If coffee was a controlled substance, most of us would be addicts of the worst sort. Our national morning jones for caffeine has been the catalyst for fortune and failure over the centuries. Everyone loves a coffee shop, and most are welcomed into any neighborhood like a water fountain in the desert.
There have been countless arguments, discussions and even culinary classes about the world’s best coffee — how to grow the beans, roast them, package them and brew them. Our stores are full of different devices that do whatever we need to get us our fixes.
Although many people, especially in upscale urban and suburban communities, swear by their special blends, their small batch, artisanal and exotic coffees, most of the coffee brewed in America comes from a few large companies that supply supermarkets and restaurants across the nation.
The Arbuckle Brothers, working out of Brooklyn, were one the coffee giants of the 19th and early 20th centuries. They roasted and packaged the first popular coffee brand, called Ariosa, and created Yuban coffee, a brand still on the market after 150-plus years.
A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
By 1880, Bay Ridge was developing as one of Brooklyn’s premier suburban neighborhoods. Its greatest asset was that wonderful view of New York Bay and the Narrows — close to New Jersey, while simultaneously tied to Downtown Brooklyn and on to Manhattan by trolleys, roads and ferries.
Many of Brooklyn’s moneyed folk were looking to Shore Road as a grand location for second homes. The largest of these homes was owned by Henry Murphy, a lawyer, past mayor of Brooklyn, Congressman, U.S. Ambassador to The Hague and one of the most influential voices in advocating the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Who doesn’t love this colorful, perfectly sized and proportioned Victorian Flatbush house? It is one of many built by developer and architect T.B. Ackerson in suburban Flatbush.
Name: Single-family detached wood-frame house
Address: 317 Rugby Road
Cross Streets: Beverley and Cortelyou roads
Neighborhood: Beverley Square West (part of Victorian Flatbush)
Year Built: 1902
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Thomas Benton Ackerson
Other works by architect: Almost all of the houses in Beverley Square West, as well as houses in Beverley Square East and Fiske Terrace
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed and long-overdue Victorian Flatbush Historic District
Although parts of the suburban neighborhoods we collectively call Victorian Flatbush are landmarked, there are large parts that are not. Many of them contain exceptionally fine residential architecture; some designed by and built by the same men who created their landmarked neighbors.
Efforts are still underway to petition the LPC to protect these neighborhoods, all of which contain homes that have already been torn down for new construction, or architecturally re-muddled beyond recognition.
None of the neighborhoods in Victorian Flatbush developed on their own, or without plan. All had the guiding hand of a visionary planner and developer. They built for profit, but they also wanted to create beautiful neighborhoods that would be their legacy. All succeeded.
Edward Reiss was a larger-than-life Brooklyn character in the early 20th century who often took matters into his own hands when a situation wasn’t to his liking. Our story today concerns his use of a racist power play to get his way in a feud with a developer.
Reiss was the owner of the Marine Wrecking Company, a very successful salvage company that plied the waters around New York City and the surrounding states, towing in damaged and abandoned craft, and salvaging underwater wrecks.
His name was frequently in the papers after 1910 for his yachting activities. A member of the Park Slope Civic Association, he was one of the Slope’s most aggressive and ardent boosters. When his plans to erect a statue in the area didn’t come to fruition, he was disappointed, but by 1915 he had more immediate problems. A developer was building a six-story apartment building right next door to him.
Edward Reiss and His Neighborhood
Reiss and his wife Jennie lived on the upper edges of Park Slope, in a rather modest row house at 461 15th Street. They were the first owners of this house, which was the lead in a group of four two-family houses built by architect Benjamin F. Hudson and developer Morris Levy in 1909.
The papers referred to the house as a “mansion in a highly desirable neighborhood,” which suggests Reiss may have made some serious upgrades to the home. But after four years of domestic bliss, the building became ground zero for a major feud.
It’s School Week here on Brownstoner — a series of posts celebrating the start of the school year.
It costs a lot to build a building, so people have always repurposed buildings whenever possible and tailored them to fit their needs. Today we’re looking at buildings that had a different function before becoming a school, or were built as schools and have now been put to another use. Just as the P.S. 9 Annex became apartments, one should never let a good school go to waste.
It’s School Week here on Brownstoner. Stay tuned to check out more school-themed stories.
I was asked to pick my favorite school building for this series of school posts. Of course, I have to go with Boys High School. It’s a masterpiece. Filmmakers think so too — the school’s been used as a setting for at least two major productions.
Name: Boys High School
Address: 832 Marcy Avenue
Cross Streets: Putnam Avenue and Madison Street
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1891, with additions 1905-1910
Architectural Style: Richardsonian Romanesque Revival
Architect: James W. Naughton, additions by C.B.J. Snyder
Other works by architect: Girls High School (Bed Stuy), P.S. 9 Annex (Prospect Heights), P.S. 107 (Park Slope); Snyder: Erasmus High School (Flatbush); John Jay High School (Park Slope); for both, many, many others
Landmarked: Yes, individually landmarked (1975); National Register (1982)
Brooklyn, as an independent city, led the metropolitan area in public education. Educators had long felt that public schooling beyond elementary school was necessary for an educated populace and workforce.
In 1885, the first high school in New York City, Girls High School, opened nearby on Nostrand Avenue. Originally planned to hold both boys and girls, it was too small for both before the doors even opened. The boys had to wait until September of 1892, when this school was completed.
James W. Naughton, who was Superintendent of Buildings for the Board of Education of the City of Brooklyn (put that title on your door), held his office from 1879-98.
During that time, this Irish-born, Cooper Union–trained architect was the sole architect for more than 100 schools built during his tenure. He was active right at the peak of Brooklyn’s ascendency as one of America’s finest fast-growing cities.
A Majestic School Worthy of a City on the Rise
By the mid 1880s, the Romanesque Revival architecture style was seen as a fitting style of architecture for important civic, commercial and residential buildings in America.
The style had complex massing of shapes and textures, soaring arches and ornamental elements, all perfect for showing off in a spectacular way.
In the 1890s in Brooklyn, the fire headquarters, post office, Eagle Warehouse, Germania Club, Alhambra Apartments, Hulbert, Behr and Schieren houses, and many more were designed in the Romanesque Revival style. But the Boys High School would top them all.
New York City was home to the first Labor Day parade and rally. The year was 1882 and the place was Union Square, at that time the heart of Manhattan. We’ve been celebrating the American worker with a special day for 133 years.
In ways great and small, the 1880s through the turn of the 20th century were a great deal like today.
Technology was advancing in great leaps — visionaries and clever inventors were coming up with new products, while others were taking those products and improving on them even more.
The Victorians saw consumer goods rolling out of factories, everything from furniture to clothing to clocks. No longer made by artisans, factory-made goods were plentiful and everywhere at any price point. The highest echelon of capitalists and big business concerns saw profits that were unimaginable before. A large middle class emerged, able to buy big and spend more money than ever.
Life as a 19th-Century Worker
An even larger working class made everything, in factories big and small. They performed manual labor and worked in the lowest-paying service jobs. They worked as skilled and unskilled labor and they worked really hard.
Most workers of the time worked six days a week, 10 or 12 hours a day, 52 weeks a year. Sunday was the only recognized day off.
There were no paid vacations, no sick days, very few breaks during a day, no such thing as a weekend, and they worked most holidays, taking off only Christmas and perhaps Thanksgiving and one other holiday, if they had a munificent boss.
The pay was low — barely a living wage — and conditions in most factories and workplaces were horrible. Children who worked in the factories were even worse off than the adults.
These conditions were not unique or new to the 1880s, and neither was a nascent labor movement.
A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
If you’ve ever restored an old house and come upon 19th- or early-20th-century wallpaper, it could have been made by the Robert Graves Company of Brooklyn.
Between 1843 and 1929, the Robert Graves Company produced some of the metropolitan area’s finest wall coverings. It did it all: one-of-a-kind commissions and limited editions for interior decorators, as well as more modest mass-produced papers for middle-class homes.
Robert Graves was born in Ireland. Unlike many of his fellow Irish immigrants, he did not arrive on our shores with nothing. His father, Sir William Graves, was a well known artist. Robert came to America as a successful wallpaper manufacturer.
Brooklyn, one building at a time.
This double-sized, semi-detached mansion is one of the few remaining in Fort Greene. For all its one-time splendor, it didn’t remain a single family home for long.
Name: Abram Quereau mansion
Address: 7-11 South Portland Avenue
Cross Streets: DeKalb and Lafayette avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1876
Architectural Style: Transitional French Empire/Neo-Grec
Architect: Horace Moody (builder)
Other buildings by architect: Moody also built the mansion next door, at 1 South Portland Avenue
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene Historic District (1978)
Neo-Grec Body With Grand French Flair
This large 30 foot wide brownstone mansion was built in the popular French Empire style, with a tall mansard roof. This was paired with a Neo-Grec body, very similar to the neighboring row houses. The entryway is also similar to neighboring houses, so much so that if one is not paying attention, it’s easy to miss how large and grand this house really is.
Considering the size of the house, the lot is actually not that big, with only a side lot, and no back yard, as a rear extension on the house widens the back, allowing for extra light and extra room. Large quoins decorate the open side, with the motif repeated in the full width extension.
The parlor floor features full length windows. All of the windows have pediments or hoods supported by paired brackets. The center entryway has a round arched entryway with a large hooded pediment supported by incised Neo-Grec brackets. The house also has its original railings and newel posts.
Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row houses
Address: 1173-1179 Bushwick Avenue
Cross Streets: Cornelia Street and Jefferson Avenue
Year Built: 1880
Architectural Style: Transitional Italianate/Neo-Grec
Architect: Thomas F. Houghton
Other works by architect: St. Agnes Catholic Church and school, Carroll Gardens; Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, Stuyvesant Heights; St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Park Slope. Also row houses and other buildings in Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights North, and elsewhere
The story: At first glance, these transitional Italianate and Neo-Grec homes are just another group of four modest brownstones. But here, as in all of his work, architect Thomas Houghton created beauty in the details.
These four houses were designed by one of the East Coast’s premiere Catholic Church architects, best known for his churches here in Brooklyn, Manhattan and in Massachusetts.
Houghton learned from the best of the best, Patrick Keely, and became part of the family by marrying the boss’s daughter.