Tag Archives: Williamsburg

New York City on Two Wheels

League of American Wheelman Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Sports COllection.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.1.

League of American Wheelman Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Collection on New York City Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.1.

May is National Bicycle Month and is recognized by various local and national bicycle and transportation advocacy groups  such as New York’s Transportation Alternatives and the League of American Bicyclists.   Some New Yorkers may feel that New York City’s “bicycle craze,”  with its vast network of bike lanes and a bike sharing program, is a relatively recent phenomenon; the city, however, has a long history with two-wheeled transportation, boasting local bicycle clubs such as the Kings County Wheelmen, Williamsburgh Wheelmen, Gramercy Wheelmen, and Harlem Wheelmen.  Many members of these clubs were also involved with the national organization of the time,  the League of American Cyclists, which was founded as the League of American Wheelma (LAW) in 1880 and had over 100,000 members nationwide by 1896.  The League of American cyclists still uses the same emblem of the three spinning wings as pictured to the upper left in the LAW sweater patch.  Notable cycling enthusiasts from New York’s History include Diamond Jim Brady, Alfred E. Smith, and John D. Rockefeller.

Kings County Wheelmen Sweater Patch, 1896, from the Collection on Sports.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.2.

Kings County Wheelmen Sweater Patch, 1896, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.2.

In 1949, wheelman Charles W. Hadley made a gift of several objects related to bicycle clubs and races from the late 19th century, including the patch above, and a similar one from the Kings County Wheelmen, pictured to the right.  According to a June 29, 1894 New York Times article, “Cyclists Noted for Racing: Kings County Wheelmen’s Company of ‘Scorchers’,” the Brooklyn cycling club was one the most well known and respected clubs both within New York and in other states, and members of the Kings County Wheelmen were greeted enthusiastically with “Hello, Kings County!”  It was said that an “introduction of a ‘member of the Kings County’ is the best of passports amongst cyclists all over the country.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Hadley was a member of all of the clubs whose ephemera he collected. It seems unlikely, as good healthy competition and loyalty to one’s club was part of the fun.  His participation, however, as a member of the Williamburgh Wheelmen is documented both in the photograph below (Hadley is the middle cyclist), and as the 1st Lieutenant of the club, noted

unknown photographer, The Williamsburgh Wheelmen, 1896.  Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.7.

unknown photographer, The Williamsburgh Wheelmen, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.7.
Williamsburgh Wheelman: Schedule of runs, April 4th to July 25th, 1897, from the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.12

Williamsburgh Wheelman: Schedule of runs, April 4th to July 25th, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.12

on the cover of the program  the right.  You can view the full program by clicking here, and you’ll see the interior lists “runs,” or rides, organized by the Williamsburgh club to various locations in the New York City area. The back cover makes reference to club loyalty, stating “all unattached Wheelmen are invited to attend club runs and visit club house,” excluding those associated with other clubs.

Another cycling event sponsored by the clubs, and still popular today, is the Century Ride, which is defined by the completion of 100 miles within 12 hours.

Centruy Run of the Gramercy and Metropolis Wheelmen, 1895, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.16.

Century Run of the Gramercy and Metropolis Wheelmen, 1895, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.16.

Century rides usually have multiple checkpoints where the rider has to stop and have his or her (these days, “wheelwomen” are allowed to join in on rides, too)  card punched in order to prove that he or she completed the entire ride.

Waverley Moonlight Century Run, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.14

Waverley Moonlight Century Run, 1897, in the Collection on Sports. Museum of the City of New York. 49.300.14

Today’s cycling clubs and advocacy organizations appear to have many of the same goals as those of over a century ago: promotion of the bicycle for fun, fitness, and socializing.   We can also add the environmental benefits of bicycling today’s agenda.   The League of American Wheelmen, mentioned earlier, is credited for the paving of roads in America, even before automobiles became common, and the New York Times article referred to earlier speaks of how the King County Wheelmen did more than any group in the state to “keep the wheel before the general public” and promote cycling through road races and group meets.  As a ‘Wheelwoman” myself, I won’t attempt to hide my opinion on the subject of bicycles on the streets of New York,  but whatever your feelings, I think we can all agree that Mr. Hadley would certainly be surprised to see how much a part of the urban landscape cycling is in New York City today.

Visit the Museum’s online Collections Portal to view more images from New York City’s cycling history.

Officer Stanley Kronzak, North Brooklyn Beat from 1936-1954

Like most of New York City, the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of north Brooklyn have changed considerably in the last 75 years.

New York City Patrolman’s Log Books, 1936-1954, in the Stanley Kronzak Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 94.90.20A – 94.90.20II.

I obtained a unique glimpse into these neighborhoods’ past through the patrol notebooks of Officer Stanley Kronzak of the New York City Police Department.  Officer Kronzak was born in Pinsk, Russia, in 1908, and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1911.  He joined the police force in 1936 and was assigned to the 87th Precinct, which can no longer be found on current police precinct maps.  Based on the locations  referenced in his logs, Kronzak’s beat appears to have fallen in the eastern section of north Williamsburg and south Greenpoint, coinciding with parts of present day 90th and 94th precincts.  The notebooks cover the years of 1936 – 1954, and include Officer Kronzak’s record of each day’s events.

In most cases, Kronzak’s days were fairly routine.  On November 29, 1936, he noted the following, “Conditions reported… No door on street lamp – cable exposed – Cooper Park, pole#2W2C.”

Woodhull & Gale. Shelter House, Cooper Park, ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.11.7666.

Wurts Brothers. Grand Street and Graham Avenue, N.E. corner. Old buildings, Graham Avenue elevation, 1930. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.7192.

On June 15, 1948, he recorded that he escorted a man of “719 Grand Street [with] store receipts to Bank at Grand and Graham,” and later in the day escorted the Grand Theater receipts to the same bank.  On many days, Kronzak simply recorded the time, with the statement, “nothing to report.”

Excerpt from “The ‘Wick: Published to Encourage Thrift, by the Bushwick Savings Bank,” 1949, in the Stanley Kronzak Collection. Museum of the City of New York. 90.94.18.

Officer Kronzak is pictured to the left in “The ‘Wick,” a publication of the Bushwick Savings Bank, the same bank mentioned in the excerpt above.  The bank remains standing on the corner of Graham and Grand and though the stone facade still bears the name “Bushwick Saving Bank,”  it now houses a Chase bank.

Letter of Recognition to Officer Stanley Kronzak from Police Commissioner Lewis J. Valentine, 1942, in the Stanley Kronzak Collection. Museum of the City of New York, 90.94.13.

On April 17th, 1942, things got a little more exciting.  At approximately 1:15 PM, two men held up Vincent Perecelli’s bar and grill at 193 Frost Street.  The men made off with $333 from Mr. Perecelli’s pockets.  The two men ran from the premises and Mr. Perecelli began shouting “Hold up!”  The perpetrators first attempted to flee the scene in an automobile driven by a third man, but as Perecelli pursued them, the driver abandoned it and the robbers took off on foot.  Two detectives nearby heard the calls and apprehended one man. The other two, however, remained at large.   The detectives alerted a nearby patrol car.   Officer Kronzak was one of the two patrolmen in that police car. He gave chase and apprehended one of the robbers, recovering the stolen money and two loaded revolvers.  Following this event, Officer Kronzak received a letter commending his performance from the New York City Police Commissioner.

The image below shows the 15th Anniversary Dinner of his police academy class.  Kronzak is the man about half-way back, directly in front of a pitcher of beer on the banquet table, and is the only man in the whole photo wearing a bow-tie.  Officer Kronzak served on the police force for another five years following the dinner shown here, retiring in 1956 after 20 years of service and going on to work for a trucking company.

Techni-Photo Studio, Fifteenth Reunion of the Police Academy Class of March 1936, 1951. Museum of the City of New York. 90.94.11.

Many thanks to our intern, Richard, who assisted with matching photographs from our collection to the locations mentioned in Officer Kronzak’s logs.  Click on these links to view more images of the areas Kronzak patrolled in the Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

The Struggle to Save the Austin, Nichols and Co. Warehouse

This building is a piece of trash, and it should be knocked down.” – Simcha Felder, member of the New York City Council and chair of the council’s Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses

Preserving this site is important for the fabric of our community.” – Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City

I could not distinguish this warehouse from dozens of other warehouse and factory buildings on the waterfront. It just simply doesn’t deserve it. It’s a nondescript white box of a building.” – David Yassky, member of the New York City Council

Of course it should be landmarked. It’s by Cass Gilbert, one of our great architects. You have people who absolutely know nothing making outrageous statements about the architectural value of the building.” – Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic

You can’t tell me the reason we voted it down isn’t related to the interests of the developer. This sends a chilling message to the Landmarks Preservation Commission and preservation groups.” – Tony Avella, member of the New York City Council

The quotes above are a small sample of the range of feelings evoked by the Austin, Nichols & Co. building at 184 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The warehouse was built from 1914-1915 for its namesake, the largest importing and manufacturing wholesale grocery business in the world. Critics of the time described the building, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert, as an outstanding example of Egyptian Revival architecture rarely found in New York City and the United States.

Wurts Bros. Austin Nichols Building, watercolor perspective rendering, dated 1913. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4399

Noted architects Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius identified this type of building as the stimulus for the development of European modernism.

Wurts Bros. North 3rd Street. Austin Nichols Co. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4502

The warehouse utilized piers, railway tracks, freight elevators, conveyor belts, and pneumatic tubes for the production of foodstuffs under the Sunbeam Foods label.

Wurts Bros. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Austin-Nichols and Co., control and motor to refrigerator plant. ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4936

Wurts Bros. Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Austin-Nichols and Co., peanut butter machines. ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4935

Wurts Bros. Austin-Nichols and Co., coffee roasting department. ca. 1916. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4937

The building remained the headquarters for Austin, Nichols & Co. until the late 1950s. The building was acquired by 184 Kent Avenue Associates in 1986 and rented to residential and commercial tenants. In 2004, the building’s owners submitted a proposal to the Board of Standards and Appeals to construct a rooftop addition and transform the 72-unit building into 256 condos. This would have drastically altered the building’s appearance. The Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC) subsequently held a public meeting and deliberated over possible landmark status for the warehouse, which would negate the owners’ plans for the building.

At the public meeting  held on July 26, 2005, 27 people, including representatives from the Cass Gilbert Society, McCarren Park Conservancy, Municipal Art Society, and New York Landmarks Conservancy, spoke in favor of the landmark designation. In addition, the LPC received over 500 postcards in support of the designation, mostly from Williamsburg residents. Architectural historians Andrew S. Dolkart, Sharon Irish, Sarah Bradford Landau, and Robert A. M. Stern also wrote letters to the LPC endorsing the landmark status. The LPC also heard statements in opposition to the designation, from representatives of the building’s owners and councilman David Yassky.

Two months later, the LPC designated the Austin, Nichols & Co. warehouse a landmark. But on November 29, 2005, the New York City Council took a rare step in reversing the LPC’s designation. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg vetoed the council’s reversal, but the council voted to override the veto.

Cass Gilbert is perhaps best known for designing the Woolworth Building. When the building opened in 1913, it was the tallest skyscraper in the world. The LPC designated that building a landmark in 1983.

Wurts Bros. 233 Broadway. Woolworth Building, final view. ca. 1914. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10817

In addition to the Woolworth Building, Gilbert designed other NYC landmarks. His first design in New York City was the Broadway Chambers Building in TriBeCa, built from 1899 to 1900. The LPC designated this office building a landmark in 1992.

Wurts Bros. Broadway and Chambers Street. Broadway Chambers Building. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.4846

In 1899, 20 architectural firms competed to design the United States Custom House in Lower Manhattan, but Gilbert won the commission. It was completed in 1907 and designated a landmark in 1965.

Wurts Bros. Bowling Green. New York U.S. Custom House, general exterior from N.W. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.746

The West Street Building was also completed in 1907, and designated a landmark in 1998.

Wurts Bros. West Street between Albany Street and Cedar Street. West Street Building, finished view. ca. 1905. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.741

The New York Life Insurance Company Building, just north of Madison Square, was built from 1926-1928 and designated a landmark in 2000.

Wurts Bros. Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Street. New York Life Insurance Building, view looking S.E. from N.W. corner of 28th Street, with foundation of new building in foreground. 1961. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.10170

Not all of Gilbert’s buildings have fared so well, however. The Westchester Avenue railroad station, built in 1908 to serve the old New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, is on the New York Landmark Conservancy’s list of endangered buildings.

Wurts Bros. Westchester Avenue Station, N.Y., N.H. and H.R.R. ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. X2010.7.1.1842

And what of the Austin, Nichols & Co. building? Surprisingly, the council’s decision was not the last word on the fate of the warehouse. Shortly thereafter, the owners sold the property to 184 Kent Fee LLC, which then donated a historic preservation deed of easement to the Trust for Architectural Easements. In return for the donation, the new owners qualified for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program. The Austin, Nichols & Co. building continues to function as rental residences, but thanks to the donation, its height and shape will be preserved in perpetuity.

During the month of May, we’ll be posting more entries on historic preservation in the city. The Museum of the City of New York is competing for a $250,000 grant from Partners in Preservation, a joint program sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The winner is determined by popular vote, and individuals may vote once a day through May 21st. Please help us by going to http://www.helpmcny.com/ and voting today.