27 November 2012

The Cornice of a Cornice Maker

I was walking down 13th Avenue in upper Borough Park when I looked up at the cornice of an old building. Because that's what I do—look up at cornices. You often find clues about the history of the structure up there, the date of erection or the name of the builder.

This time I saw something I'd never seen before. The words on the cornice indicated that this had once been the address of...a cornice maker! The Brooklyn Union Cornice and Roofing Company, to be exact. There's something mind-bending about seeing a cornice maker's cornice, I've got to tell you.

Cornice making was enough of a booming concern in the 19th century that the practitioners had their own union. The Tin, Sheet Iron and Cornice Workers' International Association for formed in 1888, largely through the efforts of Robert Kellerstrass, who had started a similar local outfit in Peoria. The union joined the ALF in 1889. It's welcome was short, however. The Panic of 1893 weakened the union's finances, and the AFL revoked its charter in 1896. It reformed as the Amalgamated Sheet Metal Workers' International Association and was rechartered by the AFL in 1899. No more "Cornice" in the title. 

When I first saw this building, I thought it had been a place where the cornices were made. But it's not a very large structure, and not suited to the creation of cornices, which are not tiny things. So I now this this was perhaps once the home of one of the Locals of the bygone cornice workers' union. 

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