Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Mixed-use commercial and residential building
Address: 204 Livingston Street
Cross Streets: Smith and Hoyt streets
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Clarence R. Van Buskirk
Other works by architect: Ebbetts Field baseball stadium
The story: Before this building was constructed this address was taken up by a four-story row house, one of many built in the 1860s on this once-residential street.
Over the years following, most of these houses went from one-family homes to multi-family rooming houses. Many of them also lost their ground and parlor floors to storefronts.
Number 204 Livingston ceased being a one-family residence, but maintained its original configuration on the parlor level. In 1893, a charitable group called the Women’s Health Protective Association took over the floor as their headquarters.
The association’s members were resolute in getting government officials, as well as ordinary citizens, to follow laws designed to insure public health and cleanliness. They were well known for banging on politicians’ doors as well as for chiding street sweepers for failing to pick up litter.
The group used this location as their headquarters until they moved to larger quarters in 1899. Ten years later, the building was torn down, along with many others on this street.
One of the reasons boarding houses were so popular was that there was a large population of single men in Brooklyn, especially in the downtown area, who worked in lower Manhattan or downtown Brooklyn.
An entire white-collar workforce of male clerks and other workers lived downtown or in the Heights for the same reasons they do now – proximity to work, an easy commute and social amenities.
Developers saw this and erected buildings geared towards this market. This building was one of them. W. L. Cameron, a Manhattan developer, had 204 built along with a similar building on Fulton and Washington Streets. Both were designed by Clarence R. Van Buskirk, and built to be “bachelor’s flats.”
1914 photo (with name misspelled), Brooklyn Eagle
Van Buskirk was an interesting guy. He had degrees in both architecture and engineering, and spent the beginning of his career with the Bureau of Highways, where he held the position of assistant engineer.
He partnered with MIT-trained architect Alexander F. W. Leslie in 1911, with their pair sharing offices in the Brooklyn Eagle Building.
Van Buskirk & Leslie somehow got the job to design Ebbetts Field stadium for the Brooklyn Dodgers. That project was completed in 1913 to great acclaim. But the partnership did not survive, with Leslie suing Van Buskirk over who actually designed the stadium. Van Buskirk had taken the credit.
Unfortunately for Leslie, he died of a heart attack before the suit was settled. There is quite a story here, which will definitely become an upcoming Walkabout piece.
At any rate, the building was completed with a storefront space on the ground floor and two-room suites above. Today there are 14 apartments here, probably in the same configuration as in the original set up.
1911 ad in the Brooklyn Eagle
The apartments had a sitting room, bedroom, and small attached kitchenette. Each apartment also had a bathroom. Kitchen facilities were not seen as necessary for young men, as it was assumed they would eat out.
The first ads appeared in 1911, directed at young bachelors. The initial rent was $25 a month. But by the 1920s, young women were also renting here. Two of them were arrested for shoplifting at a Fulton Street department store in 1923.
1915 ad in the Brooklyn Eagle
The tenancy of the storefront changed over the years. In 1920, it was a restaurant. In 1947, it was home to Edgar’s Hairstylist Salon. Edgar billed himself in one of his ads as the “former coiffure artist to Hollywood stars!”
1947 ad in the Brooklyn Eagle
Edgar’s salon advertised in the Eagle from 1947 to 1951. Along the way, he remarketed himself as a “budget conscious salon,” with reduced prices. All of the department stores on Fulton Street had high-end salons, so perhaps he was trying to siphon of some of their business.
1951 ad in the Brooklyn Eagle
Today, the storefront is home to Bridge Cleaners. Longtime Brooklynites may remember their original location on Bridge Street, between Fulton and Willoughby. They’ve been in business a long time.
The building is well kept, and looks great. Hopefully it will survive Livingston’s inexorable march towards wall-to-wall massive apartment buildings. There’s already a building cantilevered over it.
Photo by Suzanne Spellen
Top photo by Suzanne Spellen