Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Seven photos of ‘Buildings: ‘New’ and older’

July 27, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

I’ve called this week’s theme “Buildings: ‘New’ and older.” Since the photos I’m displaying were taken at least 80 years ago, none of them qualify as new today. But many of them were fairly new at the time these photos were taken. Since these “new” buildings are already old today, the other ones have to be called “older.”

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Once past my confusing attempt at accurate language, what remains is a display of interesting Brooklyn buildings from the 1930s. In most cases, the buildings were not incidental or in the background, but were the reason for the photograph. Some were meant for the Eagle, to display an interesting or important new site. Others were for a specific client who wanted a record of their property before or just after rebuilding or relocating. Finally, some shots were taken simply because they appealed to my father, as evidenced by his identifying many as taken on “One Sunday Afternoon.”

Today’s photos:

I’ll start the week’s examples with a number of buildings that were large and brand new or fairly new at the time these photos were taken. Most are still in place, often prominent and familiar, though they don’t look new to today’s observer, and are surrounded by much different scenes than they were so many years ago.

“New” Central Courts Building, c. 1935

My father identified this as the “New Central Courts Building,” which it was in 1935. It’s still the Central Courts Building, but it’s not still New. My father further describes it, in his notes for the Eagle, as the “site of the old Germania Club,” no doubt a familiar reference for many Brooklynites of the time. It was built from 1929 to 1932 between Schermerhorn, Smith and State streets. It currently houses the Criminal and Supreme Courts, and various city offices.


Inland icon, Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower, c. 1940

The first image of the week, appropriately, is the most visible and identifiable building in Brooklyn for most of the 20th century and into the 21st, second only to the Brooklyn Bridge in iconic stature. It was constructed from 1927 to 1929, and stands near the intersection of Atlantic, Flatbush and Fourth avenues. At 37 stories and 512 feet (156 meters) tall, it was the tallest building in Brooklyn from its opening until 2010. Another sign of the times, in addition to being surpassed in height, was its conversion into luxury condominium apartments beginning in 2007. It was designated an official city landmark in 1994.


Three landmarks: Brooklyn Trust, People’s Trust and National Title Company


Bank Row

The top picture shows a close view of three buildings. I included the second picture, from the other direction and showing a much wider view, to provide perspective. The three buildings are on Montague Street, at the corner of Clinton Street. Each has been designated a landmark by the NY Landmarks Preservation Commission. Strictly speaking, only the third building in from the corner — the National Title Company — was “new”-ish in 1940. It was designed and built in the popular Art Deco style in 1929 and 1930.

The second building from the corner, the neoclassical structure with four columns, is the People’s Trust Company Building. It was built considerably earlier, in 1904, but was designated a NY landmark in 2017 together with its Art Deco neighbor.

On the corner, the Brooklyn Trust Company Building dates to 1919, just between the ages of the other two. It became a NY landmark in 1996, 21 years before its two neighbors. Today the buildings, starting at the corner, are a Chase branch, followed by a Citibank branch, and a building that houses medical and other office spaces. Nevertheless, this stretch of three buildings is central to the Montague Street group known, appropriately, as “Bank Row.”


From Hotel to Witnesses to Watermark, The Towers Hotel, c. 1940

The Towers Hotel in Brooklyn Heights was opened in 1928. It served as a high-end hotel for almost half a century. Among its famous guests and part-time residents were the Brooklyn Dodgers when they were at home. It declined by the 1970s and was sold to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who used it for decades to house its local staff. In 2017 the building was sold to a private equity real estate firm that has converted it into a high-end assisted living facility for seniors, named the Watermark at Brooklyn Heights. Like the Hotel St. George Tower on the next block, its roof remains a beautiful amenity with spectacular views of surrounding Brooklyn, the river, bridges, and lower Manhattan.


New home for hospital, Jewish Hospital and Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases, 1940

In the mid-1920s a group of Jewish philanthropists recognized the need for an institution to house long-term patients with chronic illnesses or conditions and who could not be cared for adequately in their homes. The result, in 1929, was a 300-bed facility. By the late 30s, the trustees recognized a need for updated and expanded facilities, leading to the construction of the new Jewish Hospital and Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases, which opened on June 29, 1940. My father covered the construction of this new building from 1937 to 1940, with many pictures of the building and grounds as the work progressed. This picture shows the main building, completed but not yet occupied.

The facility has been updated and expanded many times since, and is now the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, still at its original campus at Rutland Road and East 49th street in East Flatbush.


Sunday afternoon mystery, unknown building, c.1940

A frustrating number of my father’s photographs have been hard or impossible to identify. This is one of them. It comes from an envelope marked “One Sunday Afternoon.” Pictures labeled that way were generally of quiet, empty streets, usually leaving buildings as the prime attraction. Again, this fits the bill.

Sometimes there’s a hint: a street sign, a familiar building or landmark nearby, etc. But there’s no help in this one. The building looks new – in fact, most of the windows don’t seem to be present yet. Despite not knowing anything about it, I still find the building interesting and the composition of the scene appealing. Maybe my father felt the point was to leave the information out – even for his own future reference – and just let the scene speak for itself. But it would be nice to know what this building is, or was, so if you recognize it, please let me know.

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 13: Photos of ‘Buildings: ‘New’ and older’

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  1. John Krevitt

    I do not know the building labelled “unknown c. 1940” but I believe the building to the left of this building in the picture is the main building of Kings County Hospital Center. This would also make sense if the picture of the building in question was stored near the picture of what is now Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center since they are in the same physical proximity.