Brooklyn Boro

Ask a historian: the Waterfall Apartments, the Mosaic House and more

October 1, 2019 John B. Manbeck
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Occasionally several questions are submitted that cannot, by themselves, fill a column. Here they are.

Donald from Midwood asks: “When I attended Midwood High School in 1970, I walked past an apartment house with a real waterfall and real seals on Avenue I and East 16th Street. Was anything written about it?

Not that I could find.

It still exists, though. It was built in 1941 and is named Waterfall Apartments. The address is 1602 Avenue I. It’s a six-story co-op.

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And there is a waterfall flowing in front of it. But no seals as far as I could discover. You can obtain a photograph of it from the Municipal Archives. But the label blocks some of the waterfall. Identify the building as Brooklyn, Block 6709, Lot 1.

Ron from Bed-Stuy asks: “Why are bumps in the streets marked with large white arrows?”

That’s more a political question than an historical one. Ask Mayor Bill de Blasio.

They are a safety issue added to local streets to slow vehicles down to the 25 mph limit. If a car hits them at a faster speed, the vehicle may encounter significant damage or at least the driver will be shaken up and will get off the phone. The mayor hopes.

Liz from Prospect Heights asks: “What do you know about massage therapy in New York in the 1920s?”

Nothing. Liz reported that her grandmother was a Swedish massage therapist who lived on St. Mark’s Place at that time. I do know that it was popular as were other health cures.

Around the same time, a colony of Finns settled in Sunset Park where they introduced the sauna. That bath has therapeutic qualities. Many Swedes and Norwegians lived in neighboring Bay Ridge. If you can give me more specific information, I will try to research the subject.

Susan from Boerum Hill asks: “When was my house at 108 Wyckoff Street built?”

In 1899, Susan. And you should know, because the house is a cause celebre, aka the Mosaic House, although Untapped Cities places it in Cobble Hill. The house, originally a brownstone, is festooned with decorations such as crockery, beads, buttons, marble—everything but bangles. Not only on the house but on the ground and on the surrounding fence. Presumably the message is CELEBRATION!

Susan Gardner began this transformation on a small scale in 2001, and now her neighbors contribute to the design. Just staring at this neighborhood oddity is rewarding because of the joy of color that seeps from the building.

Thanks, Susan.

Ask a Historian is written by John B. Manbeck, the former Brooklyn Borough Historian. To find answers to your questions about our fair borough and its history, fill out the form below. 

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  1. Michael Lorenzini

    The “sign” box with the address was added to the tax photos when they were put on laser video disk. If you order a photo from the Municipal Archives it will be scanned from the original negative or print, which will have only a much smaller block and lot sign in the edge of the frame.