Downtown Brooklyn: Then and Now


I ALWAYS LOVED those hokey “Then & Now” books you could buy at souvenir kiosks in Rome, showing what the Forum and Colosseum looked like in their 1st century heyday, with acetate pages superimposed to show how they look today.

The photo above, courtesy Brooklyn Historical Society, was taken at the intersection of Fourth and Flatbush Avenues in the late 1920s. Despite the traffic chaos, you can make out the bottom of the then-new Williamsburg Savings Bank tower behind the elevated train tracks and the row of commercial buildings at left, which are still there — see below if you don’t believe me — but who knows for how long.


Recently, a new branch of TD Bank opened on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill. It’s decorated with murals depicting early 20th c. neighborhood scenes. They were even giving away placemat-sized posters of the same images, which I was happy to take.

I then went and stood at each vantage point to see what remained — probably less than remains in Rome after two millennia. You can make out a few of the same buildings, but the charm has all been lost to the relentless march of commerce.


Above, looking west on Atlantic Avenue from Court Street, c. 1930. Below, same view today. The street light remains (or a replica), and quite a few of the row houses. I’m sure developers are itching to get their hands on all that open sky.


Below, a c.1922 image (note horse cart and earlier cars), northwest corner of State and Court Streets.


Two decades ago, the monstrosity below, in the form of a multiplex cinema and mega-bookstore was visited upon us. Thanks to historic district protection, the row houses on State Street, barely visible behind the trees, remain.


Below, my fave, the northeast and southeast corners of State and Court, looking up toward the Williamsburg Savings Bank clock tower, c. 1929, when the tower had just been built.


I moved to the area in 1979, and that corner looks very familiar. It’s only in the last decade or so that the undistinguished brick boxes, below, that replaced the vintage buildings came to be. You can just about see the clock tower down at the end of the block.


As Brian Wilson sang, I just wasn’t made for these times. If Mr. Peabody’s wayback machine comes along to take me back 80 or so years, I’m on it.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
This entry was posted in BROOKLYN, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, MISCELLANEOUS. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Downtown Brooklyn: Then and Now

  1. DONNA HODAX says:

    Now this I can relate to . Lived in this neighborhood 20+ yrs ago. LOVE the pictures of the past and present contrasts .

  2. mud4fun says:

    I love looking at then and now photos although it is sad to see what ‘progress’ has destroyed, especially those beautiful old buildings.

    Even our rural village has changed significantly in just 20 years. I did a google earth satellite view comparing when we moved in to now and half the open space in the village has been infilled with new characterless boxes.

  3. Great post! I miss you. It’s been ages!!!! ❤️❤️❤️

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Anonymous says:

    Not only are the buildings being replaced by ugly boxes, the local businesses are being pushed out by chain stores.

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