Downtown Brooklyn

From the (1939) WPA Guide to New York City:
Fulton Street and Vicinity, between Johnson Street and Rockwell Place, includes the Borough Hall district, the seat of the county and borough governments and the center of business; and Brooklyn's most important shopping and theatrical zones. Fulton Street, the borough's oldest thoroughfare and earliest road of importance on Long Island, was first known as the Old Ferry Road; in the Colonial and Revolutionary periods as King's Highway, and after 1814 as Fulton Street in honor of Robert Fulton. As the city developed into a great metropolis, downtown Fulton Street became the concentration point of subways, street cars, and elevated lines, attracted important public buildings and leading commercial and recreational establishments, and assumed a bustling Main Street air, not unlike State Street, Chicago, or Euclid Avenue, Cleveland. Today the neon signs blink all day long in the false twilight of an overhead el structure, surface cars bang and clatter incessantly, the subway entrances expel and admit passengers, while the streets are clogged with pedestrian and automobile traffic.

In the plaza at the convergence of Court, Fulton, and Joralemon Streets is stately Borough Hall; across Joralemon Street are the fourteen-story Municipal Building, the Kings County Supreme Court, and Kings County Hall of Records. Two blocks north of Borough Hall are the Federal Building and the Brooklyn Eagle Building, the home of the borough's leading newspaper; and two blocks south of the Hall, on Schermerhorn Street, congregate many charitable institutions and juvenile societies, with the Children's Court, the Domestic Relations Court, and the Central Courts Building in their midst. On the Court Street side of Borough Hall Park are the offices of banks and real-estate firms, with many of the real estate brokers conducting their business on the street in an informal curbstone exchange; while on the periphery of the Borough Hall locality are many of Brooklyn's leading institutions of higher learning, Long Island University, Brooklyn Law School, St. John's University, Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and Packer Collegiate Institute.

From Smith Street to Flatbush Avenue, Fulton Street hums by day with an endless procession of shoppers; the department stores, Abraham and Straus, Namm's, and Frederick Loeser and Company, offer as an array of merchandise as those in Manhattan; and such is the attraction of the Brooklyn market, which is heavily patronized by Long Islanders, that many large Manhattan shops have found it expedient to open branches on Fulton Street.

The amusement center Brooklynites have in mind when they "go downtown to see a movie" is near an open square formed by the intersection of Flatbush Avenue, Nevins and Fulton Streets. Within a small area are the Brooklyn Strand, the Brooklyn Paramount, the Loew's Metropolitan, the Fox, the Orpheum, and the Albee as well as several burlesque and legitimate houses

Beyond Flatbush Avenue, Fulton Street trails off among rickety dwellings and featureless neighborhoods, with the elevated above and the new (Independent) subway below. Early in 1939 plans were announced for razing the el.

Borough Hall, in a triangular block formed by Fulton, Court. Joralemon Streets, is a dignified four-story marble building in post-colonial style. The front facing the park has a classic portico and a read flight of marble steps. The building houses the borough president's office. Most of the borough administrative offices are in the Brooklyn Municipal Building on the opposite side of Joralemon Street.

Prior to the consolidation of 1898, the present Borough Hall was the City Hall of Brooklyn. Its cornerstone was laid in 1836, but due to financial difficulties the structure was not completed until 1849. It was originally designed to occupy the entire park, but as completed it fills only the southern end of this space. The building was remodeled in 1895 after a fire, and the overelaborate cupola dates from that period.

Statue of Henry Ward Beecher, in Borough Hall Park, by J. Q. A. Ward, is a bronze figure about ten feet high standing on a granite pedestal on which are depicted the figures of three children--one a Negro with wreaths in their hands held up toward the preacher.

The Brooklyn Eagle Building, Johnson and Adams Streets, houses the borough's major newspaper. The old Eagle Building, at Washington and Johnson Streets, a landmark since 1893, is used as an office building. The Brooklyn Eagle was founded in 1841 by a group of Democrats, with Henry C. Murphy, later mayor of Brooklyn, as editor. Walt Whitman edited it from 1846 to 1848, and so vigorously did he oppose the extension of slave states that he was forced out of the editorship; shortly afterward Whitman joined the staff of the radical Brooklyn Freeman. In recent years the Eagle acquired the Brooklyn Times-Union which had been the Brooklyn Daily Times until its acquisition of the Brooklyn Standard Union.

St. James Pro-Cathedral, at Jay Street and Cathedral Place, the first Roman Catholic church built on Long Island (1822), serves as a parish church and has been used on special occasions since 1853 by the bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, which lacks a cathedral of its own. The building is a simple red-brick structure in High Renaissance style, with a green copper spire over the entrance on Jay Street. It is flanked on three sides by an old cemetery--said to be the oldest Catholic burial ground on Long Island. The parish was organized in 1822 by a group of seventy Catholics under the leadership of Peter Turner (1797-1863), a bust of whom stands in the churchyard near Jay and Chapel Streets.

subway tokenReturn to Brooklyn Home Page.

Copyright © 1995-2010 David Neal Miller. All rights reserved. For clarification and limited exceptions, see the Brooklyn Net copyright page. Last updated: December 26, 2010