Fulton Mall’s Store-ied Past

Header

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.

Liebmann Bros Building, from 1888 350 w

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.

 


Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg

Lead Image Smorgasburg

The shaded seating area at Smorgasburg Prospect Park, with vendor tents behind.

 

Who doesn’t like a good flea market? Gently used clothes, dishes, home furnishings, jewelry, art, antiques, and chatchkas offered by dozens of sellers at bargain prices. Who doesn’t like a fantastic food fest? Food to eat right now, with offerings from over one hundred vendors, all surrounding a large cluster of picnic tables. We all do, and Brooklyn is, as with so many things, a leader in both areas.

Brooklyn Flea offerings copy

From baseball gloves to African masks, vintage steel beer cans, and lettering, some of the many varied items for sale at the Brooklyn Flea.

Two great markets, Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg, are provided by the Brooklyn Flea, a ten-year-old company that began with markets in Fort Greene and Williamsburg and has moved on to locations at Industry City, DUMBO, and Prospect Park, and is rated by numerous travel magazines and Web sites as one of the best open-air markets in the country and even the world.

We can remember the flea at both original locations, and we thought it was great then. We miss it still in Fort Greene, but have enjoyed the spiffy new surroundings at Industry City and the old architectural ingenuity evident under and around the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO, long one of our favorite nabes.

The other big, regular event run by the Brooklyn Flea is the weekly Smorgasburg, a massive food event in the original East River State Park location in Williamsburg (Saturdays) and in Prospect Park (Sunday) on Well House Drive at Breeze Hill. For those who are just now checking out Brooklyn or those who somehow don’t know about this already, Smorgasburg is a monster food fair, with vendors selling an international mix of prepared dishes running the full gamut from poutine to vegan treats. A recent visit to the Prospect Park locale had us tasting delicious offerings from Jamaica, Mexico, Brazil, Italy, and ogling meats, sweets, and other delectables from many other vendors we noted down for next time. Everything is good, and it all tastes better sitting outside. But note that time is running out. Summer’s over, and Smorgasburg runs only through the end of this month. Miss it now and you’ll have to wait until April next year! (Dates below.)

Other important Smorgasburg notes: Pets are welcome, and at Prospect Park there’s a large area for parking bikes. We assume there’s bike parking at or near East River State Park.

Whether your passion is food or found treasures, weekends in Brooklyn can feed your individual frenzy for either or both. Visit the Flea and/or the Smorgasburg and satisfy your yearnings. You’ll have a great time doing it.

Brooklyn Flea
Saturdays, 10:00 – 5:00, Industry City, 241 37th St., Sunset Park
Sundays, 10:00 – 5:00, Manhattan Bridge Arch, 80 Pearl St., DUMBO

Smorgasburg
Saturdays, 11:00 – 6:00, April – October ONLY (Last event October 27 this year (2018)),                                             East River State Park, Williamsburg, Kent Avenue at N. 7th Street.
Sundays, 11:00 – 6:00, April – October ONLY (Last event October 21 this year (2018)),                                               Prospect Park Breeze Hill, off East Drive near Lincoln Road.

 

Bottom strip copy

Views from the Prospect Park Smorgasburg.

 


 

Red Hook’s Incredible Hulk: The Erie Grain Terminal

Grain Depot Long Shot Cropped 800w

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.

IMG_1138 Long of bottom rot resized

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.

IMG_1150 Deteriorization 600w

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.

Interior shows tops of silos

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


 

2018 in Brooklyn: What to Expect

2018 in Brooklyn: What to Expect

Happy New Year to all! The past year was interesting inside and out of the real estate market, and it appears early on that the New Year will be no less so for Brooklyn real estate.

We’ve looked at sales data from the third quarter of 2017 and compared it to the previouTompkins Pls quarter and the previous year, and we can say that, while things aren’t moving as wildly as in the previous two years, the local market is holding steady.

 In the third quarter of 2017, multi-family homes in Brooklyn, those of two-to-four families, sold for an average of $421 per square foot. In our neck of the Brooklyn woods, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and the surrounding neighborhoods, the average prices per square foot were at the high end, with Cobble Hill leading the pack at about $864/sq. ft., followed by Carroll Gardens, $800, Boerum Hill, $719, and Park Slope, $693/sq. ft.

 Compared to the 2nd quarter, Cobble Hill was up 32.92%, from $650/sq. ft., Carroll Gardens was up 28.82%, from $621, and Park Slope was down 13.7%, from $803. However, in the Slope, twenty properties were sold in the third quarter vs. just six in Q2, and larger samples tend to pull averages down. Apparently, no multi-family homes sold in Boerum Hill in all of Q2.

 A year ago, the third-quarter 2016 price-per-square-foot list looked like this: Boerum Hill, $658; Park Slope, $826; Gowanus, $763; Clinton Hill, $709; and Carroll Gardens, $679. Cobble Hill tied with Williamsburg at $625.

 Like the stockKane St Doorways 300 w market, real estate prices don’t go straight up, or down. Based on what we see, the Brooklyn housing market should continue its generally steady rise in 2018, with areas a bit further away from downtown seeing prices rise more percentage-wise than in the recent past, and those closer to Manhattan holding steady, with average fluctuations based on the number and the quality of units changing hands.

 We wish you all a prosperous 2018 and believe it will be another good year for the Brooklyn real estate market.