Past and Present: Empire Boulevard’s Firestone Service Station

1928 photo: New York Public Library

In recognition of 10 years of Brownstoner, here’s one of my favorite Past and Presents. It showcases a rare example of an interesting slice of life and culture that is still standing and has its original use.

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Bedford Avenue is the longest street in Brooklyn, stretching from Greenpoint to Sheepshead Bay. Because it was such an important north/south corridor, it was a natural location for the development of the automobile industry, in the early 20th century. Much of the street between Bedford and Flatbush was undeveloped, so what better place than a street that cuts through so many neighborhoods, to place automobile showrooms, garages, service stations and other related businesses? The fact that Bedford and Flatbush were affluent neighborhoods didn’t hurt, either.

By 1912, there were already twenty-five auto establishments on this section of Bedford, between Fulton and Empire Blvd, called Malbone Street until 1918. By 1929, the traffic along Bedford was so thick that the police had to erect a traffic station at Grant Square to control it all.

You can’t have cars without gas tires and repair, and many gas and service stations sprang up along the major streets, including Eastern Parkway, Fulton Street, and Empire Boulevard. The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company was an American success story, closely tied to Henry Ford, and modern automobile manufacturing. Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford were friends, and the first Ford automobiles, and thousands after that, rolled out of the factories with Firestone tires. They made many innovations in tires which resulted in better cars. The first Indy 500 race was run on Firestone tires in 1911, and a national brand was born.

In 1926, Firestone began building one-stop service stores, self-contained service centers selling everything a car would need: gas, oil, tires, and replacement parts. This service station on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Empire Boulevard must have been one of the first, and still looks brand new in 1928, when this photograph was taken. The address is 1750 Bedford Avenue.

It’s been designed in the new and very modern Art Deco style, with bold styling, lots of glass and class. A customer could also buy bicycle horns and supplies there, as well. Something for everyone. The “Firestone” lettering in their signature font is also quite boldly placed on the roof, very identifiable and easy to see, along with the other signage. The station was right in front of Ebbetts Field.

Fast forwarding to the present: it’s still there! It’s been slightly modernized, but is amazingly intact, now with the towers of the Ebbetts Field Apartments in the background. Just amazing. This service station, still belongs to Firestone, which is now Breakstone Tires, and is probably 85 years old. With all the changes coming to Empire Boulevard, I fear it probably won’t survive unless people feel that it might be worth protecting. Gas stations of any style or variety are becoming endangered species, even as more people have cars. Go figure.

GMAP

1928 Photo: New York Public Library

1928 photo: New York Public Library

Photo: Google Maps

Photo: Google Maps

1980s tax photo: Municipal Archives

1980s tax photo: Municipal Archives

Photo; Google Maps

Photo: Google Maps

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