Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Eight ‘Construction scenes’

August 3, 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:

Last week’s selections showed a number of Brooklyn’s “new” and “older” buildings. This week I’ll show a group of buildings (or other infrastructure projects) in the making. My father photographed a lot of construction sites for the Eagle in the 30s, and a few other sites for private clients in later years.

Construction sites often draw interest in their own right, regardless of what’s being built. There’s a reason why many urban sites provide windows into the scene so passers-by can have a look. That’s why I think these images will be interesting to you on their own, even the few that are unidentified. But many show work in progress on buildings that are still around and may be familiar to many: the Brooklyn Museum, the Central Library, Brooklyn College, Floyd Bennett Field, schools, a local library, a hospital, etc.

Today’s photos:

As usual, I start the week with a wide selection. My father took a lot of pictures of parts of Brooklyn College as they went up, so I’ll have an opening scene from there today, and at least one each day for the rest of the week. Also today: Floyd Bennett Field, the Brooklyn Museum, some street work, and a few other intriguing scenes.

Stairway to heaven: Manhattan Bridge, February 12, 1948

This looks more like an endless stairway than a bridge. And I admit, it’s a stretch to call this “construction,” but if you look closely you’ll see a paintbrush in the climber’s hand and the edge of a bucket of paint near his knee. Yes, this is closer to maintenance than construction, but the photo is too good not to show. And I didn’t crop the picture to create an illusion of suspension in midair; the negative also shows nothing below or above. Without intimate knowledge of the bridge structure, it’s hard to imagine how my father got this shot. But I’m happy, after 72 years, to give it an audience.


Landmark beautification: Brooklyn Museum, c. 1937

The Brooklyn Museum is the third largest museum in New York City (behind the Met on 5th Avenue and the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West). Its collection of 1.5 million works of art make it, in normal times, one of Brooklyn’s major attractions. Here, the 1897 building is getting its Eastern Parkway entrance redesigned and landscaped.


Post no bills: Mystery scene, undated

I can’t tell you anything about this except that I love the look of it and can’t figure out what’s going on. I’m sure somebody could identify that machine that’s being hoisted into or out of the building, but it’s certainly a mystery to me. And what’s going on in the lower right? A narrow passageway? A basement construction site? In fedoras, a straw hat and at least one necktie?


Still some work to be done: Floyd Bennett Field Administration Building, September 13, 1935

Last week I showed this same site after the building was complete and open for business. Now we get a look at it some weeks/months (?) earlier. There’s a little landscaping done – far right – but there’s lots of paving and planting still to come.


Work gets underway: Brooklyn College, November 7, 1935

My father’s note actually says “Work on New Brooklyn College gets underway. Bedford Ave. near Ave. I. Pix shows excavation.” Quite a different time. There probably hasn’t been a vacant lot to be found near the college in years (decades, more likely), but you can barely find a building in this panoramic scene. And for “excavation” I see two dump trucks and dozens of men with shovels.


Labor-intensive: Repaving 7th Avenue (near 19th Street), October 18, 1935

You can have the long view, or a closer look, but either way it takes a lot of work to repave a street. Like the picture above of the “excavation” at the site for Brooklyn College, this photos shows a lot of men doing manual labor – hard work, slow progress (by today’s standards). My father’s note, in addition to the basic what, where and when also provides a bit of the why – in the language of the day: “old paving, consisting of wood blocks, was ripped up by urchins recently.”


Is it easier to demolish? Tearing down old Flatbush Water Works: New York and Foster avenues, January 27, 1937

Yes, since gravity is your friend, it should be easier to tear down than to build up. But in these scenes, in those days, there was still a lot of hard chopping, lifting and hauling – all using human muscle. The closest thing to automation was a wheelbarrow.

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 14: Photos of ‘Construction scenes’

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