Brooklyn Boro

Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Five ‘Construction scenes’

August 5, 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:

Today I again have a number of pictures to show. Also, again, some came with basic information from my father’s records and some didn’t. But unlike yesterday’s unknowns, I managed to uncover some satisfying information.

The shape of things to come: Jewish Hospital and Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases, Rutland Road and East 49th Street, undated

Surprisingly, I don’t have many photos that show the construction of a building followed up by the finished product. Here’s one exception. Last week I displayed the brand new home for the Jewish Hospital and Sanitarium for Chronic Diseases. For convenience, I’ve re-displayed it above.

The bottom picture shows the construction site with the shape of the building completed, but the rest still to come. The project, including more than this one building, took nearly three years to complete. The facility has been updated and expanded many times since, and is now the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center, still located at its original campus at Rutland Road and East 49th street in East Flatbush.


No diving (yet): Brooklyn College Pool, Bedford Avenue near Avenue H, December 31, 1936

Perhaps over-optimistically, my father labeled this picture: “Brooklyn College nearing completion.” This pool and the gymnasium were all but complete, but many other parts of the campus still had a way to go.


Not a coincidence: Staging ground for the Barnum & Bailey Circus, c. 1935

Another look back at a Brooklyn College scene to compare with a scene for today. The top picture is from Monday, labeled “Work gets underway, Brooklyn College, November 7, 1935.” The bottom picture is a circus ground. If you think they look similar, it’s not a coincidence. Brooklyn College was built on the fields that had been used for the circus.

This lower picture of the circus being unpacked is from one of the many glass negatives that have no identification. But careful examination led me to realize what it was. Look closely at the wagon wheels and the long poles lying horizontally on the wagon. Then, way on the extreme right toward the top of the image, the clincher: the horses, looking the same as the ones in the circus pictures I showed back on July 6 and 8. Until my research for this week’s Brooklyn College pictures, I didn’t know that the site of the circus was the future home for the college.


Roadwork, unidentified, 1934

This is another unidentified glass negative. But I was especially excited to figure out a little bit about it. It is probably one of the first – even possibly the very first – of my father’s surviving photos. With several blow-up looks at the billboard barely visible on the right, I finally figured out what the large print said. The words along the bottom seemed to end with “YACHT.” Then I finally noticed, across the top, the word “ALBEE,” the name of a movie theater. The rest of the bottom became discernible enough to read, “Down to their last yacht.” Look that up and you get an RKO movie released on August 31, 1934. So, this picture was taken while the movie – which had only a short run – was playing, or was soon to be playing, nearby. I have only one negative that my father labeled 1934. That means that this is, or nearly is, the earliest I’ve got.

By the way, here’s how Wikipedia ended its article:

The New York Times review of film called the movie “a sorry melange of Hollywood native dancing, theme-song singing and preposterous comedy.”

The film was a box-office disappointment for RKO.

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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  1. I remember my mother, who was born in Brooklyn in 1919 and lived on E. 35 St. during the time that these pictures were taken, telling me about the Ringling Brothers circus pitching its tent there before it became Brooklyn College. What I have always wondered about is why that large tract of land was available; the surrounding neighborhoods had all been developed by that time, and the IRT terminated nearby at the Flatbush and Nostrand “junction.” What is known about who owned it and what (if anything) it was used for other than the week or so that the circus came to town?