21 March 2008

The History of 379 Henry Street

A few weeks ago, I posted an item about the lovely, three-story corner building at 379 Henry Street, at the corner of Verandah Place, in Cobble Hill, asking if anyone knew anything about its history. I'd always admired the building and it seemed evident to me that it had been a store of some kind in the past.

Today I received a wonderful comment from Pam McCarthy. She said her family had run a grocery store out of the space for 40 years until 1975. Here's the full message. It makes for a nice little footnote in South Brooklyn history.

My family, the Marescas, had a grocery store on the ground floor of 379 Henry St., at Verandah Place, for forty years, until 1975. My great-grandfather, John Maresca, who immigrated to NY from Italy in the 1880s, started the business at 46 Atlantic Ave., a block east of Columbia, where the BQE is now; I don't know when the move to Henry St. was, but we do know that John and his wife, Mary, bought two houses on Warren St. in 1914. John died in 1921; his son Charlie (1891-1973), who had joined him in the business, took it over with his brother Frank (1905-1996); their brothers Mike and Louis worked there for a bit before decamping to Long Island and Maine.

The door at 379 Henry was where the window on the diagonal is now. Maresca's Grocery Store had regular customers to whom they made deliveries; in a 1987 issue of the Heights Press, Frank talked about the business:

"Everybody called it Charlie's. It was a friendly neighborhood store where people would send their children to ask for things they needed. We also got a lot of business from St. Peter's Hospital, across the street (now the Cobble Hill Nursing Home). The entire freshman class from Long Island College Hospital would come in for lunch. We used to charge them 35 cents for a ham sandwich, and that was with Boar's Head ham.... The war gave us a break. We'd be open to 10, 11 at night, but during the war we'd close at 8 or 9.... We used to sell Christmas trees. The customers would go down to the basement with my brother Charlie. I'd hear them laughing as he'd untie every bundle. Then he'd sell them a $5 tree for $3. 'I gave it to them for $3 because they were good customers all year,' he'd say."

Frank was a kind of unofficial mayor of Cobble Hill; until his death in 1996 he lived where he had been born and raised (and raised his own family), at 177-179 Warren St., and in the last years of his life he had coffee each morning with Patrick at the Verandah Deli (which is in the mirror-image location from the Maresca store, at the opposite end of Verandah Place), telling him about the old days and no doubt advising on how to cut meat. He was also a golf partner of Barry Brockway, of the Cafe on Clinton; in fact, Frank's golf shoe and picture hung just inside the Cafe on Clinton's front window until the recent renovation.


PublicAffairsLICH said...

This was very interesting. LICH is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, and I am always on the lookout for interesting historical tidbits. I warmly invite you to contact me if you have additional information or would just like to hear what we are doing.
Zipporah Dvash
Director of Public Affairs

Unknown said...

Fabulous. Real Brooklyn. I see it clear as day.

michael said...

My grandfather, a Maresca, was from this neighborhood. I wonder if there is some family relation? My grandparents lived on Van Brunt St, but later moved to the 400 block of Henry Street, and my aunt sill lives there today. Anyway, a very interesting story.

Unknown said...

The picture of that building really should include the ally way that is now fancy Verandah Pace. The drug dealing activity there came to an end by nineteen eighty when the real super yuppies overflowing Brooklyn Heights started buying up Cobble Hill. It is all land marked now but how did the new owners manage to smash a cheap Fedders air conditioner through the exterior wall? Yes, there would now also be a Super Market where the park now is but our parents organized to stop. That could never happen today.

Unknown said...

this is my apartment! that is my window.

i, too, have questioned why a cheap air cond unit was smashed in instead of a few more windows.

anyway i've lived here a few years and love the neighborhood. i'm so glad to hear the story. thanks. lovely stuff. :)

GP said...

It's true. Diana and I are roommates and this is exciting news about our lovely apt. Cobble hill is so great and I love that this apt is a part of such wonderful history!

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Diana, GP: Are you saying you live in the ground floor apartment?

Unknown said...

This is Diana's friend Shawn and I LOVE this story!

Louis said...

Great story. And now everyone knows where Diana and GP live!

Unknown said...

yes, G and i have lived here for about 2 years now. so glad to have the backstory! :)