Walkabout: Consumers Park Brewery, Part 2

(Consumers Park Brewery souvenir tray. Photo: trayman.net)

Read Part 1 of this story.

Imagine, if you will, getting off the Brighton Line at the Consumers Park Station, in 1905, located at the edge of Flatbush, in what is now Crown Heights South. The station and tracks are cut below grade, so you would climb the stairs and then be surrounded by the pathways and lanes that led through the brewery complex, and out to Franklin Avenue. There would be rest stops and benches, surrounded by trees and flowering plants, and if you continued walking, you would come to a restaurant and beer garden, where you could stop for a bite to eat and a pint of cold foamy lager. If you were a tourist, or on a business trip, the Brick Hill Hotel awaited you just across the street from the brewery, on the Washington Avenue side, where, no doubt, you would be able to quaff another pint, as the hotel was owned by Consumers Park Brewery. It was a theme park of beer. And it was very successful, with much of the credit going to Consumers’ president, thirty-five year old Herman Raub.

Consumers Park Brewery was founded in 1900 by hoteliers and saloon-keepers as their own brewery, where they could control their products and prices. With a built-in market in place, the brewery was immediately a success, and with Raub’s addition of amenities, it became a popular destination. The story of those beginning years was told in Part One. But like all large industrial endeavors, Consumers Park would have tragedies and mishaps, with fires, accidents and loss of life. Both of Consumer’s worst tragedies struck early in its history, both in June of 1901.

On June 11th, a horrible wagon accident took place in which one child was killed and another’s life hung by a thread. It was no one’s fault. Consumers’ employee Albert Mausbaumer was driving his wagon loaded with bags of cerealine; a wheat product that the brewers called “grits”, essential in beer production. As he rode down Prospect Place towards the brewery, one of the bags fell off the wagon and burst open. Passers-by hailed him, and he stopped to retrieve the bag. When he stopped, children of all ages rushed into the streets to help him pick up the grits, carefully placing small handfuls of wheat back into the bag. After getting as much as he could, he reloaded the wagon, and told the children to back away, and Mausbaumer signaled his horses to advance.

Unfortunately, two small children, six year old Edward Bammerman, and his friend, five year old William Lyons, ran under the wagon to pick up more cerealine that had escaped everyone’s attention. The boys lived directly across the street from each other, and were inseparable. Too young to realize where they were, and having run under the wagon when Mausbaumer’s back was turned, when the horses began moving, they were knocked under the wheels, and were crushed by the wagon. Mausbaumer didn’t even know he had hit anyone until the screams began.

The Bammerman boy had a crushed skull, and he died soon after arriving at nearby St. John’s Hospital. The wheel of the wagon had crushed the Lyons boy’s arm and both hands. Doctors said they would have to amputate one arm as well as the other hand, in order to save his life. He was expected to survive, however. The accident happened near the corner of Washington Avenue and Prospect Place. The driver, Albert Mausbaumer, was so distraught that he immediately turned himself in to the police station a block away. He was soon bailed out by Herman Raub himself. The case went to court and was deemed a tragic accident with no one to blame. It was truly a local tragedy.

Only two weeks later, Consumers saw another disaster at its doors. The breweries used wooden barrels to store and ship their beer. In order to keep those barrels watertight, they were coated in pitch on the inside. The tarry substance was applied in the pitch house, where large cauldrons of the stuff were boiling at all times. The pitch house was located near the Brighton Beach line railroad tracks. On June 29th, the pitch boiled over and set the pitch house on fire. The fire soon spread to the storage room for the barrels, a large room that was also used for social functions. It was feared that the fire could jump the railroad tracks and travel up to Washington Avenue and the Brick Hill Hotel.

Frank Raub was at the brewery, checking on the last load of beer going out for the day, when the fire alarm sounded. The brewery didn’t have its own fire alarm, so he had to run down the street to Malbone Street, now Empire Blvd, in order to sound the alarm. A fire marshal named Brymer was nearby as well, just passing by, and he too, tried to rouse the police and fire department. Soon companies from Flatbush and central Brooklyn were on the scene, and in half an hour, the fire was out.

The streets had to be cordoned off, and the Brighton Line was suspended both ways for several hours. The brewery had released all of their horses, and moved their wagons out from the area, and after the fire was brought under control, they had to be rounded up again, but fortunately no one and no animals were hurt.

The worst scare came to the engineer and passengers of the Brighton Line, as the heat from the fire snapped a trolley wire overhead, sending the live wire snaking and weaving on the tracks. The engineer couldn’t see with the heavy smoke in the area, and when he hit the downed line, it sent a shock through the cars and the passengers, which fortunately was not strong enough to actually hurt anyone. The train passed on through and out of the area, and the line was shut down right afterwards.

The area surrounding the brewery wasn’t all hotels and nice residences, most of it was still shantytown, with poor Irish, Italian and black residents living in small wooden shacks, and it was called Crow Hill for less than complimentary reasons. The area near the brewery was Irish, and the fire caused great fear and panic in the community, which rallied to their own defense by setting up bucket brigades to soak the roofs of the homes. It might be added that the Brooklyn Eagle, which was the source for this story, was less than complimentary towards the very poor Irish residents. The fire was put out, and in the end, there was only minimal damage to the actual brewery, and business continued.

In 1907, Herbert Raub lost the confidence of his board, and in an ugly power struggle, was forced out. He went back to his hotel business, probably a disappointed man. Having achieved great personal and business successes early in life, Herman Raub continued to burn fiercely and fast, dying very young, only forty-six when he died in 1915. Two years before, in 1913, Consumers merged with the New York and Brooklyn Brewing Company, and became the Interboro Brewing Company. If you visit the site now, the large smokestack with “Interboro” laid into the brick still rises above the complex. The brewery stayed in business until the 1920s, when Prohibition killed it.

This part of the old Brighton Line would become infamous for the Malbone Street Disaster, the Brooklyn Rapid Transit train wreck that killed over 100 people, in 1918, and caused the name change of Malbone Street forever. The line eventually became part of the BMT line, and then, scarcely used, became part of the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. The Consumers station was shut down, and the platform was removed. If you look at the tracks from the bridge, you can see where the old station was, attached to the most interesting and attractive building in the complex, a fanciful Gothic style factory building right at the track’s edge. The faded remnants of the Interboro advertising can still be glimpsed on the side of the building.

After the brewery closed, the complex became the Daisy Mattress Factory, with a faded advertisement for them still remaining on top of the brewery. In 1955, the complex passed on to the Morris J. Golombeck Spice Company, which has been in business since 1931. This multi-generational family business sells wholesale and bulk spices from this huge space. They store tons of spices, including all kinds of peppers, nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, salt and any other spice you can imagine. To walk by the factory when they are working is to step into a sensory overload of spice, like being in a Middle Eastern spice market of old. The Golombeck’s not only store spices for bulk sale, they also manufacture, blend and grind spices. It’s a fascinating business, and much more information can be read on the I Love Franklin Avenue blog, which did an excellent story on the complex and the Golombeck’s.

As for the old Consumers site, most of the buildings still stand. The Golombeck’s use the main brewery building, and a look down the enclosed entryway to the factory entrance shows a classic 19th century factory loading dock, now loaded with bags of spice, not beer. The smokestack still rises high in the center of the complex. The most striking building, that Gothic Revival style building with the fanciful gables and dormers seems to be abandoned, but this is the building most people notice. Crown Heights grew up around the complex, first with Ebbets Field only a block away, then the apartment buildings of the Ebbets Field Houses replacing the old ballfield. Other apartment buildings and a whole neighborhood have grown up around the brewery, hiding it from all but the curious who seek it out. It’s one of the last remaining brewery complexes around. Go take a look, there’s a lot of history there. And it smells great! GMAP

Brewery in 1915.

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