Combing for Historic Remnants Among Brooklyn’s New Towers


ONE NIGHT LAST SUMMER, coming off the Long Island Expressway at Flatbush Avenue and Tillary Street, I had a few moments of total disorientation. It was dark, and I was in a canyon of hi-rises. Where was I?

Only in the area where I’ve been living since the late 1970s.

Scores of buildings have gone up in Downtown Brooklyn in the past decade, with scores more planned. The sky has been dotted with cranes for years, but now it feels a critical mass has been reached in what I call the Manhattanization of Brooklyn.


With each new tower, it seems, the buildings are getting taller, but alas, no more architecturally distinguished. Their shiny glass curtain walls hem in the historic brownstone districts that surround Downtown Brooklyn, stretching a mile along Flatbush Avenue from the Manhattan Bridge to Atlantic Avenue, and on the side streets as well. There’s construction on virtually every lot which lacks historic district designation.

The other day I walked along Fulton Street, the elegant shopping street of the Victorian era, in search of old buildings whose time has not yet come, like the onion-domed structure and others below. I have no idea whether these buildings have any kind of protection; I very much doubt it.


The building below was a department store (May’s? Martin’s). It’s now an Old Navy, on its ground floor at least.


Below, the earliest part of the department store that became A&S, before they built the Art Deco annex to its left.


What more fitting use for the Renaissance Revival townhouse, above, than a McDonald’s?

In decline since the 1950s (the department store in which the main character worked in the recent film Brooklyn was supposed to be on Fulton Street), the street is supposedly coming back, with chain stores like H&M, but not with any grandeur — just crass commercial architecture among the few dribs and drabs of history that remain.

I remember the Abraham and Straus in a 1930s building when we first moved to Brooklyn in 1977, especially the Art Deco brass elevators with their uniformed operators, and an old time movie palace, the Metropolitan. And of course, the restaurant Gage & Tollner, opened in the 1890s, with its mirrored walls, embossed wallpaper, gaslight fixtures and menu of Southern specialties.

A&S became a downscale Macy’s, the Metropolitan became a multiplex and then disappeared altogether. Gage & Tollner became, shockingly, an Arby’s and then a TGIF. Fortunately, its interior had been landmarked in 1975 by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, the only restaurant in Brooklyn to be so designated, and was more or less protected through the travesties. It’s now for rent again, below (click link for Brownstoner article with current interior photos).


The stores in between sold jeans, sneakers, gold jewelry. Many of those are still in place, but presumably not for long. A sweet row, below. To me they seem to be crying out, ‘Please save us!’ but to others, they’re crying out, ‘Buy my air rights!’


And recently, at the base of City Point, a new residential tower approximately where the the low-end Albee Square Mall sat for 20 years or so, a sparkling new Century 21 department store has opened, as well as a new cinema, the Alamo Drafthouse — and a promising-sounding food court is on the way. The architecture of the tower, top photo, is blocky and entirely lacking in imagination. It gets a D from me.

One landmarked structure remains near City Point, impeding the desire of developers to raze it: the domed Dime Savings Bank, below.


The building and its sensational lobby, below, will be incorporated into Brooklyn’s first ‘supertall’ — a 74-story building by SHoP architects — soon to rise in the air above it, blotting out another bit of Brooklyn sky.

Photos below via Curbed


6 thoughts on “Combing for Historic Remnants Among Brooklyn’s New Towers

  1. The super tall is a shanda. Where are we? Dubai?

    I do remember walking through the old A&S with actual windows and a creaking wood floor. There was even a bridge as I recall across one of the side streets. Oh, and the elevators were impeccably kept, with the brass always polished to a shine.

  2. Macy’s is single-handedly responsible for destroying most of the great regional department store chains. They buy them out and then proceed to run them into the ground.

  3. Whenever I find myself in downtown Brooklyn I look up and image how beautiful the neighborhood once was and hope that new glassy towers can revive the area.

  4. the store was Martins…I’m a true Brooklynite….born and raised….it’s such a shame that these tall buildings are invading these lovely buidlings from yester-year…

  5. Ah yes, Martins, thank you Barb… I remember it there for a short while. Yes, Astor, the old A&S was a thing to behold — the elevators especially. The brass Art Deco doors are still there, but not the uniformed operators. Steve, I believe it about Macy’s. They really seemed to dump all the crappy merchandise into the Fulton Street store after they took it over. Julia, thanks for weighing in. The area may be revived commercially but sadly,
    not architecturally.

  6. there was also Goodwins , Korvettes, Mays, G&A stores, giving my age away (55 years old)…I agree that Macy’s is treated like a stepchild…I know progress is necessary, but I believe the City has lost its soul in the process…..

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