Love Among the Ruins: Bed-Stuy’s 433 and 435 Tompkins Ave.

Eye On Real Estate

August 20, 2014 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bed-Stuy eye candy, if you don't mind the covered-over windows: 435 Tompkins Ave. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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A little bit of decay — or in some cases, a lot — can be absolutely eye-catching.

Brooklyn’s got its fair share of buildings whose decrepitude is part of their charm.

The historic buildings at the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s hospital annex, weather-beaten and astonishingly beautiful, are stellar examples.

Love Among the Ruins? For the real estate-obsessed, yes indeed. (A digression: Which do you think of first when you read that title, the Robert Browning poem or the Katharine Hepburn-Laurence Olivier movie?)

Once these properties capture our attention, of course we want to know all about them.
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The corner row house is quite commanding — never mind the graffiti and metal sheet-covered store windows and blocked-off front door. Its companion property is kind of a wreck.

What’s not to like?

When we think of Beautiful Ruins (and we don’t mean Jess Walter’s novel), 433 and 435 Tompkins Ave. in Bed-Stuy come to mind.

The building on the corner of Halsey Street, 435 Tompkins, is a bright-red brick three-story row house with green trim around the roof and the front-of-the-building store.

And there’s alluringly decayed 433 Tompkins, which rises above a protective fence. Its brick facade looks a little crumbly, the coverings are coming off some of the empty window frames and what looks like a tree is sprouting out of it, though it’s a weed, Herbert Meyer explained.

“These are basically buildings that can’t be renovated,” he told Eye on Real Estate.

“It’s old, old construction, and who knows what’s been done?”

He had the brick façade of 435 Tompkins repointed some 20 years ago, which is one reason for its eye appeal. But there was a fire inside the Bedford-Stuyvesant building long ago, and the repair job wasn’t good.

“This looks okay from the outside, but it’s a mess,” said Meyer.

We found him at 435 Tompkins the other day, on the side-street façade of the property at the end furthest from the corner, in a small storefront with the address 241 Halsey St.

That’s where Halsey Supply Co., his family’s refrigeration and air-conditioning supply business, has been located since 1945, the year he was born.

The small storefront is a portal to the entire ground floor of the building, a 100-foot-deep space that the company occupies. In the part customers don’t see, where the stock is stored, there are tin ceilings.

So though you can’t tell from the Tompkins Avenue sidewalk, there’s commerce being conducted behind the sealed-up front windows and door.

When Meyer was a kid, those front windows had glass in them, painted so people couldn’t see in.

Down in the basement, in long-distant days there was a bowling alley, he was told. An iron door for a baking oven is still visible in one of the basement walls.

Upstairs at 435 Tompkins there are two apartments, each occupying a full floor. The last tenants to live in them were two sisters, each with her own apartment. They died 15 or 20 years ago, Meyer recalled.

His family, or the family company, has owned 435 Tompkins since before he was born.

Online city Finance Department records for the building date back only to the 1960s. The first deed that appears, from 1965, has his mother Miriam Meyer’s name on it.

Before that, her father Abe Rothman was a co-owner of the property, Herbert Meyer said.

“My family has been in this neighborhood for more than 100 years,” he said.

His mother grew up across the street at Tompkins Avenue and Halsey Street where there’s a playground now, in a two-family property with a bar and grill. Her family owned the building and the bar and grill.

Herbert Meyer, who grew up in Flatbush, now lives in Kensington.

As for 433 Tompkins, Meyer bought it in 1988 from Winston Whyte, Finance Department records indicate.

Whyte had a soda and beer distributorship in its retail space. The building, which has two apartments, was vacant when Meyer bought it, he said. He purchased it because he thought he would expand Halsey Supply Co. into the space next door. But that didn’t happen.

Of course, eye-catching 435 Tompkins gets lots of attention from real estate investors.

“Almost weekly, people offer to buy this building,” Meyer said.

“I tell them the price. That kills it. They go by buildable square feet and that’s all that matters to them.”

He would only sell it in a package deal with 433 Tompkins, he said.

How did he come up with the asking price, which he declined to reveal?

“It’s a number I’d be comfortable with,” he said.

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