07 April 2011

The Enduring Romatic Fiction of Tiffany Place

Here's how the urban myth goes: Tiffany Place, a one-block, cobblestoned street just west of the BQE in Cobble Hill, got its name from none other than Louis Comfort Tiffany, the stained-glass genius, who had a factory here.

I have heard this yarn for years, ever since I moved to the immediate neighborhood in 2001. And I believed it. How could the story be otherwise, with a street name like that? Who else was named Tiffany?

Well, as it turned out, everybody. Brooklyn was once crawling with Tiffanys. And one of them got a street named after him. But it wasn't Louis.

A couple years ago, while doing some research in preparation for a walking tour of the Columbia Street area, I started looking into the history of Tiffany Place. I was specifically looking for information on Louis Comfort Tiffany's factory, which I had heard so much about. But I found nothing. Why? Because Louis Comfort Tiffany never had a factory here. Oh, there were plenty of warehouses on Tiffany Place. Historically, the street was a rough and tumble industrial lane, lines with warehouses and factories which were regularly burning down. But none belonged to Tiffany.

What's more, there's no way the street could have been named after Tiffany. The dates just don't work. Louis Comfort began studying glass in 1872, and didn't start his business until 1879. Meanwhile, there are references to Tiffany Place in the Brooklyn Eagle and elsewhere going back to the 1840s, before Louis was born.

So who was the street named after? Well, there were a lot of polically active Tiffanys back in the 19th century. But as far as I can tell, the street was probably named after an early Brooklyn official named George Tiffany, who was a state senator. He married a woman who was the daughter of admiral Commodore Perry and the cousin of August Belmont, so he was a prominent fellow. But I'm not dead certain of this. As I said, there were many Tiffanys in New York State and in politics. It was an old family.

I also learned this. Sometime in the past, prior to the 1840s, Tiffany Place was called Waverly Place.

As for 1 Tiffany Place, the building that, to this day, is advertised by real estate agents as a "converted Tiffany lamp factory," it was Walther and Company, manufacturer of "fancy papers," during the 19th century.

Real estate agents, of course, are the ones who put the lie to the street. A street that was home to the son of the founder of Tiffany & Co. is much more sexy than one that was home to countless domestic violence cases and arson-born conflagrations. If was an easy fib to put over. There was the unique name, of course. But also, Tiffany had contributed stained glass windows and other features to nearby Christ Church, on Clinton and Kane.

To be clear, I don't post this information to spite anyone who's fallen for the fake tale of Tiffany Place over the years. Hell, I believed it for a long time. I just feel it's time to set the record straight. Plus, I hate fictions created by real estate agents.


Tinderbox said...

I wonder if those nice iron stars are old or if they were added to the facade later?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Good question.

Unknown said...

The stars have been there since at least the early 1960's. My grandparents owned and lived at 18 Tiffany Pl across the street I remember those stars being there as a kid. It was a factory or some commercial space then. My family lived at 18 Tiffany place from at least 1930 when my mother was born there.

Senor lapidus said...

1 tiffany was the hirsch- fortune lamp company until the 80s. Converted to condos later. Hirsch-fortune was there for many years. Sad to see it go. Old abe hirsch was a gentle man.