Walkabout: Crown Heights’ Consumers Park Brewery, Part 1

1905 Postcard.

(Brooklyn Eagle, June 1, 1900)

Read Part 2 of this story.

In 1908, when Charley Ebbets was looking around Brooklyn for a place to build his ballpark, he decided on an obscure part of town near Prospect Park that lay in between the neighborhoods of Flatbush and the St. Marks District. It was called Crow Hill, and was undeveloped, an ash dump, actually, with little going on except for a couple of rambling industrial complexes. One of these industrial groups was the Flatbush Hygeia Ice Company, at 984 Franklin Avenue, and the other was home to the Consumers Park Brewery; a complex of buildings that made the beverage that helped make Brooklyn: lager beer. For Charles Ebbets this was perfect, for what goes better than baseball and ice cold beer?

To be honest, the location of Ebbets Field had more to do with available land, transportation, and money, than beer, but it’s a very Brooklyn idea to think that a ball field was built a block away from a brewery because of the beer. Actually, when Ebbets Field opened, in 1913, there technically was no Consumers Park Brewery anymore. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

Consumers Park Brewery was the brainchild of a group of over two hundred hoteliers and saloon-keepers who wanted to have control over their own product, and fight the control they felt other breweries had over the prices and quality of their product. This large group was the first group of stockholders, and they chose hotel man Herman Raub to be their first president.

Raub was a German immigrant who came to New York at the age of fifteen. By the time he was twenty-three, he was owner of the Central Railroad Hotel, which stood opposite Grand Central Station. At the ripe old age of thirty, he was one of the organizers of Consumers, and was chosen to be the first president.

The brewery complex opened with much fanfare and bunting, on January 6, 1900. Not only did Consumers have a full sized brewery, they also had a hotel, called the Brick Hill, with a restaurant, as well as a beer-garden and concert facilities. By 1902, they had a new railroad station, as well, a stop on the Brighton Beach Line, called the Consumers Park Station. Passengers who used the station were treated to pathways and bridges that led them to through the brewery complex, or out to Washington Street, and the short walk to Prospect Park. The Botanic Gardens were not in existence then, although the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, now the Brooklyn Museum, was under construction.

New Yorkers love lager beer, and the many breweries of Bushwick and Williamsburg had been joined by new ventures in other parts of the borough, including large breweries in what is now Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. Besides the old Consumer’s complex, the largest remaining brewery complex in Crown Heights was the nearby Nassau Brewery, which was on Franklin Avenue, Bergen and Dean, only blocks from here and coincidentally also along the same old Brighton Line along Franklin Avenue.

Lager beers, unlike English ales and stouts, are crafted through the use of bottom-fermenting yeast. The process takes place in lower temperatures, and takes six to ten days. (Ales are top-fermentation beers, where the yeast rises to the top, and needs warmer temperatures to ferment. They take five to seven days to ferment.) What this means to beer production is that ice was a necessary component to lager brewing. The Flatbush Hygeia Ice Company was begun by a group of Bushwick brewers in 1898, and was built to control the production and collection of all important ice for the breweries. Like most commodities, ice was often a highly contested and competitive business. Having Hygeia right next door guaranteed Consumers an easy source for ice. The Hygeia factory once filled the entire lot that now is empty, next to the old Consumers’ buildings, on Franklin Avenue.

Consumers Park Brewery was also the recipient of that new invention – electricity. It is generally credited to be the first all-electric brewery in the United States. This not only helped the brewery, it helped the neighborhood, spurring development. Homes near the brewery were among the first in Brooklyn to benefit, being the first in the neighborhood to also be all-electric. Most of what we now call Crown Heights South, that area between Eastern Parkway and Empire Boulevard, began to develop rapidly, with rowhouses, single family homes and apartment buildings spreading south from Eastern Parkway.

Herman Raub was, as you can imagine by his resume, quite the go-getter. The brewery was certainly a bold and ambitious project, and it was enormously successful. In 1901, with the brewery just starting up, he placed an ad in the Brooklyn Eagle stating the 71,953 and 11/12 barrels of beer had already been sold. The brewery was still less than two years old, at that point. Raub was very active in the German community, as well, and sponsored many social activities involving food, dance, and of course, beer, some at Consumers, others in various other locations, mostly in Bushwick. His name became well-known about town, in part because Herman Raub knew how to throw a good party.

With all of this success, it’s not surprising that there would also be some tragedies, as well as setbacks. Consumers had both. Next time, more stories from Consumers Park Brewery, and the fate of the company and the buildings that housed it.

1905 Postcard.

Brooklyn Atlas, 1906-0907. New York Public Library.

The brewery today. Franklin Avenue. The Consumer’s name can just be made out in the white patch in the center.

The most picturesque Consumers Park Brewery building, next to the Franklin Ave. shuttle.

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