Past and Present: The Brown-Holmes Garage

1930 photo: eBay

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

1919 was a great year for Brooklyn’s automobile industry. It seemed like every day a new dealership was opening, offering the public more and more styles and models of that new, and continuing American obsession: the automobile. The 23rd Regiment Armory, at the corner of Atlantic and Bedford Avenues was Brooklyn’s automobile heaven. Twice a year, the auto show was here, with all of the new models and styles from the dozens upon dozens of car manufacturers that characterized the automobile’s early days.

“Automobile Row” was already growing along Bedford Avenue, with dealerships, garages and service stations being built for all kinds of vehicles, from passenger cars to trucks, motorcycles, luxury limousines, even tractors. If it had wheels and a combustion engine, somewhere along Bedford, or on the busy intersecting commercial streets, like Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue, there was a showroom for it. Names like Nash, Willy, Studebaker, Maxwell, Overland, Cino, Locomobile, Apperson, Hupmobile and Stutz, all companies long gone now, were familiar names in this part of Brooklyn.

Of course, as anyone with a car will tell you, they don’t last forever without maintenance, so as the automobile industry grew, so too did the auto service and repair industry. Atlantic Avenue became the perfect street for service and repair companies, and hundreds of them would eventually stretch along the Avenue from Fort Greene to Queens. The Brown-Holmes Company was one of them.

As the February 23, 1919 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle announced, Charles E. Brown and Frank Holmes were opening a brand new service station and garage on the southeast corner of Atlantic and New York Avenues. The Eagle said that this new facility was equipped with state of the art repair equipment, and that Charles Brown, who was “well-known in the automobile business”, would be in charge of the repair department. His partner, Mr. Holmes, would be in charge of storage and rentals. A later announcement about a month later, this time in the Brooklyn Standard Union, boasted that the Brown-Holmes garage was one of the best in the city, and as a new service, would be offering rental cars to their customers, including the new Hudson limousines.

There are no photographs of Brown-Hughes, at least not on line that I’ve found, but their building probably looked the way it did eleven years later in 1930. That’s when the photograph on the left was taken. As you can see, the garage was a handsome two story building with a customer entrance in the flattened corner of the intersection of the streets. There is a clock above the door, and a showroom with large open display windows on the two sides of the building. The entrance to the actual garage was beyond the showroom, along Atlantic Avenue.

It was a brick building, with light colored cement trim at the cornice, and in a running band just below it. The door and the upper story windows had cement surrounds and sills. More than likely, cars were driven up a ramp upstairs where they were stored for customers, and/or were rented. The fancy limos and other high end automobiles were probably featured in the showroom. The garage workspace was in the very back, and next door. By 1930, the company that had the garage was the Goodwin Motor Car Company. They may have sold and/or serviced cars, perhaps the Auburn, which is featured in the New York Ave. side window.

I used to live around the corner from this station, and I was both pleased and shocked to see this 1930 photo. I always knew the stucco covering on the station was not original, and was probably from the unfortunate “Age of Stucco” that Brooklyn endured in the 1950s, when brownstone, brick and clapboard were indiscriminately slathered over in “modernizing” stucco. I also knew that the bottom of the garage had been gutted out, but I didn’t know what had been removed.

Back in the early 2000s, I was in charge of my employer’s company car, and I used to get it fixed and inspected here, so I’ve been in the building many times. Both the garage and the area underneath the emptied out interior still had virtually intact tin ceilings. Despite all that had been done to the building, they had remained untouched. The garage had the original oil pits, two of them, and other original details untouched by time. Although cars are now hooked up to computers, some things don’t change when it comes to digging around underneath the carriage.

I never asked what was upstairs, and frankly, I don’t think anyone dared go up there. The present day garage used to have gas pumps, but they were long unused and looked like they were from the 1970s, and were taken out in the last few years. The place looks like many other rather run down garages along Atlantic, not part of the ambience that some wish would return to the area. But they are viable and successful businesses. They were great with my company’s car, and I liked the owner. They probably had no idea what the building used to look like. It’s not until we find these old photographs that we realize how much has changed. The frame of the original building is all that remains. GMAP

My tour partner Morgan Munsey (Brownstoner’s Amzi Hill) and I are once again leading a walking tour of Bedford Avenue’s Automobile Row on Saturday, November 9, sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society. It starts at 11 am, and ticket information can be had on the MAS website. It’s a great tour of one of Brooklyn’s busiest streets, and if you don’t know this part of town, or even if you do, we would love for you to join us. There are great stories to be told here. It’s rain or shine, and since it rained last time, we hope we’ll be more fortunate this time. It’s hard to talk with water running down your neck.

1930 Photo: Ebay

1930 photo: eBay

Photo: Googlemaps

Photo: Google Maps

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