Mr. Dinkins, 2 Fires & a Bulging Facade (1977)

Have you ever wondered what once filled those large lots at the corners of Halsey Street and Ralph Avenue? Every house has a history. You know it is there, but the clouds of the past work to obfuscate the present. Uncovering that history takes some detective work, but with a little time and some gumshoe sleuthing, the answers can be discovered. With regard to 774 Halsey Street – what do we know happened? A fire? Decay? Gas explosion? What do we know about the life of the building? What was it used for? Who owned the building and who lived there? We looked to clues from newspaper archives, fire insurance maps, and physical evidence to unravel that history. This is our report: WHAT HAPPENED to 774? A 4-story brick apartment building – 774 Halsey Street – sat on the southeast corner of the Halsey/Ralph intersection. It had a commercial space on the ground floor facing Halsey Street and one at the rear of the building at 153 Ralph Avenue. The building housed a number of apartments the addresses/entrances of which were on the Ralph side of the building at 149 Ralph Avenue. The apartments of the Ralph-facing side of the building had stacked bay windows, one on each floor. South of this building were two 2-story structures, 155 and 157 Ralph Avenue, the latter of which had a square bay window on the second floor overlooking Ralph Avenue. These were primarily commercial addresses with businesses on the ground floors and […]

Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Tra-La! (1895)

From an 1895 issue of Brooklyn Life magazine comes this hopeful look forward to that year’s Spring through the words of The Mikado’s “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring (Tra-la).” The Mikado was about to enjoy a revival at The Savoy Theatre that year, and all indications were that it was a smashing success. “If the enthusiastic applause with which The Mikado was received last night at the Savoy Theatre is any criterion of success,” the New York Times wrote, “the revival of Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan’s popular opera should lead to as long a run as it achieved on its first production.” Brooklyn Life, produced this drawing of six women (“flowers that bloom in the spring”) dressed in what appears to be costumes appropriate for the Spring. According to the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Brooklyn Life chronicled “the social and economic life of Brooklyn from 1890 to 1931.” The BHS continues: “Looking through the issues one can see in the early issues the importance of bicycles, but at the turn of the century the emphasis turns toward the automobile. Other topics of the magazine include fashion trends, advertisements by Brooklyn businesses, real estate developments in up-and-coming neighborhoods like Flatbush and Ditmas Park, photographs of the then new construction in those areas, documentation of the move from Brownstone Brooklyn into as yet undeveloped Brooklyn.” Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The story you just read was composed from historical research performed by The Brownstone Detectives. Contact us have an […]


Yes, there not only used to be a streetcar running down Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, but Lexington also at one time had sported its very own elevated subway train. Opening in 1885, the Lexington elevated train was in the vanguard of bringing owners and potential homebuyers to the Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights areas. The Lexington Avenue “el,” as it was called, split from the Myrtle Avenue elevated (yes, there was one up there, too) at Grand Avenue, where it headed down to Lexington then turned east and headed in the direction of Broadway. Taken in 1947, this picture shows the confluence of these two avenues and forms of transportation. You can also see automobiles of the period and an anachronism – even for the times – a horse with its cart parked along Tompkins. A few years after this picture was taken, demolition began on the elevated line. Read more about this line (and how long traces of it existed even after it had been demolished) on Forgotten New York. Follow @BrownstoneDetec ———————————————————————————————————————– The Brownstone Detectives The story you just read was composed from historical research performed by The Brownstone Detectives. Contact us have an in-depth investigation of your house performed. We will research the house and its former owners and produce your very own House History Book. Your hardbound coffee table book will include an illustrated and colorful narrative timeline that will bring the history of your house to life. Get in touch with us today.


Following the turn of the last century, after the Brooklyn Bridge had gone up connecting New York City to Brooklyn’s borough, the former “City of Homes and Churches,” as a direct result, started to experience phenomenal growth. By 1909 the Manhattan Bridge was opening to address the overflow of Brooklyn residents needing another way of getting in and out of Manhattan. This growth caused New York politicians to start thinking about a way to spur that same growth on Staten Island by establishing an easier way of moving between these two boroughs. Before talk of a bridge began, though, there was talk of a grand tunnel. Towards the end of the decade, that talk got more serious and front pages like the one above began to earnestly ask the question, “Just how will we travel between Brooklyn and Staten Island?” A tunnel gained early traction and the city’s commissioners began to look seriously at its feasibility. In the New York Tribune, it was posited that such a tunnel would keep our residents’ dollars within the city limits by restricting their ability to travel elsewhere and not letting them “get away to Jersey or Westchester.” “A tunnel 100 feet wide and 10,000 feet long,” the paper noted, “easy of approach at either end for vehicular traffic of all kinds,” was the vision. We all know how this story ends. Instead of a tunnel, a bridge was built. The dream of a tunnel, though, brought about a lot of conversations about that […]


It was 40 years ago this year that a great conflagration burned out the very heart of Bushwick. It was, at the time, one of the largest-scale fires that the Fire Department had ever fought. A 10-alarm fire, it would become “one of the largest structural fires in the city’s history,” according to the New York Times. It started suspiciously at the corner of Knickerbocker Avenue and Bleecker Street in the old Schwaben Hall, an historic German meeting hall most lately used as a knitting factory. According to the Times, the fire would rage down seven blocks of houses, destroying 23 buildings, and forcing the evacuation of more than 250 people. The destructive fire came directly on the heels of the infamous Blackout of 1977, and although the fire would smolder for days after being put out, it took about three to five hours, initially, for 55 units of firefighters from Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, to get it under control. And even with this number of firefighters on the scene, it was apparent that they were working without the tools they needed to fight a fire of this intensity. Since the fire hydrants had been used by city residents throughout the summer to keep cool, they were low on water. Also, firefighters were working with an historic dearth of equipment because of the small budget the department had been granted that year. One of the buildings damaged – and eventually torn down – was a 2-story and basement frame building […]


Poor Mrs. Emily Lund. She was not prone to wearing men’s clothing – at least not in public. But the night in 1894 that she did dress so, she was arrested and tossed in the slammer. Officer Michael Quinn of the Hamilton Avenue police station arrested Lund, on Van Brunt, in Red Hook (or “South Brooklyn”) near William. The 55-year-old domestic had been discovered there attired “in a pair of trousers, a vest and a long mackintosh.” THE NIGHT IN JAIL After spending the night in jail, she was arraigned in the Butler street police court the next day. Her husband, who could not bring himself to even show his face, had his mother appear in his place. She brought “an outfit of women’s clothing” for his wife. When “Emily could make no coherent reply to Justice Tighe’s questions as to why she masqueraded in male attire,” Mrs. Lund’s mother-in-law told the court that her daughter-in-law’s “mind was affected.” POSTSCRIPT: “WHAT HAPPENED TO EMILY?” OR “THE POWER OF PUBLIC SHAMING” Whether that was the truth or Emily’s mother-in-law simply found the explanation convenient and a good cover up of the actual truth, it is not known. What we can guess, though, is that the Lund family was probably the butt of some quiet and not-so-quiet jokes in the coming days and years. Mrs. Emily Lund was not mentioned, though, in the papers again, slipping quietly into history – and probably out of the city. A year later, a woman by […]

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