I know. I know. So dramatic, right? You must be thinking that we’re using a figure of speech in a misguided attempt to characterize a Brooklyn slumlord, right? I mean, he’d have to be a really nasty landlord to get the Hitler comparison. Takes your deposit and keeps the heat off in the winter? Goes into your place when you’re not there? Charges you part of the common area bill? What a dictator! But hold on, because there’s actually a story behind this. A good one… WHAT TO DO WITH A “CRUMMY BUILDING”? Once upon a time, in the City of Churches, two Manhattan attorneys – who had allowed the mortgage payments to lapse on a certain “crummy building” they owned – were discussing legal strategy. These two gentlemen, Julius Freilicher and Martin Auslander of 1 Park Place, had a $3,300 mortgage on their tenement – 541 Clinton Street in Carroll Gardens – with the Dime Savings Bank. The two advocates had determined that it was not in their best interests to pay the mortgage, but they also did not like the idea of losing. They were attorneys, you know. So, they opted for a scheme that would be the next best thing. One day when the bank was about to foreclose, the two attorneys hampered the foreclosure proceedings considerably when they filed a deed of gift with the city that would throw a certain preposterous, albeit figurative, spanner into its works. Freilicher and Auslander’s deed of gift was exactly […]


After builder Chauncey G. Cozine had filed his building plans for a set of luxury apartment buildings to be constructed at the northwest corner of Throop Avenue and MacDonough Street, the neighbors were horrified to learn of the enormity of the structures. As a matter of fact, they were so taken aback at the prospect, that when they met to determine how to address the egregious assault on their homes, they dug deeply into their pockets – each of them as deep as he felt it was worth – to come up with a sum that, combined, would hopefully encourage Cozine to consider altering his designs. When Cozine received the offer, though, the 30-year-old builder answered the monetary plea with a curt one-word response. “No.” BEFORE THE FOUNDATIONS WERE EXCAVATED Before Cozine came along in 1904, the noble brownstone structures with their stately front gardens which sat along the north side of MacDonough Street, commanded unobstructed views up and down the street. From the front stoop of any of these structures, which belonged, incidentally, to some of the wealthiest residents of Stuyvesant Heights, could be seen rows of beautiful brownstone houses and the majestic churches of two different denominations. At the Tompkins end of the block, sat the Tomkins Avenue Congregational Church. At the Throop Avenue end, on the north side of the block, one could see the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Victory. Both were grand structures, the views of which most certainly increased the value of […]


As the sleeping giant that is Bedford-Stuyvesant’s Ralph Avenue begins to awaken from its slumber, it is tempting to take a look back at some of the businesses that once lined this bustling thoroughfare. STUYVESANT EAST OF YORE The eastern section of Stuyvesant was alive with industry in the late part of the 19th and the early part of the 20th centuries. As houses had recently been built along the main streets, stores, schools, and churches had gone up along the avenues and on corners, dotting the landscape with their offerings. The neighborhood, after its initial build-up in the 1890s, became completely self-sufficient in terms of goods and services. Residents of Macon Street, like those from the other streets in the neighborhood, found themselves surrounded by a variety of offerings that would allow them – and their servants, in some cases – to satisfy the needs of their families easily and quickly. THE BUSTLING BUSINESS CORRIDOR THAT WAS RALPH AVENUE Starting in the late 19th century, Ralph Avenue became a busy local business corridor filled with a wide variety of shops and stores that suburban families needed to support households of consumers. Since its inception, the avenue had public transportation, in the way of horse-drawn omnibuses and then later a streetcar line, making it a commercial destination drawing purchasers from many blocks distant. Those living on Macon Street at the time, however, need only walk around the corner to Ralph Avenue to find everything they needed and just about anything […]


After showcasing some serious open-air ball playing, Saratoga Field was about to go indoors. There it would bear witness to a number of more diverse activities – dancing, fighting, and dreaming. But not necessarily in that order. By 1912, the owners of the block that Saratoga Field had utilized would realize the cash potential of developing the grounds for its marketing to commercial investors. Accordingly, they divided the land up into lots and sold it all off to real estate developers. Shortly afterwards, three new entertainment businesses would appear on the block – the Broadway Boxing Arena, the Halsey Theatre, and the Arcadia Dance Hall, all just across the street from the Brooklyn Rapid Transit (BRT) carbarn and Saratoga Square. THE BROADWAY ARENA The Broadway Arena (also known as the Broadway Sporting Club and the Broadway Exhibition Association Building) sat next to the Halsey Theatre (an alley in between), operating for close to 40 years. It was built around 1912 and had a capacity of 4,500 people. It would become Brooklyn’s top fight arena in the 1930s and 1940s, exhibiting the boxing skills of some of the country’s more well-known fighters, such men as Al Tiernan, Arturo Godoy (who fought Joe Louis in 1940), and Pete Sanstol. By 1951 the Broadway Arena was closed, the victim of competition from the television set. Its last boxing match was held on 29 November 1951. THE HALSEY THEATRE The Halsey Theater, a 2,100-seat theater, which originally presented both vaudeville and silent movies, was […]


We all know how difficult it is to keep a good maid. They are constantly “on the make” for higher wages or, worse, threatening to leave your employ for that of another family. But Brooklyn builders in 1922 were working strenuously to help you keep your hired help. Towards this end, they seemed to have lit well upon the solution to this dilemma: “Make a home so convenient for the lady of the house that she can do much of her own work, and, more importantly, make the maid’s room so light an airy that she’ll never want to leave.” THE MAID-PROOF LAYOUT Of course, these, presumably male, architects didn’t fail to consider the arrangement of the kitchen, where women – and maids, of course – did much of the work. Make it so arranged, said these particular architects, that it is attractive, as well as convenient. The architects, in the layout of this new model house, show a “very complete service portion with laundry on the first floor, adjoining the kitchen, instead of in the basement, as is usually the case.” Additionally, the kitchen boiler, they note, “may be placed in the basement” instead of the kitchen, where, in the past, it’s made that room “uncomfortably warm in summer.” DOWNSTAIRS. UPSTAIRS. They go on to show in their drawings that there are “four bedrooms and a bath upstairs, arranged in such a way that the bath is equally accessible from all rooms.” Intriguingly, they place the sewing room “off […]


The Jehovah’s Witness complex in Downtown Brooklyn was once the scene of a roaring early morning 4-alarm fire that threatened to destroy the vast warehouse district that existed there in 1907. Sitting along the waterfront at the location of the fire – on both Columbia Heights and Furman Street – was a cork company, a coffee roasting factory, and an ice plant. SAVING THE WAREHOUSES It is not known where exactly within the complex the fire broke out, but it was determined by many of the residents of the district that the aroma of burnt coffee and cork did not make for a attractive combination that morning. The “oily reek of cork” was in the smell of the smoke throughout the morning, while roasted coffee – roasted twice over – brought residents to realize which warehouses were caught within the conflagration. The buildings in the picture above sat on what is now the Jehovah’s Witness compound and comprised a number of private homes that were still existent within the old warehouse district. Among them was “a frame house of the old style sort, two stories in height, with a mansard roof for an attic.” And in that building Catherine O’Neill, 50, and her bedridden sister, Agnes O’Neill, 65, both former “schoolma’rms,” feared for their lives. SAVING THE SCHOOLMARMS Patrolman Keating, who sounded the alarm, grew concerned as their building was shrouded in black smoke. No one had seen the two women that morning, and he “feared that something had happened to them.” So, […]

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