Posts Tagged ‘Brooklyn Street’

A Brooklyn neighborhood’s coal hole covers

August 16, 2012

Coal holes are bunkers beneath the sidewalk in front of a house that originally used coal for heat: Delivery companies would drop a shipment down the hatch, and the coal could go right into the basement and wouldn’t dirty up the home.

You still see them dotting sidewalks all over the city, especially in neighborhoods with lots of beautiful brownstones built in the 19th century.

No surprise, then, that pretty sidewalks of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are filled with decorative examples.

This one was made by Empire Foundry. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad from 1854 says they’re located “one block from the Fulton Ferry.”

The John Brooks foundry made this cover on Navy Street, right in the middle of where the Ingersoll Houses are today.

This lid was probably a lot prettier and more colorful back in the day. The address says 5 Worth Street; I wonder if it’s part of the Jacob Mark Sons Foundry at 7 Worth Street.

Even though it was spotted out of the neighborhood a bit on Atlantic Avenue and I think it’s a regular manhole cover, I wanted to include this one, with its wonderful lettering. Castle Bros. apparently paved most of Flatbush.

The “Great White Hurricane” changes New York

March 5, 2012

Think it’s unlikely that a late-winter blizzard will strike this month? That’s what New Yorkers assumed in early March 1888, when the city was also treated to unseasonably warm weather in the 50s.

Then on March 11, heavy rains fell. As the day turned to night, temperatures plunged, rain turned to snow, and fierce winds gripped the city.

The snow continued for 36 hours. By the time it was over, more than 20 inches buried New York. Trains had stopped running.

Telegraph and telephone wires snapped, and the city was paralyzed for days. More than 200 deaths are attributed to the Great White Hurricane.

But the terrible storm taught the city a few things. First, it showed officials that an underground transportation system was absolutely necessary, one that wouldn’t be brought down in a storm. It set in motion the creation of the New York City subway.

Second, the blizzard permanently cleared the city of the mish-mash of telephone and telegraph cables that marred so many streets. They were moved underground.

[Top photo: the snow weighs down telephone and telegraph wires. Middle, a street car stuck in the snow at Ninth Street and University Place; bottom: Park Place in Brooklyn, snowed in]

The famous names in “Winter Scene in Brooklyn”

January 30, 2012

Brooklyn has changed quite a lot since Francis Guy painted this corner of the newly incorporated village in 1820.

It’s one of two very similar paintings showing almost the same bustling winter scene at Front Street between Main and Fulton Streets, near the Fulton Ferry dock.

The Brooklyn Museum owns one of the two paintings. The museum website features a fascinating key that identifies who these shopkeepers and village residents are.

You’ll recognize many of the names—such as Rapelje, Middagh, Hicks, and Patchen—as they continue to live on in borough street signs and park plaques.

Before Hollywood, Brooklyn made movies

January 16, 2012

Midwood, Brooklyn was a quiet, neighborhood with lots of open space back at the turn of the 20th century.

So in 1905, the American Vitagraph Company, then on Nassau Street in Manhattan, picked East 15th Street and Avenue M as the site for a vast movie studio described as “the model and forerunner of the studio system.”

“Vitagraph boasted the first glass-enclosed studio, a studio tank for battle and sea scenes, costume and set design shops, vast editing and processing rooms and lavish sets,” writes Kevin Lewis in Editors Guild Magazine.

More elaborate facilities meant more films were made, keeping up with the demand from a movie-loving public.

Stars were groomed: John Bunny, Norma Talmadge, and Florence Turner. Local residents rented their homes and furniture when the studio needed extra props.

Brooklyn’s movie-making era didn’t last long, thanks to World War I and the relocation of the industry to Los Angeles.

In 1925, Vitagraph was sold to Warner Brothers, who used the building to film shorts into the 1930s.

In fact, this clip from a 1933 Fatty Arbuckle short, Buzzin’ Around, was filmed right outside the studio, with the elevated B and Q line behind them—looking the same as it does today.

Today the Vitagraph building is an Orthodox Jewish school. The old smokestack, however, remains.

“Flatbush Avenue and Nevins Street,” 1918

December 5, 2011

Early 20th century Brooklyn offered lots of ways to get around: elevated trains, trolley cars, and automobiles, as this postcard, stamped 1918, shows.

Is this another view of the same intersection circa 1925? It’s from the Brooklyn Historical Society’s wonderful blog.

A 1920s poet haunts a Brooklyn red-light district

October 19, 2011

Sands Street today is an unremarkable stretch through the Farragut Houses in Dumbo.

But this beachy-sounding street has a very colorful history.

In the late 19th century, it was Brooklyn’s red-light district, so seedy it earned two evocative nicknames: locals called it the “Barbary Coast” in the 19th century and then “Hell’s Half Acre” through the 1950s.

Lined with saloons, rooming houses, gambling dens, and tattoo parlors, Sands Street catered to sailors from the Navy Yard and the East River waterfront.

It also appealed to less rough-and-tumble New Yorkers craving a dangerous thrill.

Struggling young poet Hart Crane (below), an Ohio transplant living just a short walk away at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, regularly visited Sands Street in the 1920s.

“With Emil away at sea a lot and their relationship intermittent, Crane walked down to Sands Street searching for sex to share in a rendezvous meant not to last,” writes Evan Hughes in his wonderful book Literary Brooklyn.

“Cruising was a dangerous pursuit for Crane in a time of rampant homophobia. More than once he came home beaten and bloodied.”

Crane committed suicide in 1932, leaving behind his poem “The Bridge,” an ode to the Brooklyn Bridge—which he was able to see from his apartment and perhaps Sands Street as well.

[Top photos: Sands Street tattoo parlor, undated, and Sands Street in 1946, from the NYPL digital collection]

The cost of leasing a house in Brooklyn in 1908

August 1, 2011

Unfortunately, 544 Marcy Avenue is the address of a building that’s part of the Marcy Houses housing development, constructed in 1949 in Bed-Stuy.

So it’s tough to know what the house for rent at that address—as detailed in the “house agreement” from 1908 excerpted here—looked like around the time it was leased.

Was it a three-story brownstone like the one across the way at Marcy and Floyd Street? Or a charming wood-frame home, the kind still standing in Clinton Hill and Brooklyn Heights?

Whatever kind of house it was, a woman named Agnes D. Davies apparently agreed to lease it to one Ellen McLaughlin from May 1908 to May 1909 for the grand total of $30 per month.

It may not have been a princely sum—inflation calculators claim $30 in 1908 is equal to $718 today.

This part of Marcy Avenue once was rather distinguished. An 1888 Brooklyn Eagle obituary details the death of the man who lived there at the time, Henry Grasser, describing him as a “prominent member” of several lodges and societies.

[Thanks to J. Warren for making this lease available]

Defunct Bushwick High’s glorious school song

June 22, 2011

Bushwick High School, opened in 1914, had a rough final decade or two before the school graduated its last class in 2006.

In the 1990s, a student was raped in the basement. The student body was twice as large as the building could hold. The graduation rate stalled at 35 percent.

With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine a time when Bushwick High was an athletic powerhouse and students swelled with pride.

But if the school song is to be believed, they were—about 100 years ago.

A sampling of the lyrics:

“Oh! See the flashing colors of dear old Bushwick High;
And hear her sons and daughters throw out the gladsome cry;
Dear Bushwick now and ever, in vict’ry or defeat;
On diamond, track, and field, old Bushwick’s athletes can’t be beat.”