Past and Present: From Synagogue by Famous Architects to Banal Pile of Bricks in Bed Stuy

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

While this may look like the world’s fanciest traffic-court building, it started out with a calling more sacred than the adjudication of parking tickets. 1005 Bedford Avenue — at the corner of Lafayette Avenue in Bedford Stuyvesant — was the home of Temple Israel, one of Brooklyn’s oldest Jewish congregations.

Temple Israel, established in 1869, was a place of worship and community for Brooklyn’s German Jewish residents. It held its first services in the old YMCA, located downtown at Fulton Street and Gallatin Place.

In 1872 the congregation purchased its own building, a now-landmarked church on Greene Avenue, where the community grew. By the time it had to move again after a number of years, many members of this German Jewish community were doing quite well.

Membership included wealthy merchants such as Abraham Abraham — one of the founders of Abraham & Straus — and the congregation was able to afford to commission one of the city’s best architectural firms to design a new temple.

1005 Bedford Ave, Temple Israel, post card, BPL

Late-19th-century postcard via Brooklyn Public Library

The Parfitt Brothers — three brothers born and educated in England — got the job and came up with this beautiful building. The firm was very familiar with sacred spaces and had designed some of Brooklyn’s finest churches, including Grace Methodist and St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, both in Park Slope.

Like many large Jewish temples of the day, the design was vaguely Middle Eastern with a traditional European church style, creating a building with a strong Venetian influence, a fitting match for this particular melding of cultures.

1005 Bedford Ave, Temple Israel, Traf Ct, BPL 1960

1960 photo via Brooklyn Public Library

The Parfitts were adept at giving their clients what they wanted: a large, lavish temple for a wealthy congregation that still felt the need to assimilate into American society by not appearing to be too “other.” It’s a beautiful building and must have been gorgeous inside too.

The dedication of the space was held in 1891 and the building was completely finished in 1893. Temple Israel was a vital part of the German Jewish community in Bedford for another 20-some years. But by the 1920s, these wealthy congregants were beginning to move out of Brooklyn, either to Manhattan or to the suburbs, and those who remained were not enough to sustain the building.

In 1929, Temple Israel merged with K. K. Beth Elohim. The new congregation became Union Temple, with a new temple and community center at Grand Army Plaza.

1005 Bedford Ave, Temple Israel, Traf Ct, BPL 1

1946 Traffic Court via Brooklyn Public Library

This building was bought by the city and became Brooklyn’s Traffic Court. The interior was likely totally stripped down, then divided into a court room and myriad offices, cubicles, and payment counters. What a fall from glory, but at least it was adaptive reuse of a perfectly beautiful and functional building.

In 1946, a severe snowstorm wreaked havoc on parking, resulting in hundreds of tickets being issued. The Brooklyn Eagle captured several photographs of the building, with a line snaking around the corner. Had it not been for the storm, the building may not have been documented.

When Traffic Court was relocated downtown at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the building became the sometime-home for Bergen Tile, the same discount tile company that was located on Flatbush and Dean Street until last year. I can’t imagine.

1005 Bedford Ave, Temple Israel, Traf Ct, BPL 1943 3

1946 photograph via Brooklyn Public Library

Eventually — we don’t know the precise year — the Parfitts’ fine temple, one of their best buildings and the home of one of Brooklyn’s most influential Jewish congregations, was torn down.

According to PropertyShark, the building that currently sits on the lot was built in 1972, as nondescript a building as one could possibly be. It’s been a school, a health clinic and other social service offices.

From temple beauty to traffic court and tile company, the original building shall be mourned. But the site at least has returned to its religious roots: in 2008, it became the property of Yeshivas Bais Limudei Hashem.

1005 Bedford Ave, CB, PS

Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

1005 Bedford Ave, Temple Israel, Traf Ct, BPL 1943 2

1946 photo, Brooklyn Public Library

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