A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
By the 1850s, Brooklyn was not just a growing town; it was a fast growing city. Among the necessary amenities for any city is a good hotel. Montague Street was at the center of cultural activity in Brooklyn Heights at the time, and was a perfect place for a large hotel. The plot on the corner of Hicks and Montague Streets was purchased by the partnership of builders Litchfield and Metchum, and in May of 1854, a fine looking six story Italianate-style hotel opened on the site. It was called the Pierrepont Hotel, and was modeled on the Prescott House in Manhattan.
The builders immediately turned around and sold the hotel. One of the first owners, Hamlin Blake, only owned the hotel for a day. Several other owners had the hotel thereafter, but one thing stayed consistent; their reputation for offering family-style comfort and an exceptionally fine meal. It was soon Brooklyn’s finest hotel during the Civil War years and just beyond.
The Pierrepont Hotel was both a residential and transient hotel, catering to businessmen and travelers to the city, mostly gentlemen, but they also accommodated families, especially those of Navy officers with business at the Navy Yard. During the Civil War, the hotel was popular with other military officers, as well. The hotel also had a collection of regulars who lived there, including many older single men. It was said that in the evening, one could see them all back in the rear in the bar and on the wide verandah behind it, in their chairs, smoking and telling each other tall tales and stories of past exploits.
Like any large hotel, all kinds of things happened here at the Pierrepont, too many to tell now, so I think I shall have to do a Walkabout on Tales of the Pierrepont. There were tragedies, heartwarming stories and mysteries, the legacy of any good hotel. In 1889, a story in the Brooklyn Eagle told about Mr. George B. Kingsley, the oldest guest at the hotel at the time. He had lived there for years, and had been at the hotel for its first meal, back in 1853.
Many events took place here, or were watched from the roof. In its earlier days, before the taller buildings of the 1880s and 90s, the hotel had one of the best views in Brooklyn Heights. Guests and the regulars watched boat races, fires in Lower Manhattan, fireworks, and even a spectacular fire on Staten Island that destroyed the Pavilion Hotel. Ladies ended up giving birth here, too, the first being little Grace Gilbert who was born in 1858, the daughter of a silver merchant from Manhattan.
The hotel had a successful run for its entire life. Montague Street continued to grow in size and importance as the century drew to a close. Apartment buildings like the Parfitt Brothers’ Montague, Grosvenor and Berkeley had been built and were popular. So was Montrose Morris’ Arlington Apartments, at the edge of the embankment at Pierrepont Place. The elevator had been invented, and a six story walkup was no longer as swanky as it had been.
Back when the hotel had been built, the owners had planned retail establishments on the ground floor, but they never went through with them, and converted the spaces to dining rooms and conference spaces. Up until the end, the Pierrepont Hotel’s dining room was first rate. They had celebrity guests over the years, and were a favorite watering hole for the Brooklyn Dodgers, back when the Dodgers were still playing other Brooklyn teams.
The hotel made it to the 20th century, just barely. There were plans to tear it down and build a new hotel to be called the Woodruff. But after purchasing the property, the developers must have lost their funding, because the project collapsed, and the property went into foreclosure. It was purchased by Abraham Abraham, the co-owner of Abraham & Straus. He in turn, sold it to lumberman Louis Bossert.
Bossert, who was a millionaire from his lumber business, lived and worked in Bushwick, where he had considerable holdings and influence. He was expanding his empire, and wanted to build a fine luxury hotel on the site. He had the Pierrepont Hotel torn down in 1908, and had the architectural firm of Helmle & Huberty draw up plans for a hotel. The old landmark hotel was all of a sudden the topic of many articles in the papers, with reminiscences of the people who had built it, lived there and made their mark.
Bossert built his signature 14 story luxury hotel, which opened in 1909. The Hotel Bossert was and is one of Brooklyn Heights’ finest buildings, and enjoyed a long run as a fine residential hotel until after World War II. It was called the Waldorf Astoria of Brooklyn, known for its luxury and service.
Its rooftop dining room called the Marine Room became famous in the 1920s, and like the Dodgers of old, the hotel became the favorite place for several of the Brooklyn Dodgers to stay. The Marine Room was their favorite hangout. When the Dodgers won the World Series in 1955, fans came to the ornate lobby and serenaded manager Walter Alston with “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.”
But that didn’t last forever, either. The hotel was sold to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1988. It had fallen into disrepair over the years, and was a mess. They spent a lot of money very carefully restoring the lobby and rebuilding the Marine Room on the roof, which had collapsed. The Witnesses used to hotel to house out of towners and important guests of the Watchtower Society. In 2012, they sold the hotel to David Bistricer of Clipper Equity, and the Chetrit Group. The hotel will be reborn as a luxury boutique hotel with around 300 rooms. The hospitality business has always done well on this corner.