Prince Hall Masonic Lodge

68 Pennsylvania Avenue
Harde & Short

With much fanfare, a procession marched on July 29, 1906, from Liberty Avenue to 68 Pennsylvania Avenue, where the cornerstone was laid to begin construction of the Tyrian Masonic Lodge. The Tyrian Masons trace their history back to the ancient Biblical city of Tyre, but this particular lodge, number 618, was founded in 1867. The organization had previously been headquartered in a building on Atlantic Avenue and then in Happ’s Hall at Liberty and Wyona Avenues before constructing this larger building. Pennsylvania Avenue runs through East New York and the adjoining neighborhood of Cypress Hills, and was once a premier avenue, making it a desirable location for the new headquarters. The organization’s membership consisted of upper middle class men, but the building was also home to the Tyrian Ladies Auxiliary, a charitable group. In 1971, the property was acquired by the Prince Hall Masons, an African-American Masonic body, so named in honor of an African-American abolitionist recognized for his leadership in the free black community. Although a community center primarily operates here today, it has been reported that the free masons still utilize the space.

Piels Brewery

124-128 Sheffield Avenue
c. 1900

Considering East New York’s thriving German immigrant population in the second half of the 19th century, it is no surprise that the neighborhood was once home to a significant brewing complex, the Piels Brewery. In 1883, Gottfried, Wilhelm and Michael Piel – three brothers from Düsseldorf, Germany – purchased a small brewery at Georgia and Liberty Avenues and slowly expanded the complex. Its success was largely due to the ingenuity and skill of the youngest brother, Michael, who incorporated traditional brewing techniques with the new science of refrigeration. As expected with any large brewery at that time, the location included a traditional, open-air beer garden for its patrons. In 1912, due to the brand’s growing popularity, the brothers closed the garden in order to expand the brewery itself. After surviving Prohibition by producing “near beer,” the brand installed the world’s largest beer sign, featuring neon lights, atop the complex in 1936. The Piels brewing legacy lasted for ninety years until September 1973, when it closed its doors. At that time, much of the complex was demolished, though this structure still stands as a reminder of the once thriving local business and East New York’s German heritage. Also surviving at 315 Liberty Avenue is the company’s 1959 Administration Building, whose original Modern style has unfortunately been altered beyond recognition.

Cornerstone Seventh-Day Adventist Church

138 Pennsylvania Avenue
Builder: Frank Richards

This stately structure was built in 1922 as the Homestead Branch of the National City Bank of New York, an institution founded in 1812 and known since 1976 as Citibank. A Brooklyn Eagle article from January 9, 1922, described it as “a handsome, but not extravagant, structure, with all the up-to-date appointments of a first-class bank.” The same article described some of its interior features: “There are windows on three sides, admitting real daylight into the tellers’ and bookkeepers’ cages. The finish of the cages is Tennessee marble and bronze. Metal desks that have the verisimilitude of mahogany harmonize with real mahogany trim and chairs.” In 1977, the property was sold to the Cornerstone Seventh-Day Adventist Church, which made only minimal changes to the front façade, including the addition of a sign and awning over the entrance and the removal of its original sign band above the grand columns, which read “The National City Bank of New York.” Its conversion to and continued function as a church is an excellent example of successful adaptive reuse.

Former Magistrate’s Court

135 Pennsylvania Avenue
Mortimer Dickerson Metcalf

While many buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue have been altered or demolished, it was once considered East New York’s grand boulevard, home to fine residences and institutional buildings, including this former courthouse. Designed in the neo-Classical style popular for government buildings at the time, the Magistrate’s Court was the work of Mortimer Dickerson Metcalf, who previously worked for the prestigious New York architectural firm of Warren & Wetmore (architects of Grand Central Terminal). It was one of many such courthouses in Brooklyn, where low-level criminal cases were heard until the city’s court system was centralized in 1962 (the building’s near-twin, an individual landmark also designed by Metcalf, is located at 4201 4th Avenue in Sunset Park). The location, previously home to St. Clement’s Protestant Episcopal Church, was likely chosen for its proximity to the local police precinct (site 4). After 1962, the building housed the Arnold and Marie Schwartz Community Center, a day care program, the Police Athletic League and the offices of Brooklyn Community Board 5. In 2009, due to a lack of funding, the community center was forced to close, but new funds set aside in the 2015 East New York Neighborhood Plan should enable its reopening. Despite its change of use, the building’s history as a courthouse remains legible through an inscription on the frieze that reads “MAGISTRATES COURT.”

Former 75th Police Precinct Station House

484 Liberty Avenue
Emile M. Gruwe
c. 1886-92
National Register of Historic Places

To protect its rapidly growing population in the 1880s and 1890s, Brooklyn greatly expanded its police force and built precincts throughout its neighborhoods. This magnificently adorned but dilapidated structure served as the 75th Precinct until the 1970s. Affectionately known to the local community as “The Castle,” it was designed in the Romanesque Revival style with Venetian and Norman Revival ornament, including brick molded cornices, arched openings, brownstone moldings and stone bandcourses with carved faces and Byzantine leafwork. It originally had a crenellated roofline, lending it a fortress-like quality, but that detail has been removed. In 1976, the People’s First Baptist Church bought “The Castle” at auction from the City, but due to the declining health of the church’s owner and faith leader, the building fell into disrepair. In 2016, the building again changed hands, but its future is uncertain. A near-identical twin of this building, designed by the same architect, stands at 4302 Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn and was designated as an individual landmark in 1983. That building is also in a state of disrepair but is currently being considered for use as a public school.

Grace Baptist Church of Christ

233 New Jersey Avenue
Architect unknown

This stately Gothic Revival style church was originally built for the German congregation of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, which referred to itself as St. Johannes Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – a name memorialized in stone at the base of the church’s tower. From its formation in 1847, this German immigrant congregation worshipped in a wooden church building at the corner of New Jersey and Liberty Avenues, making it one of East New York’s earliest institutions. The new church, constructed just south of the original building, was dedicated in 1898. Committed to staying connected to their heritage, the members of the church spoke German and for many years refused to conduct services in English. This was largely in response to the early 20th century trend of German congregations switching to English-speaking services. This eventually led to a schism in the congregation, wherein a group broke off to form the English-speaking Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Barbey Street. By the mid-20th century, most of the German population had moved out of East New York, so in 1972, the parish voted to disband and sold the building to the congregation of Grace Baptist Church of Christ, which continues to worship here. The structure is adjoined by a charming rectory building, faced in the same rough-hewn brick as the church.

Second Calvary Baptist Church

503 Glenmore Avenue
Architect unknown

There is a longstanding tradition in New York City of adapting religious buildings for use by other religious groups, and the Second Calvary Baptist Church is a shining example of this practice. This structure was originally constructed for the Agudath Achim B’nai Jacob Synagogue, which operated here until transferring ownership in 1974 to the Second Calvary Baptist Church. Remarkably, while the church made changes to adapt the building, it left nearly all of the Jewish iconography and ornament intact on the building’s exterior. If not for the church’s new signs at the corner of Glenmore and Miller Avenues, the grand structure would appear to still function as a synagogue, as it retains Hebrew inscriptions above the three entrance doors, a prominent depiction of the Torah in the center of the building’s pediment, three large sculptures of the Star of David on the roofline and stained glassed windows containing the Star of David. Through the preservation of these elements, the new congregation has honored the building’s past, beautifully merging the old and the new. Aside from its religious symbols, the building commands a strong presence with its Classical style temple front, sculptural details, decorative brickwork and iron fence, which are all wonderfully intact.

Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church

400 Glenmore Avenue
Roman Meltzer

Founded in 1909 by immigrants from Belarus, the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church commissioned this magnificent structure a few decades later, with construction completed in 1935. The church was designed in the traditional Russian Orthodox style by Roman Meltzer, a notable Russian-born architect. Before arriving in New York in 1921, Meltzer worked as an architect and decorator for several of the Imperial palaces in St. Petersburg, and was appointed court architect in 1903. He was best known for his Art Nouveau style interiors and for the wrought-iron grillework he designed for the Winter Palace entrance gates and garden railing. In the late 1950s, the interior of the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church was redecorated with murals by the famed iconographer Pimen M. Sofronoff.  On the exterior, the church’s domed copper roofs, which have tarnished to reveal a beautiful green patina, have become neighborhood icons and serve as a beacon to those of the Russian Orthodox faith. After many years of coping with a diminishing congregation, the church’s membership has increased in recent years due to an influx of Russian immigrants to southern Brooklyn.

East New York, Brooklyn

East New York is a dynamic and largely unrecognized jewel in New York City. In the mid-17th century, Dutch farming families began migrating here from the town of Flatbush, referring to the land as the “new lots,” and it was soon identified as a subsidiary of Flatbush. In 1852, residents deemed themselves independent and began to refer to the community officially as New Lots. Present-day East New York is part of what was once the town of New Lots. In 1886, New Lots was annexed to help form the city of Brooklyn, and in 1898, was annexed again when Brooklyn and the other boroughs were consolidated to become the City of Greater New York.

In 1835, developers began buying farms in New Lots and laying out streets and lots. The area was prime for development due to the presence of the Jamaica Turnpike and the Long Island Railroad tracks along Atlantic Avenue. It was also a well-known destination for its two horse racing tracks, Union Course and Centerville Race Track (both demolished). The area’s most influential developer was a Connecticut merchant named John Pitkin, who purchased 135 acres and named his neighborhood East New York. The renaming was not only to set it apart for real estate purposes, but Pitkin envisioned a world-class and impressively-designed community filled with factories, shops and housing to rival New York City – an illustrious goal. Although Pitkin experienced significant losses during the financial panic of 1837, sales picked up in the mid-19th century and East New York became a thriving community even before neighborhoods much closer to Manhattan had even begun to be developed. Transportation improvements in the 1880s, including the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and the introduction of steam cars and the elevated railroad on Atlantic Avenue, led to a building boom in East New York. Immigrants, including Germans, Italians, Russians and Eastern Europeans, migrated from crowded Manhattan neighborhoods to settle in the East New York countryside, in hopes of building a community where they would be free to communicate in their native languages, congregate and worship, patronize businesses catering to their cultural tastes and provide their children with opportunities to become skilled and educated citizens.

By the 1930s, East New York was widely regarded as a stable, working class community, boasting of great housing stock, schools and low crime. After World War II, however, the neighborhood unfortunately experienced a slow decline that it is still recovering from today. After the war, the city lost a great number of manufacturing jobs at the same time as large numbers of Puerto Ricans and African Americans were arriving in the city seeking employment. East New York was hit particularly hard in the 1970s by the FHA Mortgage Scandal and the unscrupulous and racially-charged real estate practice of “blockbusting,” which resulted in home foreclosure and abandonment. Unemployment, drug abuse and crime became commonplace in East New York, and its notorious reputation unfortunately lingers today. In recent years, East New York has begun to experience a rebirth. Vacant lots have been transformed into community gardens; well-maintained homes have helped to revitalize blocks; desolate sections under the elevated train tracks now exhibit vibrant murals; and diverse groups are working to enhance the neighborhood. One of these is Preserving East New York, a grassroots preservation group that formed to protect the neighborhood’s historic resources and illuminate its 300-year narrative of refuge, expansion, battle and rebirth. The group is advocating for landmark designation of some of the area’s historic buildings, an effort mainly spurred by the city’s announcement in 2015 that East New York would be rezoned for increased density as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan.