The Dutch West India Company established Bedford in 1663. It was a rural community for the better part of 200 years until descendants of the original Dutch settlers began selling off their property in the heart of what was blossoming into the new city of Brooklyn. One entrepreneur who bought large swaths of land was James Weeks, an African-American who sold building lots to other black settlers. Weeksville became one of the first free black communities in the United States. Bedford eventually expanded to include the area of Stuyvesant Heights, named for Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor of the Dutch colony of New Netherland.
The boom times around Bedford occurred from 1880 to 1920 when the new electric trolleys opened up the community to commuters working in downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan. At this time many of the sturdy brownstone houses that became its trademark were built in the popular Neoclassical, Romanesque and Queen Anne styles of the day.
The financial straits in the United States brought on by the Great Depression of the 1930s had a profound impact on Bedford. With its century of history as an African-American cultural mecca, Bedford became a magnet for thousands of black men and women streaming from the rural South to replace disappearing farm jobs. The construction of the A train in 1936 made the commute between its Manhattan counterpart, Harlem, and Bedford much easier. Many people arrived from uptown to central Brooklyn, which offered more jobs and better housing.
Bedford-Stuyvesant began an era of long decline as increasingly the magnificent brownstones were carved into multiple dwellings and rooming houses. The slide culminated in its recognition as the largest ghetto in America. In recent years the community has experienced a renaissance, thanks in large part to its historic architecture and richness of available housing stock in the old brownstones.
Our walking tour will start at the intersection of two key cultural streams in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fulton Street and Nostrand Avenue...
WALK NORTH ON NOSTRAND AVENUE.
500-518 Nostrand Avenue between Macon Street and Halsey street, west side
The Alhambra is a highly elaborated apartment block built in 1889 by the prominent Brooklyn architect Montrose W. Morris who blended Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne styles into his composition. The six-story building commands its corner as it sits back from the street. Vacant for years and in complete disrepair by the 1980s, the property has picked up a detailed facelift.
488 Nostrand Avenue
The Renaissance was raised in 1892, another early apartment houses by Montrose Morris. Morris was born on Long Island in Hempstead but his family soon moved to Brooklyn where he was educated. To advertise his design talents Morris built his own houses and encouraged the public to come in and poke around. Here he tapped French Renaissance influences from 16th century Loire Valley castles. The corner turrets and mansard roof are all dressed in slate.
Reformed Episcopal Church of the Reconciliation
southeast corner of Jefferson and Nostrand avenues
Now doing duty as a Masonic temple, this Gothic-inspired creation of brick and terra-cotta is a souvenir of the 19th century from 1890; it boasts an octagonal corner tower. Architects Christopher Grant LaFarge and George Lewis Heins, who would later be named New York State Architect in 1899, provided the plans. LaFarge and Heins met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as young designers in the shop of America’s most influential post-Civil War architect, Henry Hobson Richardson. While working on this church LaFarge and Heins won a design competition over 68 other firms to build Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the country’s largest ecclesiastical project at the time.
Jenkins Trust Company /Long Island Storage Warehouse
390 Gates Avenue at southwest corner of Nostrand Avenue
A pair of classically-influenced Beaux Arts corner entrances betray this brawny building’s origins in 1906 as the Jenkins Trust Company and its ill-fated successor, the Lafayette Trust Company. In addition to patterned brickwork, architects Frank J. Helmle and Ulrich Huberty outfitted the corner with an ornate clocktower that has been shuffled off to the dustbin of history.
John Wesley United Methodist Church
260 Quincy Street at southwest corner of Nostrand Avenue
The Parfitt brothers, Henry and Walter, sailed from England in 1875 to Brooklyn in 1875, where they established one of the town’s busiest architectural practices. They were joined by their younger brother Albert in 1882, by which time Henry and Walter had created this Gothic church infused with elements of the English Arts and Crafts style for the Nostrand Avenue Methodist Episcopal congregation that formed in 1870. A spacious Sunday School and auditorium came along in 1892. The John Wesley congregation moved into this house of worship in 1947, its roots lay with Barbados immigrants in 1916.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS SOUTH ON NOSTRAND AVENUE AND TURN LEFT ON MADISON STREET.
Boys’ High School
832 Marcy Avenue at southwest corner of Madison Street
This sprawling Romanesque Revival Brooklyn landmark, rendered in brick with lavish terra cotta detailing, is a riot of arches, gables and towers. Designed by Irish architect James W. Naughton, the school greeted its first students in 1892. Among its recognizable alumni are writers Norman Mailer and Isaac Asimov and basketball legend Connie Hawkins.
TURN RIGHT ON MARCY AVENUE, GO THREE BLOCKS AND TURN LEFT ON HANCOCK STREET.
232 Hancock Street
southeast corner of Marcy Avenue
This Queen Anne by Montrose Morris from 1886 packs oriels, gables, turrets and pediments under a narrow mansard roof.
236-244 Hancock Street
between Marcy and Tompkins avenues, south side.
This mid-block grouping in red brick and terra-cotta is another from Montrose Morris. Although no longer standing, at #236 was where Morris built his own home, which he used as a model to display his talents.
246-252 Hancock St.between Marcy andTompkins Avenues, south side
Here in the 1880s Montrose Morris blended the Shingle Style with the powerful entry arches popularized by Henry Hobson Richardson. The architect also tossed into the eclectic mix some terra cotta, stained glass and an broad pediment punctuating a mansard roof.
273 Hancock Street
between Marcy andTompkins Avenues, north side
This Queen Anne brownstone from 1890 features quarry-faced and smooth-cut stone blocks and was given a lion-faced keystone guardian.
287 Hancock Street
between Marcy andTompkins Avenues, north side
A French-inspired brownstone decorated with wreathed oval windows, it also sports a bay window to increase the light into the mid-block townhouse and improve visibility down the street.
TURN RIGHT ON TOMPKINS AVENUE.
Tompkins Avenue Presbyterian Church /Stuyvesant Heights Christian Church
69 MacDonough Streetat northwest corner of Tompkins Avenue. This red brick Gothic Revival church was raised in 1873 as the Tompkins Avenue Presbyterian Church, which sold the building to St. Matthew’s Episcopal in 1889. In 1944 the Stuyvesant Heights Christian Church that formed in 1928 moved in.
Tompkins Avenue Congregational Church
54 MacDonough Street at southwest corner of Tompkins Avenue
When George Chappell designed this Venetian-inspired church the congregation here was thought to be the second largest largest of any Congregational church in America. Their house of worship would the country’s largest Congregational church when completed in 1889. The semicircular auditorium crafted of ash and mahogany could seat 2,100 worshippers. Outside, the 140-foot brick campanile lords over the neighborhood. The final price tag was $70,000. Most recently the building has been the home of the First African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
TURN LEFT ON MACDONOUGH STREET.
Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church
583 Throop Avenue at northeast corner of MacDonough Street
Our Lady of Victory Church was established by Irish parishioners in 1868 and this imposing Gothic church built of dark Manhataan schist with contrasting white limestone trim was dedicated in 1895. Thomas F. Houghton, who designed the building, was the son-in-law and one-time employee of Patrick C. Keely, America’s most prolific architect of Catholic churches.
TURN RIGHT ON THROOP AVENUE AND LEFT ON DECATUR STREET.
New York and New Jersey Telephone Branch Office
613 Throop Avenue, northeast corner Decatur Street
The New York and New Jersey Telephone Company was organized in 1883 to provide service to Brooklyn, Staten Island and northern New Jersey just seven years after the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell. Classically trained architect Rudolph L. Daus designed most of the local branch offices for the telephone company and he tapped the Romanesque style for this one in 1890. He decorated the brick structure with sculpted terra cotta. By 1905 the telephone was no longer a novelty and the company constructed a five-story Renaissance Revival addition, designed by Alexander McKenzie, to handle the volume. Exchanges like this one were mothballed after the introduction of direct dial service and this has been a storage facility since 1938.
79-81 Decatur Street, between Throop and Sumner avenues
What would a French chateau look like if it was squeezed into the middle of a Brooklyn block of rowhouses? This assembly of Roman brick, limestone and pressed metal from 1900 gives you an idea.
Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church
230 Decatur Street at the southeast corner of Lewis Avenue
This superb Richardsonian Romanesque effort from 1894 is fashioned in Roman brick and brownstone. The terra-cotta shingled tower is a remembrance of a Loire Valley caste’s turret. Considered to be one of the finest works by the English architects, the Parfitt Brothers, the church slips comfortably into its residential setting. It began life as the Embury Methodist Episcopal Church and was purchased by Mt. Lebanon in 1948. The congregation formed in 1905 with five members
TURN RIGHT ON LEWIS AVENUE AND TURN LEFT ON BAINBRIDGE STREET.
113-137 Bainbridge Street
The picturesque northside of this leafy block contrasts sharply with the neighborhood’s doughty brownstones. The entire block was the creation of architect Magnus Dahlander, working for developer Walter F. Clayton, in the early 1890s. Dahlander was a Swedish designer who came to America in 1888 when he was 25 years old. He stayed only until 1896 and returned home to become one of Sweden’s most admired architects until his death in his 89th year. Here, Dahlander called on multiple Victorian styles of the day to pierce the sky with whimsical turrets, towers and dormers.
RETURN TO LEWIS AVENUE AND TURN LEFT. CONTINUE TO ATLANTIC AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT THROUGH HISTORIC WEEKSVILLE. TURN LEFT ON KINGSTON AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT ON ST. MARKS AVENUE.
St. Marks Avenue
between New York Avenue and Kingston Avenue
Stroll down one of the grand residential streets in New York City.
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
145 Brooklyn Avenue at southeast corner of St. Marks Avenue
Begun in 1899, this was the first museum in America to cater exclusively to children. In 2008 the nation’s oldest children’s museum got a new home amidst residential Brooklyn.
Dean Sage House
839 St. Marks Avenue
This Romanesque Revival villa was designed in 1869 by Russell Sturgis, an influential writer on art and architecture. The client was Dean Sage, son of Russell Sage, New York financier and railroad baron. Sage left his family farm at the age of 15 in 1831 to begin work as an errand boy in his brother’s grocery in Troy. He entered politics in Rensselaer County and eventually served two terms in the United States Congress. He subsequently settled in New York City and amassed one of America’s greatest fortunes on Wall Street.
TURN RIGHT ON BEDFORD AVENUE.
Bedford Avenue and Dean Street
Grant Square features a very fine equestrian statue of namesake Ulysses S. Grant by William Ordway Partridge from 1896. The work, that captures the war-weary general’s disheveled look and contemplative posture, was commissioned by the Union League Club of Brooklyn that was located on the square.
southeast corner of Bedford Avenue and Dean Street
The members of the august Union League Club donated the Grant Statue to the City of Brooklyn that was placed across from its headquarters here. Built in 1889–90, the large Romanesque Revival was designed by P.J. Lauritzen. In the spandrels of the facade are relief portraits of Grant and Abraham Lincoln. Today, the Union League, still going strong in Manhattan, no longer maintains a Brooklyn facility.
1198 Pacific Street at southeast corner of Bedford Avenue
Montrose Morris went back to the French countryside for his inspiration to create this sumptuous limestone apartment house with a rusticated base and oversized arches in 1892.
23rd Regiment Armory
1322 Bedford Avenue, northwest corner of Pacific Street
This late 19th century brick-and-brownstone fortress features eight crenellated towers flanking massively arched entranceways. Designed by Fowler & Hough, the Neo-medieval armory has recently seen duty as a homeless shelter.
TURN RIGHT ON PACIFIC STREET.
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church
Pacific Street, between Bedford and Nostrand avenues
This Arts-and-Crafts style church of rough-hewn stone and dark brick is an unexpected treasure in the heart of the neighborhood, from the pen of one of Brooklyn’s finest architects, George P. Chappell. Nothing is known of his origins or training but he did as much to shape the Brooklyn streetscape as any Victorian architect and worked into the era of Art Deco in the late 1920s. This house of worship was constructed from 1886 to 1890.
TURN LEFT ON NOSTRAND AVENUE AND RETURN TO THE STARTING POINT AT FULTON STREET.