14 February 2011


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.


Bob96 said...

Great idea--and not only for those of us who grew up in the orbit. My dad would take us from upper Union St in the lower Slope down on saturdays in the 50s, when there were still some pushcarts but also many small Italian shops selling very special foods, all since gone from retail. I'll dig through what I have here, but I think, for starters, that 133 Union was once a Banca Sessa, an Italian immigrant bank which ended up with a small branch later on the NE corner of Union and 4th Ave. Buona caccia, as we say.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Thanks, Bob. I know quite a lot about Banca Sessa—one of the most prominent buildings on the block—but any info is much appreciated!

Georgia Kral said...

What a great idea! Can't wait to read the next one!

DelValle said...

A storefront motion picture theater (extant 1912-1914) is listed at 225 Columbia Street. No name given.
This is not to be confused with the Luna Theatre at 211-213 Columbia.

kristenmc1218 said...

Hi--I lived at 219 Columbia Street for a few years. It used to be a bank and is now the landlord's "studio" and houses two rentals. LOVED the area, but the two slaughterhouses bummed me out.

Ro said...

Columbia Studio was once located at 225 Columbia street, sometime in early 1900's and Caressa Studios was at 241 Columbia Street in 1930's, possibly the same owner. He was an uncle. I would like to see photos of the building back then....

LaMaida said...

The Happy Hour movie theatre was located at 225 Columbia Street. During the 50s & 60s every kid in the neighborhood was there every weekend. They had a section in front for all unescorted kids so that the adults could watch the movie in peace. For your 40 cents admission you got a double feature, shorts, cartoons and coming attractions. At 6:00 they would let the parents go in for free because they were just picking up their kids. They always showed a current film with an older one. I remember in the mid 1960s they showed "Beach Blanket Bingo" along with "Against All Flags" with Errol Flynn. Izzy's candy store was next door to the theatre so everyone would pool theie extra money and buy a bag of penny candy and bring it into the theater. Just before it closed down the theatre was not in the best shape. I remember that you had to walk along the walls in the bathrooms because the ceilings leaked in the center of the room. It was still the best way to spend your weeking. I miss it.

sterling dx said...

I have an old photograph taken at Columbia Studio, 225 Columbia St. Brooklyn, NY. It is a charming photograph of 2 young children (ages 4 and 7?), taken about 1918-1919, my aunt and Father in high button shoes and holding a cane. Also on the cardboard frame around the picture is a small shield above the words "Italo Caressa."