Prospect Hall, near demolition, boasts rich Brooklyn Heritage

August 23, 2021 Raanan Geberer
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When most New Yorkers heard the recent news that demolition papers have been filed (although not yet approved as of press time) by the new owners of the Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope, their thoughts turned to the TV ads in which owner Michael Halkias, showing off the building’s opulent 19th century interior, proclaimed, “We make your dreams come true!”

However, the Grand Prospect Hall was much more than a wedding and banquet hall, and its legacy goes much further back than the era of Halkias and his wife Alice, who bought the then-deteriorating structure in 1981. 

Since it was built in the 1890s, the hall at 263 Prospect Ave. has hosted political club meetings, presidential campaign rallies, bar mitzvahs, baby showers, masquerade balls, theater productions, concerts, movie shoots, and even a basketball team.

From the 1980s until shortly before Michael Halkias’ untimely death from COVID in 2020, the hall’s TV commercials were aired so often on New York television that at one time, “Saturday Night Live” did a parody of them.

After Halkias’ demise, the building was sold, along with an assemblage of other buildings on Prospect Avenue between Fifth and Sixth avenues, to Angelo Rigas through the limited liability company Gowanus Cubes, according to The Real Deal. While the Victorian-style building was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999, it was never made an official New York City landmark, which would have protected it.

The Grand Prospect Hall was built in 1892, then was destroyed and rebuilt by German-American owner John Kolle after a 1900 fire. It had bowling alleys, a billiard room, a shooting gallery and the first Otis “bird cage” elevator (a type of elevator that allowed passengers to look out as the elevator traveled) in the city. 

It also was the first fully electrified public space in Brooklyn, according to published reports. Its Oak Room, reflecting Kolle’s German heritage, was built in the style of a German beer hall and featured a mural showing a waitress carrying overflowing steins of beer.

Besides local meetings, it sometimes hosted appearances by national political figures. Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs and Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan both held rallies there in 1908, as did New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker in 1929.–>

Entertainment figures like Enrico Caruso also reputedly appeared at the hall, and starting in 1936, the Depression-era Federal Theater Project presented its plays there. As if that weren’t enough, a basketball team known as the Brooklyn Visitations played there during the 1920s and ’30s, For a while, starting in the 1940s, the hall became known as the Polish National Home.

In more recent years, it hosted many local affairs. This writer attended a poetry reading there in the 1990s. Community board meetings were held there, and in 2013, an organization known as Pathways for Young Leaders held a banquet for then-Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes there. From the 1980s on, it was featured as a set in scenes of such well-known movies as “Prizzi’s Honor,” “The Cotton Club” and “The Royal Tannenbaums.”

In 2020, Eagle writer Elizabeth Kuster wrote about an informal tour of the Grand Prospect Hall that Michael Halkias had given her two years before, when he caught her taking photos of the place before a luncheon. 

Among the features he pointed out were the German slogan on the Oak Room’s mural, loosely translated as “Our guests can’t live on water alone”; old-time political caricatures of figures such as Teddy Roosevelt; a taxidermied fox; and a portable wine bar that could be wheeled from place to place, perhaps used during Prohibition.

After Halkias died in May 2020, Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Randy Peers told the Eagle, “Michael Halkias was a friend. He was a guy who spoke what was on his mind, sometimes not always what others wanted to hear, and at times a bit irreverent. But Michael, who was my friend, supported my work at Community Board 7 and Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow without question. He opened the doors to Grand Prospect Hall whenever I asked — for a public hearing, committee meeting, an event for my youth. He had refreshments waiting for me on arrival. Every time he saw me he would bug me about ‘When are you running for office?’ He was a true gentleman.”

Peers added, “His wife Alice was always the practical one, minding the business side of things. When I returned to Brooklyn last September, he called me right away. When I told him in January the Chamber was looking to move a signature event to Grand Prospect Hall, he was elated.”

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