The haunting beauty of a brick Bronx factory

A century or so ago, red-brick factory buildings in every borough of New York City hummed with the sounds of workers and machinery — producing everything from ketchup to wallpaper to pianos to candy.

These days, the red-brick factory is an endangered species.

If they haven’t been bulldozed or turned into luxury apartments (a Lifesaver factory in Chelsea has been rebranded the “Lifesaver Lofts“), they sit empty and forlorn — the company name barely discernible on the facade.

The Marcus Brush Company building is one of these factories.

The hauntingly beautiful structure is on Willow Avenue and East 135th Street in Point Morris, a South Bronx neighborhood three stops from Manhattan on the 6 train that was once a manufacturing hub.

Marcus Brush moved here in 1925, according to Walter Grutchfeld’s well-researched photo website.

The company went bankrupt five years later, but another brush company called Acme took over and remained there, possibly through the 1970s.

Perhaps the old factory is in use today. But on a recent visit, it seems as deserted as the rest of Willow Avenue, a building with no pulse and a smattering of graffiti on one side.

Considering that Point Morris is making something of a comeback these days — a brewery and distillery occupy nearby spaces — the Marcus Brush factory will probably come back to life soon.

It would be wonderful if the faded lettering on all sides isn’t wiped clean, and that it remains a reminder that in a different city, people made “high-grade brushes” and a living behind these faded brick walls.

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9 Responses to “The haunting beauty of a brick Bronx factory”

  1. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    I agree! In lots of places in Los Angeles……(wonders never cease!) the signs and letterings on old buildings are “landmarked” and protected…….I hope this happens here! Gorgeous old brick!

    Funny story…40 years ago; my new husband came home devastated. His grandfather’s “Cold Storage Building” in downtown LA was declared not earthquake-proof….and he was ordered to tear it down. It was going to cost $250,000.00 (in 1979) to tear it down.

    I am a decorator…..so I said…..”Wait!! Those are old hand-made bricks!! Let me make a few calls!”

    I am still the hero in this story. He sold the bricks for $500,000.00; and they charged him nothing. Tee hee! (it was not a pretty building) and it would have killed numerous people if there had been an earthquake!
    There are no earthquakes in Manhattan. I hope this building still stands!!

  2. Carolyn Lalli Says:

    Enjoyed the article and comment by Penelope very much. For many years, I commuted from Long Island into Manhattan. The tracks passed through Long Island City, a hub of manufacturing plants. The aroma of fresh baked bread, emanating from the Silvercup factory, would waft into the cars as they approached the entrance to the tunnel connecting Queens with Manhattan. The return trip was enlivened by the image of a functioning stapler from the Swingline factory, Serval zippers and the iconic Pepsi Cola sign that seemed to float on the East River.

    However, one of the greatest gems from that period of manufacturing is just up the river in Cohoes. Harmony Mills was the largest cotton mill complex in the world when it opened in 1872, and is one of the finest examples of a large-scale textile mill complex outside of New England. In 2005-2006, a portion of Mill 3 was renovated and turned into high-end residential lofts. It has restored life to Cohoes. You can read more about Harmony Mills here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmony_Mills

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Carolyn, I’ll take a look at these. I love your descriptions of the wonderful bread aroma too. I used to experience whenever I walked past an old bakery on Elizabeth Street.

  3. John Lynch Says:

    It is tragic what is happening to manufacturing in this country. Everybody that doesn’t go into a white collar profession can’t work in restaurants or retail, or fix cars.

  4. Nora Says:

    I lived in Brookly MANY years ago and I so agree with you here. I love those buildings

  5. BH Says:

    For me, the wonder these old brick buildings derives from the uncelebrated craftsmanship of the army of working people who erected these structures. The faded signs add to their mystique. The buildings are industrial dinosaurs, but that’s the reason they deserve to be preserved, complete with the faded signage, as Penelope reports in LA. They’re certainly a welcome diversion from the polished metal and bright plastics of too much modern architecture.

    In the UK these old trade names and advertisements are called ‘ghost signs’ and there are bloggers who dedicate their time to tracking them down and recording their presence on line. I think that anyone who likes old cities must have their favourite ghosts, although in France they are often to be found in smaller towns and villages on old agricultural buildings. I’m glad to see that they are being recognised in the USA too. I imagine they must be in all of the industrial cities as well as New York.

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