Category Archives: buildings

The more things change . . .

. . . the more they stay the same!

Your webmaster had routine blood tests recently. The idea of being tourniqueted (is that a word?) and pricked became almost pleasurable when he realized that the medical lab was located on the same block as this firehouse at 1635 East 14th Street, between Kings Highway and Avenue P. You see, he had recently bought a lovely postcard showing the building — currently home to Engine 276, Ladder 156, and Battalion 33 — back when it was new in the bucolic early twentieth century (it went up sometime between 1907 and 1912). It’s been hemmed in by bulky brick boxes since then, but remains remarkably unchanged.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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One Step Closer to Landmark Status!

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This cyanotype, taken in June 1893, is possibly the oldest known photograph of the Moody House at 27 Gravesend Neck Road. The view is looking east toward present-day McDonald Avenue. Note the tower of the soon-to-be-demolished Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church in the background. {Collection of Joseph Ditta}

Excellent news! The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission held a public meeting today to deal with its backlog of 95 properties; some buildings — like Gravesend’s Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House — have languished there for fifty years. The Commission decided to keep the Moody House on its calendar and prioritize it for designation by the end of 2016. So, the house is not yet an official landmark, but it has moved one giant step closer to that reality. If, instead, the Commission had voted to drop the house from its calendar, well . . . I shudder to finish that sentence! To think about it another way, of the 95 properties under consideration, only 30 are being pushed forward for designation. We made it! (Click here for a full list of the day’s decisions)

I send heartfelt thanks to everyone who took time to write the Commission (at the meeting they said the Moody House generated quite a lot of interest from the Gravesend community!), and to those who spoke at the hearing last October, especially Mark Treyger, our tireless councilman, whose continued support for designation of this unique building speaks louder than all of our pleas combined.

Stay tuned . . .


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Fingers Crossed for Moody House!

Neck.Road.27.south_1947.Brooklyn.Eagle

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle featured the Lady Moody House on the cover of its 1947 booklet of Gravesend history.

The moment we’ve been waiting for has come. On Tuesday, February 23, 2016, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will hold a public meeting to decide the fate of the Lady Moody – Van Sicklen House at 27 Gravesend Neck Road. The Moody House, you’ll recall, is among the 95 properties on the LPC’s backlog calendar. It has been on that calendar, under consideration, since 1966 — that’s FIFTY YEARS in limbo, folks!

At Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners will hear summaries of the testimony given previously for all 95 properties. Several of us spoke at the public hearing on October 8, 2015 (you can hear my testimony beginning at 2:24:08), and many of you sent in wonderful messages of support. While the public is welcome to attend Tuesday’s meeting, no new testimony will be admitted. After weighing the merits of each property, the commission will consider one of three outcomes:

1. prioritizing designation for some items (by December 2016); or
2. removing from the calendar by voting not to designate; or
3. removing from the calendar by issuing a no action letter.

PLEASE keep your fingers (and other body parts) crossed that the Moody House falls into the first category. If the LPC fails to designate the house now, it won’t stand a chance of survival. We’ll never get them to reconsider this most significant of Gravesend houses once it’s tossed off the calendar. And once that house goes, so goes the heart of Gravesend. And I’ll have yet another street to avoid walking for fear of seeing what’s missing.

Stay tuned . . .


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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Holy Corner

There has been a house of worship at the southeast corner of Gravesend Neck Road and Van Sicklen Street since 1899, when the short-lived Gravesend Methodist Episcopal Church began holding services there in a frame chapel bought from the Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church. (That little chapel moved around a lot in its long life. Click here for the full story.) The Gravesend M. E. Church disbanded in 1914 and its building at no. 14 Neck Road sat vacant for a time. Later it housed the local boy scout troop. Eventually it was acquired by Reverend Giuseppe Greco for his Italian Pentecostal congregation, “Assemblea Christiana Radunatu Di Jesu” (Rallied Christian Assembly of Jesus). In 1937 Reverend Greco replaced the wooden chapel with the current stone sanctuary on the site, calling it (inexplicably) the Coney Island Pentecostal Church (an inscription on the building reads “Coney Island Christian Church”). Reverend Greco’s flock moved in 1979 to the vacant Gravesend Reformed Dutch Church at 121 Gravesend Neck Road, now called Trinity Tabernacle of Gravesend. The stone church at 14 Neck Road is now home to the First Korean Church of Brooklyn, a Presbyterian congregation.


Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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That Time Lady Moody’s House Was In a Movie

It absolutely floored me. It was Sunday, seven years ago. Or maybe eight. I lay slumped on the sofa thumbing a book. TCM murmured on the television. I dozed more than I read, and only half-eyed the screen. Whichever classic film was on had ended, and some black-and-white short followed it to fill the hour. I yawned and counted the pages left to go. Suddenly, a tenor, warbling the sappiest ballad I’d ever heard — words about truth or love or hearts or death above a trembling piano — snapped me awake. I often wonder what made me focus when I did. Thinking back, it could only have been the ghosts of Gravesend whispering “Look up. Look up, and see.” Behind the singer pictures flashed, still images of bathers in the surf, drinkers in a bar. They looked like magic lantern slides, those photographs on glass that Victorians projected on parlor walls. And this is the one that floored me:

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The image glowed for all of four seconds before the next slide popped up. By the time I realized what I’d seen it was gone. But through the magic of DVR I rewound the film and paused on the image. There was no doubt: it was Lady Moody’s House, the building still standing at 27 Gravesend Neck Road (currently for sale and due for designation review by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission on October 8, 2015). What the heck was it doing in this movie?

I started the film from the beginning and learned it was “The Nickelette,” a 1932 Warner Bros. production poking fun at the early movie-going experience of the nickelodeon: “When movies were silent and money talked, a nickel bought an evening’s entertainment. Let’s enter one of these ancient nickelettes.” Eddy Gilligan, the “silver tone tenor,” belts out the melodramatic 1913 hit, “The Curse of an Aching Heart” (music by Al Piantadosi; lyrics by Henry Fink), to underscore fifteen appropriately old-fashioned, if unrelated, pictures. The Moody House slide comes twelfth.

Vitaphone_Cavalcade_DVD_setAt the time, I managed to find the film online. I saved it and shared it with some fellow Gravesend fanatics (we’re a small but noble group). But then I put it out of mind. That was several computer crashes ago. I lost the file and the emails in which I had shared it. (I since back up regularly to that white, puffy cloud.) I even forgot the title of the film.

Recently I recalled one of the people with whom I shared the news and he had, incredibly, preserved my message. The link to the online version of the film is defunct, but now it is available on DVD, part of a six-disc set in the Warner Bros. Archive Collection called Vitaphone Cavalcade of Musical Comedy Shorts. I bought it, naturally, and captured the screen shot seen here (for which I pray the Warner Bros. honchos won’t sue me!).

P.S. 95 does not appear to the left of the house; it was constructed in 1914-15, so the image had to have been made earlier. Still, it must date from after 1905, by when William and Isabelle Platt, owners of the house, had added dormer windows to the second floor. Compare the screen capture with a positively identified view of the building in the collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society, taken at a slightly later date, and you’ll agree it’s the same house:

But the question remains: How did this picture of Lady Moody’s House wind up in a movie? I have a theory. One of the early twentieth-century occupants of the house was an actress, Carlota Cole — sometimes spelled “Carlotta,” and sometimes known by her stage name, “Charlotte Townsend” — who lived there with her brother, Bert, between 1912 and the early 1920s. (Bert M. Cole bought the house from the Platts.) As this write-up from the Brooklyn Eagle attests, Carlota enjoyed some popularity, and even worked with John Drew Jr. (1853 – 1927), uncle to John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore (hence Drew Barrymore’s name):

I haven’t found evidence of it yet, but it is entirely possible that Carlota also worked for Vitagraph Studios, the pioneering movie company founded in Brooklyn in 1897. The Vitagraph lot was in South Greenfield, a forgotten neighborhood in the vicinity of Avenue M and the Brighton Line (today’s B/Q subway). In her history of the Wyckoff-Bennett HomesteadLiving in a Landmark (Francestown, N.H., 1980, p. 116), Gertrude Ryder Bennett recalled how the “dunes, beaches, woodlands, quiet lanes and country homes” of southern Brooklyn served as locations for Vitagraph films:

One year, the company built the fronts of several houses on the shore of Gerritsen’s mill pond. Time disintegrated them[,] but while they stood, the people in our neighborhood walked there with box cameras after the actors had finished work, and posed in doorways pretending to be popular movie stars. . . . Around these little false-front shacks the mill pond made an exquisite wilderness background with its great willow trees close to the water’s edge and miles of meadow land stretching beyond the pond. Today that site, filled in, is the baseball field of Marine Park on the north side of Avenue U surrounded by an urban community.

Vitagraph even shot a scene on the porch of the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead (Gertrude believed it was from The Prisoner of Zenda). Isn’t it possible that they also used the Lady Moody House as a backdrop for some other project? Warner Bros. bought the Vitagraph Company in 1925. Could this lantern slide have been among the stock? A leftover promotional still from some forgotten flicker? And just the sort of nostalgic image needed for making “The Nickelette?”

Carlota Cole does not appear in the “Vitagraph Family” list of actors in Anthony Slide’s The Big V: A History of the Vitagraph Company (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., revised edition, 1987), so maybe that isn’t her, dressed in white, on the arm of her beau at the picket fence. But these are clearly actors, posed, perhaps, as newlyweds about to cross the threshold. (Or maybe he’s trying to stop her departure?) And it is unmistakably the house. In any case, isn’t it wonderful that I looked up when I did to catch it? Who else would have noticed?


Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Ditta (webmaster@gravesendgazette.com)

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