‘History’ in the making in Bushwick

‘History’ in the making in Bushwick
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Community leaders are scrambling to landmark the historic stretch of Bushwick known as “Brewers Row” before the buildings are sold and further altered.

Bushwick high school teacher Adam Schwartz has partnered with Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Bushwick) to landmark several iconic buildings on Bushwick Avenue and create a historic district around the blocks near Linden Street, Gates Avenue and Bushwick Avenue.

“Identifying buildings and blocks could … preserve Bushwick’s history and culture as well as encourage neighborhood pride,” said Reyna.

The street was once home to beer makers, doctors, a former mayor and even a famous explorer of the North Pole — but the buildings have deteriorated or been altered.

With the help of his 11th and 12th graders at the Academy of Urban Planning, Schwartz has been identifying and documenting buildings for landmark consideration.

The William Ulmer Mansion on the corner of Bushwick Avenue and Myrtle Avenue is perhaps the most beautiful building in Bushwick. Ulmer’s brewery has already been landmarked by the city earlier this spring, but his brick Romanesque revival-style house remains unlisted.

Built in 1885, the three-story building became better known as the home of polar explorer Frederick Cook who was one of the first adventurers to reach the North Pole.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the building served as a clinic, and was later subdivided.

The Ridgewood Masonic Temple on Bushwick Avenue and Gates Avenue, which is for sale, would be significantly protected if granted landmark status.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A few blocks away, a thin brick building in a set of row houses between Menahan and Bleecker Streets was the home of Mayor John Hylan in those pre-Gracie Mansion days. He returned to the house after his time in public office expired.

“When parades were going up Bushwick Avenue, Hylan would stand outside and salute them,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz also has his eye on the Ridgewood Masonic Temple off Gates Avenue as another candidate for landmark status. Members of the lodge put it up for sale this summer with an asking price of $1 million, but recently pulled it from the down market.

“The Masonic Lodge is a reflection of the heritage of the neighborhood,” Schwartz said.

Two buildings on Bushwick Avenue have already been landmarked by the city: the Andrew Carnegie-funded Classical Revival-style DeKalb Library, which opened in 1905 and the Dutch colonial-style South Bushwick Reformed Church, built in 1853. The Brooklyn Public Library finished a lengthy restoration of the branch’s roof but the church’s steeple was damaged in a tornado that swept through the neighborhood last month.

Schwartz believes that landmarking individual buildings nearby would draw attention to the street as a historic area — which could lead to more funds being released by the government for preservation efforts of dilapidated and altered structures.

“Some buildings are in better condition others, some buildings have been rehabbed by tenants, but they’re still standing and I want to make sure they’re still standing a hundred years from now,” said Schwartz.

The Reformed Church of South Bushwick, on Bushwick Avenue off Kossuth Place is already a city landmark, but could use more funding to repair its steeple.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini