I reside among those bisected blocks that were cut off from the rest of South Brooklyn back in the 1950s by Moses' Trench (aka the BQE). My house is not far from the intersection of Union and Columbia Streets. As local historians and readers of this blog know, these two avenues were once teeming commercial strips on a level that would knock the current Court Street on its ass. But the businesses were killed off by the trio of plagues; the building of the BQE; the long, slow death of the waterfront;, and a decade-long sewer dig along Columbia that undermined the foundation of dozens of buildings, causing them to plummet into dust, or be torn down in the name of public safety.
Which left us with the virtual ghost town we have today. There are still businesses, of course, included a number of new and successful restaurants. But the area is nothing like what it used to be, bustling with life day and night. And certainly the pushcasts that once lined Union Street (and whose position were assigned and controlled by the Mob) are long gone.
Over the years, I have naturally because curious about the past lives of the old buildings along Union between Hicks and Van Brunt, and along Columbia between Sackett and Carroll. More recently, I've made it a casual mission to learn in as many details as I can the history of each building and address. Thus, here debuts what I call "The Union Street Project." Once a week (probably on Mondays), I will post an item telling all I've learned about one building on one of those two lanes.
As I do this, I encourage and implore all those out there who know things I do not about about these buildings. Write to me with information, memories and (let's hope) photographs.
I'll begin with 225 Columbia Street, the building at the northeast corner of Union and Columbia. (It is also known as 123 Union Street.) I choose this address at a starting point for a few reasons. One, I have the wonderful old picture that features it, above. (It's the dark building just below the Victory banner and to the left). Two, that same picture aptly captures what a thriving neighborhood that intersection once was. And three, that is the only corner on that crossroads that still contains its original structure. The other three corners contain two empty lots and one new building of only 30 years of age.
As you can just barely see in the picture, 225 Columbia Street used to be the Columbia Bar & Grill, a local tavern and restaurant. To the south side of the building, there was a newsstand and taxi stand. City documents indicate it was a restaurant at least as far back as 1933. Below is another partial view, taken around 1935. That's part of the building to the right. Notice that scungilli and soft shell crabs can be had.
Sometime later, it became the Columbia Restaurant, a diner run by a Greek ran that, during the bad old '70s and '80s, was robbed continually. When Michael Dukakis ran for President in 1988, the Greek pasted photos of the candidate all over the walls.
The edifice has changed very little over the decades, as you can see from the contemporary photo below. Today it is the Red Apple Chinese takeout restaurant, a joint that rates a "C" from the Dept. of Health. So it's still an eatery of sorts.
I looked all over the Red Apple for some sign of it's former life. It's pretty scrubbed free of history inside. I'm sure there's a tin ceiling under those ugly acoustical tiles. But all that's visible, that I'm sure was part of the look of the Columbia Bar & Grill is this decorative steel pillar outside.
The building is owned by "Frank and Frances Manzi," according to city records. They also own 223 Columbia next door, which is Manzioni Realty, which makes me think that Frank Manzi is Frank Manzioni. City records say the building was erected in 1931. Such records are notoriously inaccurate. (You'd be surprised how many buildings in the city were built in "1900.") However, an 1855 map shows the building (or a building) as already being there. And advertising listings say there was one James M'Evilly Saloon here in the 19th century.