Park Slope

Brooklyn Tales & Memories: A chance encounter with the late Michael Halkias

June 23, 2020 Elizabeth Kuster
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Two years ago almost to the day — on June 18, 2018 — I entered Park Slope’s iconic Grand Prospect Hall for the first and only time. It was a sleepy Monday afternoon, and I was there to attend a luncheon. But the legendary “we make your dreams come true” TV ad had fired up my imagination, so, under the guise of looking for the ladies’ room, I snuck off and started exploring.

I was tiptoeing around the building taking photos of random exotica when suddenly I turned a corner and there he was: Michael Halkias, the owner of Grand Prospect Hall. The man from the commercial. Oh my God, it’s him, I thought in disbelief. He’s real! Then: I’m so busted. 

But Mr. Halkias didn’t ask me what I was doing sneaking around his place, and he didn’t send me back to the luncheon. Instead, he beamed at me with a smile that reached his eyes and spent the next hour giving me an impromptu private tour of his historic Victorian establishment, top to bottom, inside and out.

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In hindsight, I realize that Mr. Halkias probably saw me on a security camera and purposely sought me out to determine my motives. But I prefer to think that I ran into him through pure serendipity, like a modern-day Alice running into the White Rabbit and getting a private tour of Wonderland.

And a Wonderland it is. The edifice at 263 Prospect Ave. dates back to 1902 and was built by Brooklyn entrepreneur John Kolle, a German-American who dreamed of creating a classical banquet hall where large groups could congregate and celebrate. His dream came true: In the century that has followed, the space has rung with the music and laughter of thousands of weddings, political meetings, masquerade balls and New Year’s Eve parties.

As we walked together through the magical space, Mr. Halkias pointed out some of his favorite details and told me the history behind some of Grand Prospect Hall’s lesser-known curiosities.

Mr. Halkias was justifiably awed by the sturdy antique chairs in the Oak Room Lounge, which are simply decorated with cutouts of card suits. “Scandinavian made,” he exclaimed. “No nails!”

 

This large mural in the Oak Room is a testimony to builder John Kolle’s German heritage: a dancing beer maid carries overflowing steins while happy cherubs offer viewers a glass of wine. “Our guests can’t live on water alone!” declared Mr. Halkias, loosely translating the banner’s German message.

 

Before we left the Oak Room, a grinning Mr. Halkias pointed out several small, unobtrusive political caricatures that were painted on the walls around the turn of the previous century. This one of an especially stout, bow-legged Theodore Roosevelt shows that the artist wasn’t a Teddy fan.

 

First stop on the second floor: the Nightclub, where a taxidermied fox waits at the bar.

 

A portable wine bar provides a tantalizing peek at how the good times flowed in days gone by.

 

The masked ball immortalized by this framed poster in the Nightclub took place in the early 1900s.

 

I was perfectly fine with seeing the Grand Ballroom in the dark. But Mr. Halkias, the consummate host, insisted on giving me the full effect.

 

Up on the third floor, Mr. Halkias encouraged me to get inside the building’s famous birdcage elevator, where I took a picture of the view to the roof.

 

Outside in the private garden, chinoiserie creates an intriguing ambiance.

 

Tickets for many a masquerade ball were taken at this ticket office in the lobby.

 

Grand Prospect Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

 

Before we left the garden, Mr. Halkias and I posed by the waterfall (yes, waterfall). His kindness and generosity did our borough proud.


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