21 June 2011


This is the tenth post of "The Union Street Project," in which I unearth the history of every building along the once bustling Brooklyn commercial strips of Union Street between Hicks and Van Brunt, and Columbia Street between Sackett and Carroll.

153 Union, the building that forms the eastern wall of the northern side of the block between Columbia and Hicks Street, is the structure just to the right of the famed Ferdinando's Focacceria. For at least a couple decades, it has been the bare-bones, deli and cigar store known as Sonny and Nancy's. They advertise themselves as the home of four lottery winners, and have done so for ten years or so. Which means no one has scored since 2000.

Sonny died a few years back; Nancy runs the store now. It's a nice place, though I find it curious that Nancy knows nothing about the cigars she sells. Old-time locals congregate here, and a newbie can be given the fisheye. There are framed photos of old-time Union and Columbia Streets on the walls.

I have been told anecdotal stories that the shop used to be a toy store before Sonny and Nancy came along. But before that it was certainly the Union Center Meat Market. You can see the building in the 1920s below. It's the shop to the left. As the photograph illustrates, the wirework around the windows today is original, though the fanciful brickwork has been simplified over time. I've learned nothing else about this butcher. But then, butchers rarely make the news.

An added bonus to the archival photo above is that it features 155 Union Street, a building that has not existed for half a century. It was one of the many structures torn down on this side of Hicks to make way for the BQE. Today it's a vacant lot, but in years past, as we can see, it was a barbershop. Next to it was a garage.



Lor said...

There's something not right about the comparison of the photos - the proportions aren't right. The original shows that each balcony-adorned opening had french doors in it - which (being the architect that I am) are of a standard size. The windows in the current building are much smaller than what the opening would have been originally. I suspect that when the the adjacent building was torn down, significant damage was done to the 153, requiring a complete facade replacement. Something along those lines had to have occurred. Otherwise, the existing building and the photograph aren't of the same structure. its intriguing, to say the least.

Brooks of Sheffield said...

In the past three decades, a lot of landlords, when faced with rising heating bills, have made the practical decision and ripped out old windows and installed newer ones. The newer frames are uniform and often don't fit the vacancy left by the old ones. I suspect that's what happened here.

Thanks for the comment, Lor. Good observation. I wish more people would comment on these posts. They require a lot of work on my part.

Lor said...

Oh I know landlords do that - and its awful. But the scale of the original openings is much bigger than it shows in the existing photo. And the elimination of all that ornate brickwork indicates a complete re-facing of the facade. There isn't even a second layer of brickwork to say that the original was covered up. That facade has been rebuilt, without a doubt. If I still had access to the NYC's building dept. web site, I would look up the building permits to show that such a major construction project occurred. SO interesting!

And I promise to start commenting more. I read it all the time. It is my responsibility to comment. Promise.

upstate Johnny G said...

Hmmm....I think Lor is onto something here. The french doors in the center of the second floor look to have an awning that could extend out over the balcony, and when I enlarged the shot a little it looks to me as though one of the doors is open and there is a chair on the right side of the balcony, a chair with a wooden frame, the back oval shaped, and bearing tufted upholstery. All the decorative brickwork is gone, for sure and it seems more probably to me that the old facade was pulled down and replaced with the existing one rather than trying to put a second facade over the first, because it would be tricky to tie the two together.

Mark A said...

Look at the building very carefully. The surrounds of the windows are the same as are the number of courses of bricks between tops and bottoms of windows. Those aren't French doors but French windows. The only bricks changed were in the cornice and likely the result of repointing. Not much was removed at all. Same facade but different windows and simpler brick at top.

lorenzo said...

Hi....it seems i remember going with my mother to "Frank the Butcher" at this storefront on Union. Might that help in the "history"? lorenzo