the South Brooklyn Academy with only 19 students, and soon grew to encompass two wood frame buildings next door. In 1917, a new school was finished a block away, which operated for 89 years, closing in 2005.

The old clubhouse remained in St. Thomas Aquinas’ hands until 1981, when title was transferred to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who made it a convent for a short time before opening the Good Shepherd Services in 1988. Today, Good Shepherd Services operates a community center and the Barbara Blum Residence, a non-secure detention center for boys. They also provide services aimed at preventing child abuse, which includes family and individual counseling. Quite a change from stag parties and political shenanigans. GMAP

(Photograph: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark)

Photograph: Kate Leonova for Property Shark

Photograph: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

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