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Betsy in Brooklyn

By Betsy Hoffman:
MHB Brooklyn Post

This is my new friend, Raphael! We met on Sterling Place in Prospect Heights and he was wearing these Brooklyn sunglasses.

In the heat—keeping COOL.

Send in your favorite Brooklyn pictures to

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Concrete Poured At Strong Place

Concrete PouringThe concrete footing at Strong Place was poured today. We are in the very beginning phases of construction, but still are very excited to see the progress of these beautiful Brooklyn town homes.
Check out the short video clip that I took.

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Citi Bike Stations–New York’s cleaner transportation method.

citibikeOver the past 48 hours or so Citibike stations have been popping up in my neighborhood. I walk by three of them on my less than a mile commute from my home to my office. I pass by the one at the corner of Remsen and Hicks Street, which is on a wider than average sidewalk behind the Bossert Hotel but in front of two residential properties at 67 and 69 Remsen Street. I also pass by the one located near the Fruit Street seating are at the corner of Cranberry Street and Columbia Heights, which is on the very wide sidewalk, and the one on Old Fulton Street, which is located in the street where cars would typically park. I will certainly make use of the bikes in my daily travels and think it is a great idea for the city and its residents. I am curious however as to the process of how the locations were determined. My neighborhood association worked with planners when considering station locations and I was under the impression that the community input would be carefully considered when deciding on final location. Some of the locations – i.e. corner of Remsen and Hicks Streets – are a surprise to me. Anyone else out there find that some of the station locations are less then ideal? Let us know.

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Manhattan Bridge, the ugly step sister to the Brooklyn Bridge?

By: Betsy Hoffman

Over the Holidays I was looking for “Brooklyn” gifts. I scoured shops, galleries and the internet for anything that SCREAMED Brooklyn. I found the Brooklyn Bridge on greeting cards, tiles, ornaments, t-shirts, bags, magnets. To no avail, the Manhattan Bridge was no where to be found. Why?! It’s only steps away from the Brooklyn Bridge, yet it’s as if it didn’t exist in shops!

Is it not as “pretty” as the Brooklyn Bridge?

I find myself walking under the trunk legs of Manhattan Bridge many times a week. In it’s stance it straddles DUMBO and divides the neighborhood into sub-sections. Where, I have inadvertently crashed many a wedding and modeling photo shoots.

It is the most photographed Brooklyn bridge by tourist-daredevils who stand in traffic for their perfect Brooklyn picture; on the corner of Washington and Front Street where the Empire State Building is framed in the gap of the Manhattan Bridge legs.

Then, why the lack of love for the Manhattan Bridge on gift items?

This is my latest postcard giving a big “What up!” to the Manhattan Bridge and me “raising the roof!”

Manhattan Bridge, you are my favorite Brooklyn Bridge.

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PS 29 Silent Auction Fundraiser Success!

On Friday, March 15th, the PS 29 PTA held their Annual Spring Gala and Silent Auction. With budget cuts and the cost of educating our children constantly increasing, fundraisers have been an important part in providing the children of PS 29 with a well-rounded education. As a boutique Brooklyn real estate firm we pride ourselves on being a part of the community; from helping you find your next place to call home to being a part of your children’s education. The organizers have raised over $63,000 and counting. We love being part of not only the real estate community, but all aspects of our favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods.

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The Barclays Center!

IMG_0921Yesterday was my first visit to the Barclays Center to watch the Nets play. It was just as majestic as all the reviews that I’ve read, all the stories that I’ve heard and all of the pictures that I’ve seen. As soon as you set foot onto the concrete that is surrounding the arena it’s as if you’re transported into a completely different place. The architecture, the lights, the people—it’s all so breathtaking!

However, before the arena was finished and even before construction had started, local residents were concerned with how the Barclays Center might affect their daily (or nightly) lives. With all of the soundproofing and attempts to contain the music or noise Brooklynites haven’t been too thrilled hearing Jay-Z belt his favorite raps from two blocks away. According to a recent New York Times article Barclays has been fined over $3,000 in noise citations.

Does this affect your daily life? Comment below, we’d love to hear your feedback!

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A History of the Strong Place Properties—Part Two.

Here’s the next installment of the Strong Place Construction Blog, a series following Brennan Realty Services and their team through the development of three townhouses in Cobble Hill, at the corner of Kane and Strong Place. Today Brennan Realty posts Part Two of the history of the Strong Place properties. The history of the properties is spread over three posts, go here for Part One and tune in for the last installment.strong-henry-map

Numbers 2 and 4 Strong Place
Little is known about numbers 2 and 4 Strong Place. We have one photograph take in 1934, and we have the Brooklyn maps to give us a clue as to their dates. We also have census records to show the progression of people who lived there every ten years, and we have the newspapers. Nothing is written about the two houses in the Landmarks Preservation Commission report for Cobble Hill, written when the district was land-marked in 1969. At that time, these reports were in their infancy, and while much more thorough than earlier reports, (the 1965 Brooklyn Heights report is all of one page) they were not able to fill in all of the blanks. The houses were gone by then, and no mention of them was made.

So what can we deduce from the evidence we have? The 1934 photograph offers some clues. The two houses were very similar to number 6 Strong Place, and were probably built at the same time. Unfortunately, the designation report for Cobble Hill totally fails to mention number 6, the last remaining house of the trio that stood on the corner of Strong Place and Harrison, now Kane Street. So we have to do some speculating here. The earliest homes on this block date from the 1830’s, also the time of the Greek Revival style of architecture, of which all three houses are an example. There are other houses on this block, documented as being from the 1830’s that look almost exactly the same. So I think it’s safe to say numbers 2, 4, and 6 Strong Place were built in the 1830’s. Most of the houses in this part of Cobble Hill, from this time period, were built by builder/speculators, and there were usually no architects of record. The 1830’s also pre-dates another of the sources for Brooklyn building information: The Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide, a weekly magazine, put out by the building and real estate industry. It covered Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and parts of New Jersey and Long Island. It began publishing in 1868.

The first census report to with addresses took place in 1880. Number 2 Strong Place was home to the Mapelsden family. Reuben Mapelsden was 65 years old and retired. He lived in the house with his wife, Anna (65), son Reuben, Jr. (29) listed as in real estate, his daughter-in-law Josephine (27), granddaughter Elizabeth (3), and two servants: Ella Norton (50) and Margaret Brennan (19), both from Ireland. Mr. and Mrs. Mapelsden and their son Reuben were all born in England. Reuben Jr was also an attorney, as well as a real estate man, and his name also appears in the Eagle as an administrator in several estates, as well as a referee in several civil court suites. The family lived here from at least 1880 to 1888, when Reuben Mapelsden, Sr. dies, at the age of 74. In 1899, Josephine Mapelsden died, and her address was listed as 881 Union Street at that time. Her husband, Reuben, Jr. remarried two years later, in 1901.
Next door at #4 Strong Place, the 1880 census tells us that this was a boarding house. Elizabeth Hall (38) was head of house, and ran the boarding house with her daughter Bessie (20). Their borders were George Walker, (35) a broker, and his children, Minnie (11) and George, Jr. (13) both of whom attended school. Other boarders in the house were Stowe Von Moers, (60) and his son Stowe Von Moers, Jr. (28). Both are listed as being in the wine business. William Cochran, (24) and H. Anthony (27) were both store clerks. Ellen McGowan, (22) from Ireland, was the house’s servant.
The 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire in 1921, and are hugely incomplete. The records for Brooklyn were among those lost, so we don’t know who was living in the houses at that time. In 1900, 2 Strong Place was home to Gustav Steubach, (51) a German-born manufacturer. In fact, the entire household was German-born, which included his wife, Jenny (43), son Gustav, Jr. (19) who worked as an insurance agent, and Lousic Bortsher (36), the family servant.
4 Strong Place was no longer a boarding house, and was home to Pauline Luenarg (sic) a 43 year old woman from Germany, and her daughter, Margarethe, who was a 16 year old student.

1910 shows us the Cummings family in the house at 2 Strong Place. Michael Cummings (64) was a clerk, Lillie, (33) a daughter, and four sons: James (21), John (19), Paul (14) and Edward (12). All were native born Americans.
Next door, 4 Strong Place was home to a large family as well. Joseph Zucker, (47) a German-born manufacturer, his 47 year old wife Mary, son Maurice, a 22 year old lawyer, and more siblings, all lived in the house. The remaining children were Sadie (18), Estelle (16), Helene (14), Sidney (12), and Ruth (8). The older children were born in Texas, which had a lot of German immigrants in the late 19th century. They were joined by Minnie Sdansyetskorr, (19), a Polish servant and housekeeper.

The 1920 census for 2 Strong Place further illustrates the neighborhood as a middle class European ethnic enclave. The large house was now home to the Shiglia’s, born in Italy. Frank Shiglia (27) was a lace manufacturer, and his wife Josephine (23), kept house. Others in the house were Joseph Mayer and his wife Dalla, both 41. They were also Italian. He was a barber and shopkeeper, and she sewed embroidery. They had three children, Fanny (15), Dominic (12), and Joseph (3). The house was also home to Carlie Corhan (30), a Syrian shirtwaist manufacturer and his family. Mary, his wife (26), and children Emil (7), Maurice (5), Julius (3), Philip (3) and Josephine (1). In addition to them, George Lobos (34), a silk manufacturer, and his wife Hononud (26), also from Syria, also lived there.
A similar group of people were next door at number 4. John Dourdell (54), an Irish-born clerk at the magistrate’s office, lived here with his wife, Mary (47), and their two children, John Jr. (23) and Frank (21), both of whom clerked in a clerical shipyard. Elsewhere in the house were Michael Habit (23), from Syria, and his wife (20) and daughter (3), both named Mary. The father worked as a manufacturer of auto supplies. Rounding out the apartments were Louis (36) and Hannah (35) Barker, with son Arthur (4) and daughter Helda (2). The Barker’s were Russian, and he was a drug store keeper.
The last census we have public access to was 1930. Number 2 Strong Place was not inhabited at that time, and no census records were recorded. Next door at number 4 Strong Place, the large house was home to quite a few people. John Raddovick was a 37 year old fireman from Austria. His wife Mary (30) and son John (2) lived there, as well. Rudolf Donat was a boarder, a 19 year old Austrian-born longshoreman. Michael Flocico (30) was an Austrian fireman with the railroads. Sabatino Langella (30) was a 30 year old Italian immigrant who was also a longshoreman. He lived with his wife Theresa (28), and children: Joseph (9), Rose (8), Sarah (6) Frank (3), and Louis, an infant. The last family on the roster was also quite large and consisted of Italian-born Gastrasso Traino (47), a longshoreman, and his wife Anna (45), and their children: Ralph (20) a long shore clerk, Frank (16), also a clerk, and six other kids, Carmila (18), Ciro (14), Antoinette (12), Timber (?) 9, Oneal (5) and Filomina (2).

The Mystery

There is no reason, or record listed for why these two houses were demolished sometime around 1934. Perhaps something was planned for the space, or perhaps there was a fire or structural damage, although the photographs don’t seem to support that theory. If you look closely at the one existing photograph taken in 1934, several things are apparent, especially when you enlarge the picture. 2 Strong Place, the house on the corner, was abandoned and empty when this photo was taken, and looks to have been so for much longer than its neighbor. This is borne out by the census. You can see that the window glass was either taken out or broken. There is no reflection of light from the windows, the shutters are askew or falling off. The house is clearly empty. Next door, at number 4, you can see that it, too, is now empty, but much more recently, again borne out by the census. More of the window frames are intact, although the curtains or blinds were just ripped out, leaving fragments. Contrast both houses to number 6 Strong Place, which is occupied, and you can easily see that difference. When the houses were torn down, they lots remained empty.

2 Strong Place in 1934, enlargement.

2 Strong Place in 1934, enlargement.

2 Strong Place, Kane Street facade, 1934.

2 Strong Place, Kane Street facade, 1934.

These houses are on the corner of Strong Place and Kane Street. But Kane is a relatively new name for this street. It began as Butler Street, but soon became Harrison Street, presumably named after William Henry Harrison, the 9th president of the United States, who died in office about the time this area was being developed. Maps of the area show Harrison Street, up until 1928, when the name was changed to Kane Street, to honor James Kane: election commissioner, alderman and police sergeant. (1839-1926)

One side of 2 Strong Place faced onto Kane Street, with a very attractive oriel bay, and lots of windows. Had this house survived, it would have been extremely desirable today for the number of windows, as well as its general beauty and location. There are now no other buildings on the south side of the street, just empty lots and the garden for the house at 441 Henry Street. Or are there? Here we have a mystery to be solved. The 1934 photograph of Strong Place and Kane Street clearly shows a three story building in the middle of Kane, on the south side of the street, midway between 2 Strong Place and the walled garden of 439 Henry. What is this building, and what happened to it? I was not able to find anything whatsoever.
Enlarging the photo only intensifies the mystery. The building appears to be an apartment building or a club or organization’s building, dating back to the first decades of the 29th century. A careful look shows what look to be French doors right before the garden gate, which makes me think the building belonged to a club or organization. Most working class apartment buildings have more substantial doorways. There are men hanging out in front, which also supports the club/organization theory, but then, the photograph was taken in 1934, during the Great Depression, so men hanging out in front of a building may be more symptomatic of unemployment, as much as membership in a club, or organization. An aerial photograph of Brooklyn streets, taken in 1923 shows this building here, but it is not listed in the Real Estate and Building Guide, or in the censuses between 1900 and 1930, which would also support the existence of a club, where there were no full time occupants. When researching this area, I thought perhaps this was the location for the American Society of Swedish Engineers, a prominent Swedish organization, but they were actually located in the house with the large walled garden, 439 Henry Street, a building with a very interesting history of its own.

439 and 441 Henry Street

439 and 441 Henry Street were built as a pair. They were built along with their neighbor, 445, by the Van Nostrand family, between 1846 and 1848. John Van Nostrand was a grocer-merchant, originally from Manhattan, and he chose number 441 as his home. His brother, James Van Nostrand, was president of the Merchants Exchange Bank of New York, and in 1848, he made his home at 439 Henry Street, an extra wide house with a large garden behind it, stretching along Harrison (now Kane) Street. Brooklyn’s Nostrand Avenue is named for this old Dutch family.

441 and 445 Henry Street had mansard roofs added later, in the 1860’s, adding another floor. 439 does have a partial top floor with a deep setback, no doubt home to the house’s servants, at one time, but it is not as obvious as the two mansards. The Van Nostrand houses are both quite large, thirty-six feet wide by fifty-five feet deep, and the corner house sits on a lot measuring 101’ x 220’.

Yet impressive houses of the rich don’t seem to stay that way for long. John Van Nostrand died in 1889, and the house was sold to several wealthy families, including that of Henry Behr, before becoming a respectable boarding house. James Van Nostrand died even earlier, in 1880. In late 1888, or early 1889, 441 was purchased by the New York Club of the American Society of Swedish Engineers, a national society founded in 1888. The Eagle reported on their first large social event in the space, in February of 1889, where it mentioned the building’s “handsome quarters”. The Engineers also didn’t stay very long in this location, by 1908, they had moved to Union Street. The organization still exists, but now has headquarters in Manhattan.

1934 Garden and side of 439 Henry Street. Photo: NY Public Library

1934 Garden and side of 439 Henry Street. Photo: NY Public Library

By at least 1910, 439 Henry Street had become the convent of the Nursing Sisters of the Poor, also known as the Convent of the Infant Jesus, home to a charitable order of nuns who made house calls to the sick, supplying them with medicines and looking after their homes and families. They were founded as the Little Sisters of the Assumption, in Paris, France in 1864, and their mission was to go out to the homes of the working class and the poor, accepting no money or gifts, and care for the sick, not just giving medicine and home care, but with home and housekeeping tasks not able to be done by a sick parent or caregiver. The order had branches throughout Europe and the United States.

Covenant Wall

Covenant Wall

The convent took over both buildings, 439 and 441 Henry Street, and they stayed there until the 1970’s. Both the Brooklyn Eagle and the New York Times filed stories regarding charitable activities at this address, and stories about the work the nuns had done. When the order moved out of Brooklyn, to Rockville Center, NY, the house was sold to Henkane Realty in 1970. It then became home to the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or Hare Krishna sect. The New York Times reported in 1971 that 55 members of the group lived here; men, women and children, and they could all be seen walking to and from the houses every day, clad in saffron robes, holding begging bowls, and chanting “Hare Krishna”. They lived simply, without chairs or tables, telephones or radios or television. The head of the Brooklyn chapter, a registered non-profit organization, was a former Manhattan filmmaker who was now known only as . After the Society moved over to Schermerhorn Street, in downtown Brooklyn, in 1983, the property became rental units.

In 2010, the property again changed hands, in one of the largest real estate sales in Cobble Hill. The transaction included the lots that once held numbers 2 and 4 Strong Place, as well as the frontage on Kane Street between Henry Street and Strong Place, and the two houses on Henry; numbers 439 and 441 Henry Street. The present owners have permission and plans to build once again on the Strong Place and Kane Street lots, and are planning townhouses, keeping with the historic nature of the blocks and the land-marked neighborhood. These new houses will be among the most desired homes in a neighborhood that has become one of the most popular and beautiful places in Brooklyn. henry-lot

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A History of the Strong Place Properties—Part One.

strong-place-mapCobble Hill, Brooklyn, is an old neighborhood, with a history that goes back to the beginnings of Breukelin, and the area’s first Dutch settlers. The first farmers in the area were granted land patents as early as the 1640’s, for land stretching from the East River shore to the Gowanus Valley. What is now Cobble Hill was a land of rich farmland, heavy with apples, peach and other fruit trees, the farmers taking their sustenance and incomes from the farms and the river nearby.

By 1766, the area was known as “Cobleshill”, or sometimes “Ponkiesbergh”, named for now unknown people or places. This covered the land east of Red Hook Lane, near what is now the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street, with Court Street. Cobble Hill Fort was a platform on Coble’s Hill, with three cannon protected by spiral trenches. It was also known as “Smith’s Barbette”, or “Spiral Fort.” It was one of several forts built to protect the new American forces during the Battle of Long Island, and was important because of its height and from this vantage point. Washington had arranged for two cannon to sound when the British had been sighted, and from here, he watched the debacle that took place in nearby Gowanus, a losing bloody battle that almost destroyed the colonial army, here at the beginning of the war in 1776. After the British took over all of Brooklyn and New York City, they tore down the top of Cobble Hill, so that this Brooklyn vantage point would never again be able to look upon their troop movement. They then settled down, the officers occupying the homes of prosperous citizens such as Philip Livingston, while the troops built huts on the land of other farmers, such as Ralph Patchen. Over thirty years later, during the War of 1812, Cobble Hill was again built up and fortified, and was called “Fort Swift”, part of the lines of defense of Kings County.

Battle of Long Island

battle-of-long-islandFollowing the American Revolution, the areas we know as Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Red Hook and Gowanus were all called South Brooklyn. By 1834, the village of Brooklyn, which included Brooklyn Heights, had incorporated into the City of Brooklyn, and this included these South Brooklyn neighborhoods. The old Dutch farms were becoming part of the urban fabric. The old Red Hook Lane had become Court Street. Henry Street was opened by 1828, and by 1834, the gridiron of streets stretched south to Butler Street, which is present day Kane Street. Strong Place had already been established and paved by that time, and is the oldest street in present day Cobble Hill.
An 1840 street directory shows forty-five homes, with development occurring rapidly, as builders built speculative housing in groups of three and four houses, joining the single homes specifically built by wealthy merchants and businessmen. The area was close enough for commuting to Manhattan, via the Fulton ferry, established back in 1814. Many prominent area men commuted from their suburban Cobble Hill homes, including J. S. DeGraw, George A. Jarvis, president of the Lenox Insurance Company, and James Van Nostrand, president of the Merchants Exchange Bank of New York. Van Nostrand’s home at 439 Henry Street, will be important to our story.

By the 1860’s, Cobble Hill was an established community, with fine churches, stores, banks and shops, but it did not remain an upperclass enclave for very long. Albert T. White’s model tenements, built in 1876-79 heralded the changes in the neighborhood, as many of the houses slowly became rooming houses, the homes of the many immigrant groups to settle in Brooklyn, specifically the Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, English and Germans. By the 20th century, Cobble Hill, still part of South Brooklyn, began to welcome Spanish speaking immigrants, and members of the Syrian and Lebanese communities. The splitting of Red Hook from the rest of South Brooklyn by Robert Moses’ Brooklyn Queens Expressway in the 1950’s was a blow to this now working class community.

In 1959, the Cobble Hill name was reintroduced to the area, and the re-settlement of wealthier homeowners, many priced out of Brooklyn Heights, slowly began. In 1969, the main streets of Cobble Hill were designated as an historic district by the new Landmarks Preservation Commission, protecting the fine collection of mid-18th century buildings from being further altered or destroyed. Today, Cobble Hill’s tree-lined streets contain some of Brooklyn’s most well preserved row house blocks, with community pride evident in the restoration and renovation of these brownstone and brick houses, most with their original wrought iron railings and fences. The past is very evident on these streets, but the future of the neighborhood also lies in the adaptive uses of buildings and space, as evidenced in the new Strong Place Condominiums, created in the old Strong Place Church.

Strong Place

Strong Place was the earliest settled street in the southern part of what is now Cobble Hill. It had eight residents in 1840, and its placement guided city planners in arranging the parallel and intersecting streets around it. Corporation Council notices in the Brooklyn Eagle in 1842 show that it was paved, and scheduled to have gas streetlights installed by the end of 1843. This one block, residential street is named for Selah Strong, Esq., a lawyer and politician with a pedigreed lineage. He was a descendant of the Brewster family on his mother’s side, the leaders of the Mayflower Pilgrims. He was also a descendant of Lion Gardiner, an English settler and soldier who was one of the founders of the first English settlement in New York State. Born in Brookhaven, in 1792, He graduated from Yale College in 1811, was admitted to the bar in 1814, and practiced in New York City. He served in the military during the War of 1812, later, he served in Congress, became a judge, and eventually a judge in the New York State Supreme Court. He died in 1872.

The nearby harbor, and easy access to the Fulton Ferry made Cobble Hill a perfect suburb, and Selah Strong was not the only wealthy man to have his suburban retreat here. His estate had been part of the older Cornell farm and mill, established in the mid 1700’s. His land stretched to Baltic Street, a block away from present day Strong Place, and his home was in the middle of the block that now bears his name. A Brooklyn city map from 1874 shows the border of his old estate, with the present day street grid overlaid on it. By the time the block was being developed, Mr. Strong had long moved on, to Long Island, leaving only his name to the street, and no buildings from that time period exist today.

By the 1840’s a New York broker named Charles Kelsey had acquired land on both sides of the block, building the largest house for himself. By the end of the decade, he had actually lived in three of his houses, moving as he sold homes, and built more. He also built speculative homes on other Cobble Hill blocks. Houses were built on this block until the end of the 19th century, ranging in style from the Greek Revival of the 1830’s, through the Neo-Grec style houses of the early 1880’s, to the Romanesque and Queen Anne styles of the 1890’s. The apartment buildings are from the turn of the century, when the need for middle-class multiple unit dwellings were changing the face of all of the streetscapes of Brooklyn.

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