Fulton Mall’s Store-ied Past

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A. I. Namm & Son and the Offerman Building, two not-quite-lost names from Fulton Mall’s past.

 

With all the office and residential new construction that has taken and is taking place in downtown Brooklyn in the past two decades, we’re wondering if it’s time to restore Fulton Mall to its past glory as Brooklyn’s equivalent to Manhattan’s Ladies Mile. Dozens of residential buildings have risen above the mall, on Willoughby and Livingston Streets, and all along Flatbush Avenue from the Manhattan Bridge to the Barclays Center at Fifth Avenue. Others are on the rise, and more, including two mega risers, are coming at 80 Flatbush Avenue, 138 Willoughby Avenue, and 9 DeKalb Avenue, on Fulton Mall behind and rising way above the famous dome of the Dime Savings Bank building.

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Liebmann Brothers had this building erected for their store in 1888. The old A&S store, now Macy’s, wraps around it in the background.

With all these residential apartments a stone’s throw from the mall, there has been a big uptick in national chain stores moving onto strip, including the Gap, H&M, Banana Republic, Nordstrom’s, Adidas, and more. We’d like to see more large, upscale department stores to complement the newly renovated Macy’s store there. This might be a pipe dream, but the fact is that, beginning in the 1890s or so and lasting into the 1970s, Fulton Street from City Hall to Flatbush Avenue was full of department stores and large dry goods companies, theatres, and restaurants.

As few Brooklynites need to be told, Macy’s does business out of the former Abraham and Straus department store. A&S evolved from a dry goods store, Wechsler & Abraham, that began in 1865 and operated in the old commercial district in and around Adams, Tillery, and Washington Streets. The company moved to the Fulton Street location when the Brooklyn Bridge opened, and it soon became the largest store in New York State. The Straus name came in 1892, when brothers Isidor and Nathan bought out Wechsler’s interest. A&S remained an anchor of the strip until 1995, when its (and Macy’s) long-time parent Federated Department Stores retired the Abraham & Strauss nameplate and made it a Macy’s. A&S was of a class equal to Macy’s, and outlasted all its competitors on Fulton Street, including Spear’s, Loeser’s, Korvettes, Oppenheim & Collins, Liebmann Brothers, and others.

Former Namms Bldg, Dwarfed

When this building went up for A. I. Namm and Son, it was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. Today, it’s dwarfed by the many condo buildings going up all over the area, one of which rises behind it here.

The lot where Cookies Department Store is today, on Fulton Street between Bond Street and Hanover Place, has a history of large commercial enterprise, beginning in 1895 with the opening of the New Montauk Theater, which presented live shows from Broadway as well as original productions. It was demolished in 1925, and the new three-story building built there became the home of the Spear & Co. furniture store (1928 until the mid-1950s), one of the early innovators of allowing customers to buying furniture “on time.” It then became and remained a May’s department store into the 1980s.

Witness to many of those changes was the Loeser Department Store across Bond Street, which took up the entire block between Bond and Elm Streets and from Fulton to Livingston Streets from the 1890s until 1950. Loeser’s operated several stores, all in Brooklyn, but the Fulton Street location was the flagship. In the late 1930s a concourse was built in the subway station at Hoyt-Schermerhorn station that connected the station and Loeser’s, a block away at Livingston Street. Take a walk eastward along that concourse today and you’ll see large wall tiles with the Loeser logo, a “memorial” of sorts to the department store.

The Offerman Building

The Offerman Building across Fulton Street from Macy’s once again is home to major retail names.

Liebmann Brothers for a short time sat at the corner of Hoyt Street, near A&S. Originally a partner of Loeser when located in the old shopping district near Adams and Tillery Streets, Liebmann’s moved to Fulton Street in 1890. They closed shop before the end of the decade.

One of the most successful stores on the strip was that of A. I. Namm, who had moved from Manhattan to the corner of Fulton and Washington Streets in 1885 and then, after a fire, to 452 Fulton Street. Selling trimmings and embroidery supplies, floor coverings and such, the company grew and grew, eventually taking over virtually the entire block from Elm to Hoyt Streets and Fulton to Livingston Streets. By the 1920s it was one of the largest departments stores in the country. It redesigned its space into one large building in 1924-1925. The new store included an entrance to the subway and was one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. Today, it is miniscule compared to the condos towering above it. Namm’s remained successful into the 1950s, eventually buying the Loeser store name. The Fulton Street store closed 1957, but if you look closely, you can still see the name inscribed in ninety years of grime on its façade.

Further down Fulton Street, at Lawrence Street, is another former department store building. Now home to the Children’s Place, Dr Jay’s, and Banana Republic, this once housed the Oppenheim Collins department store. Oppenheim and Collins had both been major players at A&S before leaving to start their own ladies clothing business. At its zenith, the company had stores in and around Brooklyn, Manhattan, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Maryland.

Dime Savings Bank

Possibly the most iconic building on the mall, the domed Dime Savings Bank building, will be the lobby for a 786-foot tower being built behind it. Note the cranes in place on the left.

The company was sold to City Stores and was eventually folded into the Franklin Simon brand. City Stores went under in 1979. By that time, the Fulton Mall store had been occupied for years by another retail chain, the discounters E.J. Korvette’s, which went out the same year. Walk pat the building today and you can still see the company’s logo at the top of the rounded corner of the building.

More successful was Martin’s, a specialty shop for women’s clothes and bridal gowns, which moved from the corner of Bridge Street into the Offerman Building across Fulton Street from A&S in 1924 and stayed until 1979, a key year, it seems, in the history of Fulton Street’s department store history. The company at its peak had six stores in the New York area.

Forty years later, Brooklyn’s renaissance has brought thousands of new residential units to downtown Brooklyn, and a flock of retail chains are following. We shop online now, and so the age of the giant department store will probably never return, but it’s great to see Fulton Street thriving as it always seems to, but with a bit more pizzazz today than during those intervening years.

 


Where in the World is Dennett (Dennet?) Place?

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Brooklyn’s Dennett Place is just one block long, and the treeless street                     is not much more than an alley.

 

One of the major ongoing controversies that embroil Brooklyn is the battle over how to spell Dennett, the name of one of the borough’s most fascinating streets, Dennet Place. Okay, maybe the controversy isn’t so major, but there is a question there. But, the first question to be answered is, where in the world is Dennett Place? This one-block long, treeless street lies near the southern end of Carroll Gardens, running from Luquer Street to Nelson Street between Court and Smith Streets.

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The houses on Dennett Place are all approximately 18 feet wide x 28 feet deep.

Not much more than an alley, Dennet Place is lined with tiny two-family homes with tiny garden-level apartment doors that almost any adult would have to bend over to go through. The houses are all about 18 x 28 feet with a rear yard of another 17 feet or so. That’s small enough to qualify as quaint, we think.

These homes date to the mid-to-late nineteenth century, possibly to the 1850s. The general feeling is they might have been built to house workers who were building the nearby St. Mary Star of the Sea R.C. Church, which opened around 1855. Then, you could rent a Dennett Place house for $9.00 per month. Today, you can buy one for between $1.5 and $2 million.

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So, which is it? Current signs use the two-t spelling.

On most maps, this street is called Dennett Place, but some call it Dennet Place (which is why we alternated our spelling above). Complicating things more, some nineteenth century maps exist that refer to it as Bennett Place. A 2012 article in the New York Times spells it with a single “t,” and in our memory there was a street sign on a corner building there that read Dennet Place. Go to there today and the street signs say Dennett Place, which, right or wrong, is good enough for us to use that spelling. There is no record of where the name came from, so there’s no place to get a confirmation.

The other quirky aspect of Dennett Place is the series of small doors on the street-facing side of the stoops. The lane is narrow, as we’ve said, and the sidewalks are, too. The homes consist of a lower-level garden apartment and an upper-level duplex, reached from the street by a stoop. That’s typical of Brownstone Brooklyn, but usually, the stoops are built to rise straight in from the street, and the garden-level apartment is accessed by a door under the stoop. On Dennett Place, however, because the sidewalks are so narrow, the stoops were built to rise across the face of each property rather than straight in from the street, and the doors to the lower apartments go straight in from the street under the stoops. Because the height of the stoops here is less than on other blocks, the under-stoop entrances had to be built to fit, which is pretty small. We’ve never had the opportunity to see into an open stoop door, but we assume there are steps leading down to the garden-level apartment.

The block is very well kept, the buildings mostly spotlessly clean and recently painted. In one of the most popular and posh neighborhoods in the borough, even many residents are unaware of Dennett Place. It is truly one of a kind in a borough filled with off-the-beaten-path gems. Should you come to Brooklyn to see them, Dennett Place must be near the top of your list.

 

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Dennett Place’s most interesting feature is the series of tiny, under-the-stoop doors that provide access to the garden-level apartments. They’re only about four and one-half feet high.

 


 

Nitehawk Park Slope is OPEN!

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The Nitehawk Park Slope is now open!

 

A few months ago, we wrote about the conversion of the old Sanders Theater on Bartel-Pritchard Square to a second venue for the owners of Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Theater. Just before Christmas, while you were busy Christmas Shopping and might have missed the news, the new Nitehawk Park Slope theater opened. The movies are back on Prospect Park West!

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At the bar in the first-floor lobby, you can buy tickets and drinks.

And not just movies. The Nitehawk complex has six theaters and first-floor lobby and second-floor bars where you can grab something to take into the theater with you. Above the second-floor bar is a mezzanine with tables to sit and chill before, during, or after any showing. The first-floor bar is where you can buy tickets for any show, though many were sold out when we went. We’d bought our tickets earlier, online, at https://nitehawkcinema.com/prospectpark/. At the theater, we stepped up to one of the ticket kiosks where you can print out the tickets you’ve pre-ordered. You can punch in your order number or use the Q4 code reader and the tickets print in an instant.

chill area

On the mezzanine above the second-floor bar is a seating area for eating, drinking, or just chilling.

The theaters are scattered across four or five levels. You can make the hike up, and there is an Elevator for the upper floors if you prefer to ride. Once in the theater, you’ll immediately notice that there is a small table between each double seat

and a menu on the table. You can order food and drinks to enjoy during the movie presentation, and as you’d expect, the menu is flush with healthy and even vegan options along with burgers and popcorn. Try a Mary Poppins Lamplighter’s Lunch (Pork beef and currant meatloaf), or the Aquaman Surface vs. Sea (Duo Slider, beef and shrimp). There’s lighter fare, as well, including cheese plates, hummus, queso, homemade jerky, and classic popcorn. On weekends, a brunch menu and a kid’s menu are included. Drinks are water, soda, beer, wine, Nitehawk signature cocktails with names like Barry Lindon, Fire Walk with Me, and Goonies Never Say Die, and a full lineup of whiskeys, scotches, rum, gin, and liqueurs. There’s something for everybody. We had the kale salad, and it was excellent.

food tables

The small tables between seat pairs holds a menu and paper to write your order.

If you’re not ready for the bar, there’s plenty to watch in the theaters before the feature starts, with screenings showing the conversion of the theater, old footage of TV shows and commercials, and a great admonishment reel featuring John Waters telling us we’re not allowed to smoke in the theater while encouraging us to do exactly that.

Having a drink and food during your show is a great addition to the movie-going experience, and when you order your ticket online, you can click the Dine and Dash option and everything you order, including the tip, will be charged to the card you purchased the ticket with, so you don’t have to wait around to settle up with your server when the show’s over. Just get up and go. That’s a sweet service.

Yes, the Nitehawk is open and the movies are back in Park Slope, and like never before! We encourage you to go.

 

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                            The newly renovated Nitehawk Theater on Bartel-Pritchard Square,                           15th Street and Prospect Park West.

 


 

Pioneer Works

Pioneer Works Lead

 

There are so many reasons to love Red Hook: The waterfront, the many old warehouse buildings, now housing great modern shops and manufacturing companies such as German Kitchen Center

, the Red Hook Winery, Scanlon Glass, Steve’s Key Lime Pie, and Fairway, as well as more modern constructions like IKEA; the quaint nineteenth-century row houses along the narrow streets and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at Atlantic Basin; and the baseball and soccer fields and the large public pool at the Sol Goldman Rec Center. There are also many arts and community organizations, both commercial and non-profit, that attract visitors from all over the metro area. These include the Waterfront Museum Barge, The Brooklyn Waterfront Artist’s Coalition Gallery, and Added Value Farms.

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A group listening to an artist talk about his work at the Potoprens exhibit at Pioneer Works, September 2018.

One of the larger of the arts organizations is Pioneer Works, located in a former Ironwork factory at 159 Pioneer Street, at the foot of Imlay Street  between Van Brunt and Conover Streets. Pioneer Works is a cultural center “dedicated to experimentation, education, and production across disciplines. Through a broad range of educational programs, performances, residencies, and exhibitions, Pioneer Works transcends disciplinary boundaries to foster a community where alternative modes of thought are activated and supported.” In plainer English, the organization’s goal is “to make culture accessible to all.”

One of the ways it does that is through its Second Sundays events. Second Sundays is a free event series which provides the public free access to tour the space, visit the studios of current resident artists, and view the current exhibitions. There is live music, and the organization’s program leaders give hands-on demonstrations and programs in art, education, science, and technology.

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One of the twenty artists exhibiting work at the Potoprens show talks about his work.

The center offers classes in each of its different focuses, i.e., art, science, technology, and music. Many classes relate to the current exhibitions. Admission is free, though a reservation is required. A link to order a free ticket is on the page of each program, class, or talk.

Scientific Controversies (Sci Con) is a series of conversations between scientists on unsolved quandaries, hosted by Director of Sciences Janna Levin. Conversations can be on any scientific riddle, such as Swarm Intelligence, String Theory, Black Holes, or Dark Matter.

One of the more well-known events sponsored by Pioneer Works is the annual Red Hook Regatta, in which homemade boats race along the Red Hook waterfront in New York Harbor.  The 2018 regatta, the fourth annual, takes place on September 28th. The race features two classes of boats, 3-D printed boats and general do-it-yourself boats. All boats must fit in a 2′ x 2′ x 2′ box. Electronic controllers are provided by Pioneers Works. Registration and controller-kit pickup ends on September 9th.  Full rules are here. Spectators can watch from Valentino Park pier from 1:00-5:00 p.m. The event is free, and there is catered food available (not free) and live entertainment during a half-time break.

Visit the center’s Web site for a complete list of current goings on.

Some History

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A picture of one of the steamrollers made at the Pioneer Iron Works near the close of  the 19th century. The building is now the home of the Pioneer Works cultural center.

The original Pioneer Iron Works factory opened by circa 1866 on Williams Street at the foot of Imlay Street, under the ownership of Alexander Bass. Ten years later the company was a leading manufacturer of tar kettles and steamrollers for road construction, and sugar production machinery and “temporary railroads,” the latter two products sold to companies in Cuba to be used on sugar plantations. The factory suffered two devastating fires, one in 1881 and one in 1906 but was rebuilt each time. The company closed in the mid-1940s, about the same time as the end of World War II, and the building was used for some time after as a storage facility for the Time Moving Company.

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Map detail from 1903 showing both William and Pioneer as the names of the street where the Pioneer Iron Works was.

William Street was renamed Pioneer Street around the turn of the twentieth Century. Maps from 1898 have the way named William Street. By 1903, both names, William and Pioneer, are used as the name. Eventually, William was dropped completely.

We’re repeat visitors to the center and to  Second Sundays, and can say it’s well worth a stop-by any time you’re in Red Hook, which we think should be fairly often.

Pioneer Works, 159 Pioneer Street
Hours: Thurs – Sun, 2 – 7      Admission: FREE!

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Where’s the Hill in Boerum Hill?

Atlantic Shops Strip

Boerum Hill offers many boutique shops of all kinds along Atlantic Avenue.

 

Boerum Hill might be Brooklyn’s most quietly popular neighborhood. For decades it was considered a great place to avoid at all costs, and even today many people raise their eyebrows at the area’s mention. For those who have taken the plunge and moved here it is a calm oasis of city living, a peaceful alternative to the more hectic pace associated with the its surrounding neighbors: Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Downtown Brooklyn.

The neighborhood is bounded by Schermerhorn Street on the north, angling down Flatbush Avenue and Fourth Avenue on the east, Warren Street on the south, and Smith Street on the West. Most of the residential streets are lined with one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses dating from the mid nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries. In addition, there are two mid-rise housing projects built after World War II and a raft of new condo buildings along or near Fourth Avenue on the East side of the nabe. It is consistently in the top five on lists of the most expensive neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

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Many of the buildings in the area are landmarked, and these storefronts provide a taste of what the neighborhood was like fifty or more years ago.

Location is everything, and Boerum Hill is perfectly situated near shopping, dining, entertainment, and transportation. There are stylish storefronts all along Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Nevins Streets; Smith Street is lined with restaurants and watering holes, as well has having a variety of clothing stores and delis; Fulton Mall is just above Boerum Place in Downtown; and the Barclays Center, BAM, and the Fort Greene cultural district are just across Flatbush Avenue. At that same location is Atlantic Terminal, with a full-scale shopping mall and the Long Island Railroad’s Brooklyn terminal and MTA subway hub for the B,D,N,Q, and R trains. The A, C, and G trains are at Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street, and the F and G are at Bergen and Smith Streets.

When the Dutch first arrived in the Boerum Hill area it was populated by the Lenape and Merechewick [spelling varies with sources] Indians. The area was eventually divided into parcels with Dutch owners with now-familiar names such as Bergen, Van Brunt, Cortelyou, Rapelje, and Boerum. England took over new Amsterdam in 1664, but the Dutch families in Brooklyn remained as citizens and landowners in the now English colony of New York. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the area had been further subdivided, but remained mostly farms and mills. During the revolution there was heavy fighting all around the area, in Park Slope Bed-Stuy, Gowanus, and Brooklyn Heights, but other than troops passing through or manning fortifications, not much happened in what’s now Boerum Hill. The nineteenth century was the major period of development throughout the northern half of Brooklyn, with the grid laid out, streets named—many carrying the monikers of those Dutch settlers–and today’s housing stock erected. The area became a magnet for immigrants, and waves of German, Irish, and Italians came into the neighborhood from the 1850s through the first half of the twentieth century.

The 1900s saw the rise of New York’s steel-and-stone skyscrapers, including the iconic Woolworth, Chrysler, and Empire State Buildings. A number of the ironworkers on these buildings were Mohawk Indians from Canada, who were adept at traversing through the steel-beam superstructures high above ground. A large contingent of Caughnawaga Mohawks lived in Boerum Hill during that time, concentrated between Smith and Nevins Streets from Bergen to Schermerhorn Streets. The Mohawk population grew so large that the local stores began carrying products specifically for them, including grains and ales from the Caughnawagas’ home in Canada, and the Cuyler Presbyterian Church held services in the Mohawks’ dialect. This enclave became known as Little Caughnawaga. There are descendants of these workers living in the area today, and, tangentially to our focus, Mohawk Indians still work in the ironwork industry, including being active in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center after the September 11th attack.

All this interesting Boerum Hill history, it has to be noted, didn’t happen in Boerum Hill. The neighborhood is named for the Dutch settler Simon Boerum, who at one time owned much of the land in the area. We’ve heard that back then there was some sort of rise near what is now Carroll Park (in Carroll Gardens) called Boerum’s Hill, but the Boerum Hill name wasn’t applied to the current neighborhood until the 1960s. Until then this section was part of what was generally known as South Brooklyn; in the 1800s, residents called it North Gowanus, and in colonial times the eastern end was a wet, marshy section of the Gowanus creek waterway. There was never a hill here.

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The residences in Boerum Hill are mostly one-to-four-family brick or brownstone row houses, many with decorative railings, on tree-lined street .

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

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The Erie Grain Terminal, on Gowanus Bay’s Henry Street Basin.

Despite all the major construction going on in downtown Brooklyn, Williamsburg, and to a lesser extent, pretty much everywhere across the borough, there remain many locations where, at least for now, the past looms large, no more so than on the Red Hook waterfront, where many vestiges of the area’s industrial past remain to intrigue and remind us of bygone eras. One of the larger structures remaining in the Gowanus Bay area is the decaying hulk of the former NYS Grain Terminal, a near-hundred-year-old government project built to boost activity and jobs in New York Harbor at a time when many grain shipping companies were moving to cheaper ports at Philadelphia and Baltimore. Today the decaying structure threatens daily to collapse into the Henry Street Basin over which it precariously hangs.

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A closer look, with outer sections of the structure hanging precariously over the water, their bottom portions rotted away.

 New York State opened the grain terminal in 1922 as an adjunct to the reconstruction and incorporation of the Erie Canal into the New York State Barge Canal System. That project was undertaken to reinvigorate the use of the Erie Canal and the ports of New York Harbor. The grain terminal was an example of way too much too late. There are fifty-four concrete silos, thickly built to withstand any possible grain explosion, with a capacity of two million bushels of grain. Despite the plant’s then-state-of-the-art construction, most of the lost grain movers didn’t come back, and the terminal never reached the level of business and capacity that would make it profitable. Government officials referred to the terminal as the “Magnificent Mistake.”

 The state operated the terminal at a loss until 1944, when it transferred the deed for the property to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which kept it limping along until finally shutting the terminal in 1965. The property was sold to a private owner in 1997. It’s currently closed to all but the intrepid trespassers who occasionally break in to document the plant’s interior before it’s gone.

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It is art, or is it history?

We have no idea what the future holds for the grain terminal, though we feel it’s safe to say it doesn’t include grain. It’s beautifully ugly, a 120-foot high, 430-foot long, mold-covered cement hulk crumbling into the basin, sections with their foundations rotted away drooping precariously over the water below. Our reporter paddled up the Henry Street Basin in a canoe to get the exterior photos included here, risking life and limb to get close-up images of this fantastic piece of Brooklyn history. We like to think the artifacts of the past will remain as symbols of our industrial heritage, a time when things seem to us looking back simpler and more black and white (both ideas mistaken, nostalgic misrepresentational deflections from our too complex present). Reality, and economics, may call for a different outcome.

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The interior of the terminal showing the tops of the silos as a grid of holes in the floor, and chutes from above that directed grain into them.

For the moment, the terminal stands. If you’d like to check it out in person, take the B61 bus from Smith-9th St. (F/G trains) or the B57 at the Jay Street Station of the A/C/F/R trains, both buses heading toward Red Hook. It’s a short walk from IKEA across the Red Hook Ball Fields to the Henry Street Basin. (Google map it.) You can’t go in, but the waterfront area of Red Hook is active, vibrant and beautiful, and definitely worth the trek.

For a beautiful, moving look into and around the terminal, check out this video from Carlito Brigante.

 

Interior Picture Source: atlasobscura.com