Archive for the tag 'history'

Photo by Erica Sherman

Photo by Erica Sherman

Passersby have stopped to ogle adorable pups and cute kitties in the storefront windows of Puppy City for more than half a century. But the long-time neighborhood staple, and the place where the now ubiquitous “Wee-Wee Pad” was invented, unceremoniously closed its doors for good earlier this month.

“For rent” signs were posted at the 2539 Ocean Avenue storefront approximately two weeks ago. The store’s website declares in bold letters, “Closed – After over 50 years of service Puppy City has closed its doors,” and offers little explanation. The website and phone number now forward to that of Ozone Park-based Puppy Paws, and neighbors shrug their shoulders when asked what happened.

What happened was a combination of age and rent, according to Puppy Paws’ owner Boris.

“[Puppy City owner Kenny Simon] was getting up there in age,” said Boris. “And the store was there for 50 years. You can only imagine how much his rent went up during that time.”

Allen Simon (Source: TV Land via Pets Advisor)

Allen Simon (Source: TV Land via Pets Advisor)

Boris, a Sheepshead Bay native who worked at Puppy City for approximately a decade, said he hoped to take the reins of the operation, but the landlord wouldn’t work with him.

“The new landlord didn’t want to budge because he thinks he has a landmark,” he said. “We wanted to purchase it, but not at the rent he wanted, so we chose to rather purchase the domain, the phone number, and the contents of the store.”

It was a lackluster end to a business with a pedigree in the industry. Once a small chain throughout the borough, the Ocean Avenue location was its first and last. And from that basement at 2539 Ocean Avenue, one of the best-selling products in pet history was devised: the wee-wee pad.

Puppy City was opened by Allen Simon, a former carpet installation business operator, in the 1960s. He tinkered with potential products in the basement of the store, first developing a cologne for canines before striking it big in the 1970s with the Wee-Wee pad.

Back then, pet owners used newspapers until their pets were housebroken, but the former carpet maven noticed how urine soaked through the paper.

“I said this is ridiculous; I’ll make my own pad,” Simon told Pet Advisor in 2010, and he did so by using a thicker, more absorbent material lined with plastic to prevent floor damage.

He passed Puppy City to his brother, Kenny, and launched Four Paws, a pet product company that now rakes in more than $30 million in sales annually. The Wee-Wee Pad remains the number one selling product, beloved even by celebrity trainer Cesar Milan. The Wee-Wee Pad was featured on CNBC’s The Big Idea and Simon was profiled on the Joan Rivers show How’d You Get So Rich?.

His brother kept Puppy City’s doors open for another 40 years, committed to local pet owners. He could not be reached for comment for this article.

Scaffolding went up last week. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Scaffolding went up last week. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Neighbors are raising the alarm over potential plans to tear down a symbol of Midwood’s movie-making history, the 107-year-old Vitagraph smokestack near East 14th Street and Avenue M.

Scaffolding now surrounds the smokestack, which still has the historic silent film company’s name on it, though no plans have been filed to indicate its fate. The appearance of scaffolding has some worried that new owners plan to demolish the structure.

Brooklyn Eagle reports:

The smokestack, at East 15th Street and Locust Avenue, is an artifact from the historic Vitagraph Studios, a silent film company founded by J. Stuart Blackton and Albert E. Smith in 1897. It is now shrouded in scaffolding after permits were filed to erect a heavy duty sidewalk shed and pipe scaffold at the location.

“It is 110+ years old, and an important part of Brooklyn and film making history,” [neighbor Ellen] Levitt added. “I don’t think this is landmarked, which is a shame.”

Despite the age, passersby could clearly see the Vitagraph name embedded in the brickwork before scaffolding was erected. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

Despite the age, passersby could clearly see the Vitagraph name embedded in the brickwork before scaffolding was erected. (Source: Lisanne Anderson)

The smokestack is part of the larger property at 1277 East 14th Street, which was most recently the site of Shulamith School for Girls. The complex became part of Warner Brothers after Vitagraph was sold in 1925.

The Encyclopedia of New York City has this on Vitagraph Studios (via Forgotten NY):

An open-air, rooftop motion picture studio, opened in 1898 by American Vitagraph in the Morse Building at 140 Nassau Street [Manhattan]. The film Burglar On The Roof was produced in the studio during its first year. In 1890 the company moved its offices to 110-16 Nassau Street and then opened a glass-enclosed studio in 1906 at 15th Street and Locust Avenue in Flatbush…

…Warner Brothers purchased American Vitagraph in 1925 and used the studio for many of its Vitaphone short subjects before closing it in 1939; it continued to produce film there even after the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) bought the studio in 1952 and began using it for color television broadcasts.

Though a portion of the sprawling complex continued to operate as a studio into the 21st Century, the more historic facility at 1277 East 14th Street was repurposed by Yeshiva University in 1967.

Attempts to landmark the smokestack itself have failed to win approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

A new petition by neighbor Melissa Friedling is making the rounds to save the smokestack.

“Prodigious and proud, the smokestack stands beautifully emblazoned with inlaid brickwork spelling out Vitagraph (visible from the Q train as you approach the Avenue M subway station),” the petition states. “We would like to make a plea for preserving it as a landmark for the the borough of Brooklyn and for cinema posterity.”

The property sold in July 2014 for $20 million. Despite using an anonymous LLC moniker, Sheepshead Bites has learned that the new owner is Hampshire Properties, a Midwood-based manager and developer of residential and commercial properties across the nation. They manage several properties in Midwood, Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach, among others.

Though Hampshire Properties has confirmed ownership, they did not return requests for comment on the plans.

Gavrin

Source: Gavrin family via Daily News

Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered flags across New York State to be flown at half mast today in honor of U.S. Army PFC Bernard Gavrin, a Midwood resident who went missing in action during World War II whose remains were recently discovered.

Gavrin was reported missing in action on July 7, 1944, while serving in the Pacific theater at the age of 29. On June 15, as part of an Allied strategic goal to secure the Mariana Islands, U.S. forces were ordered to take Saipan. In one of the bloodiest sieges during the war, the Japanese forces threw wave after wave of soldiers at Allied forces on suicide missions known as banzai attacks. The 105th Infantry Regiment Gavrin served in sustained heavy losses of more than 900 killed or injured.

In the mayhem, many went missing and were presumed dead. Gavrin’s family never knew the comfort of certainty or the circumstances of his final hours – until now.

Gavrin’s remains were found as part of an initiative of the Japanese nonprofit the Keuntai Group, whose mission is to locate the remains of one million Japanese soldiers and return them to their families. During excavations in a cave in Saipan, the group found the Brooklynite’s tattered dog tags among the remains of several American soldiers in a mass grave.

On the dog tags was Gavrin’s home address – 1746 Ocean Avenue, near Avenue M.

Source: Gavrin family via Sun Sentinel

Source: Gavrin family via Sun Sentinel

A nephew of Gavrin’s, now 81, is the only surviving member of the family to remember the fallen soldier.

The Sun Sentinel reports:

“I am the only living relative to have known my Uncle Bernie,” [Gavrin's nephew David] Rogers said. “Words cannot do justice to the shock this news left me with.”

Rogers says he still remembers the screams of his grandmother Bessie when she opened a telegram delivered by the United States War Department.

It was the middle of summer 1944 and World War II was raging. Rogers, 12 at the time, greeted the uniformed man who stood at the door to his Brooklyn home — the bearer of bad news, every mother’s worst nightmare.

… Rogers was 8 when he last saw his uncle. He remembers having a “childish” accident that day, which left him bed-ridden with seven stitches above his eye. When his uncle stopped by for a visit, he woke up to say hello.

The next thing he heard about his uncle was when the soldier showed up at the door with the news he was missing in action.

“As a young person, to witness that, it obviously lasts the rest of your life,” he said.

Gavrin’s remains returned to the United States for the first time in at least 70 years, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. on Friday. On discovering the dog tags, the Army verified to Gavrin’s family that in addition to a Purple Heart, the soldier also won seven additional awards, including a Bronze Star Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal and American Defense Service Medal.

Gavrin was buried Friday at Arlington National Cemetery while his only surviving family member to remember him, David Rodgers, looked on.

“PFC Gavrin put his life on the line and paid the ultimate price to defend our nation and fight for the freedoms that it is built upon,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “After far too many years, he has returned home and has been granted a proper burial alongside the many other heroes who answered the call. I ask all New Yorkers to join me in honoring PFC Gavrin’s memory, his service and his sacrifice.”

Built around 1925, the Midwood home where Gavrin lived still stands, nestled behind large, leafy shrubs and a tree. Property records show the Gavrin family sold it in 1970.

The Gavrin family's home at the time of Bernard's death still stands today. (Source: Google Maps)

The Gavrin family’s home at the time of Bernard’s death still stands today. (Source: Google Maps)

Local Holocaust survivors. Photo by Erica Sherman

Local Holocaust survivors. Photo by Erica Sherman

The Aquila Theater Company and the Brooklyn Public Library are teaming up to stage dramatic readings of Sophocles’ “Philoctetes,” Euripides’ “Herakles,” Homer’s “Odyssey” and Sophocles’ “Ajax” for veterans, Holocaust survivors and the general public, this Saturday, September 6 at 12:00pm at Brooklyn Public Library’s Sheepshead Bay branch, 2636 East 14th Street near Avenue Z.

The readings of these Greek classics, entitled “YouStories of Holocaust & Veteran Survivors,” allows participants to enjoy ancient plays while sharing their true stories of survival. Library staff will be on hand to record the oral histories of Hololcaust survivors. Community members interested in Greek drama and war are encouraged to attend.

Another YouStories event will be held on September 20. To learn more, visit www.bklynlibrary.org.

Royal Bay Restaurant In Sheepshead Bay

Photo by Ned Berke

The following is a press release from the offices of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) will sponsor a free talk and slide show tomorrow by official Brooklyn Borough Historian Ron Schweiger:

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13, 2014
2 P.M. – 3:30 P.M.
ROYAL BAY RESTAURANT
1794 SHEEPSHEAD BAY ROAD

Schweiger will speak about the history of Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.

An accompanying photo exhibit is being displayed in the window of Assemblyman Cymbrowitz’ district office, 1800 Sheepshead Bay Road, all summer long.

Commisioner Nigro with NYPD Detective William O'Connor, Jr., the son of one of the fallen firefighters.  (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

Commisioner Nigro with NYPD Detective William O’Connor, Jr., the son of one of the fallen firefighters. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

Friends, family and FDNY colleagues gathered at Saint Brendan’s Church in Midwood on Saturday, marking the 36th anniversary of an historic blaze at the Sheepshead Bay Waldbaum’s that claimed six lives.

The August 2, 1978 fire broke out at Waldbaum’s, then located at Ocean Avenue and Avenue Y (now the site of Staples). As the blaze ripped through the building, area firefighters wrestled to bring it under control. At approximately 9:02 a.m., the roof gave in, plunging at least a dozen of New York’s Bravest into the inferno.

Attendees gather in front of the church after the service. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

Attendees gather in front of the church after the service. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

In all, six firefighters died and another 34 were injured in what became the largest loss of firefighters in a single fire in Brooklyn history.

In 1999, the city renamed the corner “Firemen’s Corner.” A street sign and plaque continue to honor the fallen.

FDNY's Emerald Society Pipes & Drums performed at the service  .(Photo by Mike T. Wright)

FDNY’s Emerald Society Pipes & Drums performed at the service .(Photo by Mike T. Wright)

The heroic firefighters who died in the blaze on August 2, 1978, are FF George Rice, 38, Ladder 153; FF James McManus, 48; Cov. Lt. James Cutillo, 39, 33rd Battalion; FF Harold Hastings, 39, 42nd Battalion; FF Charles Bouton, 38, Ladder 156; and William O’Connor, 29 of Ladder 156.

The service in Midwood this weekend was attended by newly appointed FDNY Comissioner Daniel Nigro, who said that the event spurred additional training regimes to protect future fire-eaters, and that the department will continue to come together every August 2 to recognize the victims of the Waldbaum’s blaze.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.  (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. (Photo by Mike T. Wright)

For the 2010 anniversary, John Dwyer of JGDwyerPhotography put together the below slideshow. Dwyer has been photographing the FDNY in action since the 1970s.

women-race

Twitter user @RealTimeWWI alerted us to the photo above this morning, showing the “Start of women’s race” here in Sheepshead Bay exactly one hundred years ago today.

The photo itself comes from the Library of Congress Bain Collection, an enormous set of photographs from “one of America’s earliest news picture agencies.” Although it was a global agency, they emphasized capturing life in New York City from the 1860s to 1930s.

The collection has a number of other photos from the event, like this one, showing the crowd greeting the winner:

women-race2

Unfortunately, we couldn’t dig up much about the Sheepshead Bay women’s race, so we can’t identify the winner or give much context. But this abstract from a New York Times report on it gives some detail:

Forty girl swimmers competed for aquatic honors yesterday afternon at Thall’s Pier, Sheepshead Bay, in a special carnival under the auspices of the Women’s National Life Saving Society. Close finishes featured a majority of the events, and unusually skilful work was shown in the fancy diving contest, the feature event of the programme.

We’ll have to do more digging into Thall’s in the future, but for now Brooklyn Eagle gives us this nugget:

Even Sheepshead Bay had a beach in the 19th century before it was dredged for yachts. Thall’s Bathing Pavilion on the west side of the bay provided a private pool and diving platform for swimmers. On the shore stood Dominick’s Hotel for longer staying guests.

That’s probably the structure in the background of the photo above.

The most information regarding the actual contestants comes from the data for the photo below, of Mrs. Lillian Howard, who appears to be one of the organizers of the event:

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Here’s what the collection’s notes had to say about her: “Photograph shows Mrs. Lillian Howard, an officer in the Women’s National Life Saving Society/League from 1913-1914 at a women’s swimming contest at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York City, July 16, 1914. “

She’s in this shot, too:

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Anybody recognize the names? I’m sure there are some descendants of these folks living in Sheepshead Bay, and we’d love to know more.

Here are some more names for you:

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Can we presume these three were the winners?

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Action shot!

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Ah, the heady days of the 1960s. I’m told if you remember it, you weren’t there.

So we’ll forgive you if you forgot all about that time – May 9, 1965 – when a bunch of teenagers swiped a penguin from the New York Aquarium in Coney Island.

Why would they steal a penguin, you ask? Because, man, why not?

The story goes like this: an MTA detective was on the subway at Stillwell Avenue, minding everybody’s business like he ought to. He spots a group of teens hop on his subway car carrying a cardboard box. The kids leave, but leave the box behind.

Then the box moves.

Figuring it’s a seagull – because, man, why not? – he goes to grab the box to take it outside and release it. Only after getting bit on the thumb does this detective decide to get a little more inquisitive, and takes a look inside the container.

Bam, penguin.

He called up the aquarium and they confirmed they were a penguin down, and it was returned safely.

Oh, yeah, then it happened again in 1967.

I learned all this after stumbling across the New York Historical Society video above, first released in 2012.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

I bet those folks back in 1938 would’ve expected a lot of change to happen over the course of 76 years. I can just envision them, chomping on their cigars, flipping their derby hats in their hands, and saying, “Boy, oh, boy, in that there 2014, this here Sheepshead Bay Road will just blow your wig. Make no brodies about it, pally, there’ll be big ol’ skyscrapers everywhere, and clocks as grand as the sultan’s suds. I bet all the walls will have talkies showin’ all these tomatoes, and all the boys will be dizzy with dames on this here stretch.”

Well, they were wrong. This 1938 photo, taken from the elevated platform of what is today the Sheepshead Bay subway station, pretty much shows what a bunch of twits my imagined 1930s neighbors were. This road looks almost exactly the same now as it did then. Who would’ve thought it?!

Of course, there are some obvious differences. The building in the distance was torn down to make way for a bank (now Popular Community Bank), but that’s the only architectural change; all the other buildings still stand.

A real notable difference between the storefronts? They’re occupied in the photo. Also, the streets are clean and there aren’t 1,000 livery cabs threatening to bring a crushing end to your miserable life.

Anyway, just a side note: I found this photo up for auction on eBay. It lacks any description indicating the photographer or copyright holder. I wouldn’t normally do this, but old photos like this have a way of coming and going, and never being seen again – so I wanted to have it saved somewhere (thus the purpose of our Postcard series). If you’re the copyright holder, it’s not our intent to infringe, and you can contact me here.

The Mengels shooting gallery now in operation at Coney Island USA (Source: CIUSA/Facebook)

The Mangels shooting gallery now in operation at Coney Island USA (Source: CIUSA/Facebook)

Green-Wood Cemetery historian Jeff Richman is using Kickstarter to raise money for an exhibit on William F. Mangels, a German immigrant and inventor based in Coney Island who was a leading developer of America’s amusement parks at the turn of the last century. The project goal is to raise $17,500 by July 27, of which $3,291 has been donated so far.

Here’s the video for the project:

The proposed exhibit, titled “William F. Mangels: Amusing the Masses on Coney Island and Beyond” will be installed at Green-Wood’s Historic Chapel, and will feature “real pieces of Mangel’s rides and games – a carousel horse, a 22nd-foot-long shooting gallery, and actual Whip cars and original sketches, in Mangels’s hand, of The Tickler,” in addition to historic photography, video, and written correspondence.

If the Mangels name sounds familiar, it’s because we wrote about him last year when carnies unearthed a World War II-era shooting gallery behind one of their booths while cleaning up after Superstorm Sandy. The gallery has been restored and now sits next to Coney Island USA as part of their living museum. For $5, you get 100 shots at nailing metal tanks, airplanes and soldiers as they zip around the booth.

The Daily News reports that Richman spent the last 10 years collecting materials from all over the country for the exhibit—and although Green-Wood Cemetery has been curating exhibits since 1998, this would be the first ever dedicated entirely to one person.

The funds raised would offset the costs of graphics, lighting, monitors, framing, shipping, and video necessary to give Mangels his much-deserved tribute—and as is customary with Kickstarter fundraisers, backers will be rewarded with a variety of handsome prizes, including exclusive merchandise and even private tours for the most generous supporters.

- Sam Shokin

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