12 July 2012

The Old Knox Hat Building

I've written about Brooklyn's old Knox Hat Factory in the past. The other day, I finally saw it with my own peepers.

I was strolling through an industrial section of Prospect Heights when I caught the profile of a blocky, handsome, yellow-brick building. It looked familiar. As I suspected it was the Knox Hat Works, which was built in 1890 and now functions as an apartment building. It dominates the intersection of St. Mark's and Grand Avenue. At the time of its erection, it was purported to be the largest hat factory in the world, and they made every conceivable type of headgear here, from top hats to straw boaters to policemen's helmets.

The building is in good shape. The yellow bricks are accented by red stone lintels and blue cornices. The cornerstone, seen above, is in good condition, as is at least one side of the inset street signs.

The Knox business was founded by Charles Knox in 1838 (the cornerstone has it wrong). The first store was at 110 Fulton in Manhattan. It was destroyed in a 1865 fire that also claimed P.T. Barnum's museum. Son Edward (who fought valiantly at Gettysburg and was once called "the most popular and handsomest officer in the encampment") rebuilt at 212 Broadway. Soon Edward decided the company should manufacture its own hats and built the Brooklyn factory, which once had a corner tower with a four-sided clock (now gone).

Edward Knox died in 1916, and the Knox Company merged with Dunlap Hats in 1918, which would eventually merge with other companies that formed the Hat Corporation of America. The factory was closed after World War II. Alfred Thompson turned the abandoned factory into 52 units of subsidized housing in the 1980s. 

And then there's this curiosity around the corner. The Knox Gourmet. Doesn't look open.


Ed said...

When I saw the photo, my reaction was "this is a really handsome building".

New York City unfortunately doesn't have a bright future. Though people have forgotten this, the city used to be a major manufacturing center in its own right, along with being a force in culture (or media) and trade. The manufacturing sector has been almost totally eradicated (there may be a few illegal sweat shops here and there) from the city. But the finance and real estate sectors are now also in the process of collapse and are shedding jobs. Culturally the city has produced nothing of note, either in high culture or low culture, for almost twenty years. In other words, nothing is made in New York City that people want to buy.

The economic strategy of the city government is to sell the city essentially as a place for people who had made their money elsewhere to come to visit and to live, which is problematic for a smaller town but absurd for a place whose population is eight million. At this point all you can do is wait around for the bottom to fall out.

Unknown said...

This might be because Real Estate has become one of, if not the biggest commodity in this country.

David Rawlins said...

We discovered today an original Knox New York hat box that had been tucked away in the attic of our 1904 home in Tennessee. Inside were 2 hats. One does not have a label, and the other one with the label says "Flechats" Made in France and Alice May, Fifth Avenue, New York. These most likely were purchased by my Great Grandmother in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

D. Rawlins

Brooks of Sheffield said...

D. Rawlins: Would you care to part with the hat box? I'd be interested.--Brooks