Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor, now Ebenezer Gospel Tabernacle
Address: 470 Throop Avenue
Cross Streets: Gates Avenue and Quincy Street
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1891
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Probably Parfitt Brothers
Other Buildings by Architect: St. Augustine RC Church, Grace Methodist Church in Park Slope. Berkeley, Grosvenor and Montague Apartment buildings in Brooklyn Heights, Truslow mansion, Crown Heights North, as well as row houses, flats buildings, fire houses and commercial buildings throughout Brooklyn
The story: The Association for Improving the Conditions of the Poor (AICP) was founded in New York City in 1843 as a charitable organization aimed at helping those the Victorians called the “deserving poor.”
They established outreach centers that could further their goals, which included housing reform, and distribution centers for clothing, dry goods, medical supplies and coal. They also aided in burial expenses and sometimes rent.
Here in Brooklyn, a separate branch was founded by Seth Low and other rich and influential Brooklynites. They commissioned a two-story building on Livingston Street that would act as headquarters as well as a distribution and help center. It was located where 110 Livingston is today. The architects for that project were the Parfitt Brothers.
A few years afterwards, they had this Bedford distribution center built. It is likely the Parfitts designed this one as well, although there are no records. It looks like their work, resembling many of their row houses and civic buildings designed during that period.
The AICP held classes and sewing sessions, and divided up and distributed food, clothing and other help here. They were at this location until 1912. The organization still exists as the Community Service Society.
In 1913, the building was chosen as a detention center for girls and young women run by the Kingsborough House Association. They were going to rent the building from the AICP.
If this actually came to pass, the center never made the news, which seems unlikely. But three years later, in 1916, the building became home to a hospital for babies suffering from infantile paralysis or, as we know it today, polio. It was called the Throop Avenue Orthopedic Hospital and Dispensary.
It was also known as the New York American Baby Hospital.
The hospital was at this location until 1920, when they were kicked out by the landlord, the AICP. The hospital had wanted to buy the building, but couldn’t afford it. The details of their eviction were murky, but the charity soon sold the building.
By the late 1920s, it was a club house. One of the organizations, which may have actually owned it, was the Brooklyn Stamp Club. Other organizations met there as well.
But by the mid-1930s, the demographics of Bedford had changed. The building was now home to a chapter of the Eastern Star, the female auxiliary of the Masons. This chapter was African-American.
A year or two later, this was the headquarters of the National Music Quartette Association, also an African American organization. St. Leonard’s African Orthodox Church also met here in one of its many homes before settling down in a former temple at 765 Putnam Avenue.
Today, the building belongs to the Ebenezer Gospel Tabernacle, aka the Christian Mission. Over the years, some of the fine detail on the building has blurred, but it is still a building that through most of its life has been dedicated to helping others.
Photograph: Greg Snodgrass for PropertyShark