05 August 2012

A.I. Namm's Mysterious Friend


Most of the mercantile buildings that used to make up the fine reality that was once downtown Brooklyn's Fulton Street have long been obscured and blighting by the ugly signage that marks modern-day Fulton Street. But the handsome edifice that housed A. I. Namm & Son is still openly visible. It's even in pretty good shape, its rounded, many-windowed corner of Indiana limestone and bronze trim on display for anyone who cares to look up from the sidewalk. 


Adolph I. Namm (you can still see where his name once announced itself) was born in 1856 in Posen, Prussia (now Poznan, Poland). He immigrated to New York City around 1870. He transferred his Manhattan upholstery and embroidery trimmings business to Brooklyn in 1885. Namm opened a new store in 1891 at 452 Fulton. It soon expanded into a full department store which took up the whole block. Benjamin Harrison Namm, Adolph's son, followed his pop in running the firm. By the 1920s, Namm’s was one of the largest American stores. The building above—all that remains—is the last part of the store that was built. It was built in 1924-25 and 1928-29 by architects Robert D. Kohn and Charles Butler. (Ironically, Kohn also designed additions to the 34th Street store of Namm's rival, W.H. Macy's.)

In March 1952, A.I. Namm & Son acquired the name of Frederick Loeser & Co., one of Brooklyn’s oldest department stores. After that, it became Namm-Loeser in name. In February 1957, the company announced it would close its flagship store on Fulton, saying it could not compete with larger stores on the strip, and would only operate its suburban locations. Later that year, however, Namm-Loeser’s sold its Bay Shore store to Gimbel's, and merged with Hughes & Hatcher, a men’s clothing store in Detroit and Pittsburgh. Abraham & Straus acquired the Fulton Street Namm building and demolished most of it to erect a large parking garage. 



Which is all fine and good. Except that I noticed another name on the facade besides Namm's—smaller and barely visible above the Modell's sign, but carved in a lovely script: T. H. Von Deiten. Who dat? I can't find out a thing about the German-American personage.

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