03 February 2010

Corner of Mystery

The storefront at the southwest corner of Hoyt and Degraw, in Carroll Gardens, had always provoked my curiosity. There are many old storefronts in South Brooklyn, since converted to domiciles, which have been left relatively untouched. But this one was particularly well-preserved. It still looks so much like a store, though it hasn't been one for decades.

And such an unusual looking store, too. The heavy overhanging cornice, the double doors, the small windows, the two decorative lamps on either side of the entrance. And, moreover, that bizarre facade of faux blue shingling! What the hell? I've never seen anything like it.

What's more, the whole corner seems to be frozen in time. Most of the bluestone sidewalks have been ripped up in this neighborhood, but on this corner they remain intact, though broken into bits.

I could find out nothing through my usual research avenues, so I asked the oldtimers on the South Brooklyn Network chat room, and found out it used to be a grocery called Russo's. Mr. and Mrs. Russo lived in the back. My informant was a former delivery boy from the 1950s. He also said, when he worked there, it didn't have the blue siding, the windows were bigger and cornice was painted red. This news surprised me. Another source told me that that Russo sold the store in 1968 to "Jimmy the Arab," and then bought Pops Pool Hall on Second Place and Court Street.

The place looks like a former bar to me. It may have been in the past. I found an ad in the Brooklyn Eagle from the 1880s advertising the space as a rentable store. So it's always been a business of some sort, at least until recently. I'd love to know more about the address.

The mystery of this corner doesn't stop with Russo's. Walk a few paces down Degraw and you find an empty lot between 395 and 397 Degraw. The lot—now obviously used for private parking—is protected by an extremely old-looking gate and two unusual lampposts.

There must have been something here originally (maybe a carriagehouse), because, if you look at the side of 397, it's apparent that some extension of the building was sliced away long ago. The second floor door just hangs there in the air, leading nowhere. Again, extremely old bluestone lines the property. Anyone out there have any information on this?

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