RENKEN’S MILK, Fort Greene

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Perhaps my favorite building on Myrtle Avenue in Fort Greene is the beige and brown Moderne classic Renken Milk Building at Classon Avenue, more properly known as the M. H. Renken Dairy Company offices:

In 1912 Martin Renken of the M.H. Renken Dairy Company bought the whole block, and in 1923, constructed a bank of industrial loft buildings along Classon that became 202, 204, 206 and 208 respectively. The buildings haven’t been fundamentally changed since they were first designed and built by Brooklyn architecture firm Koch and Wagner, all yellow brick and wood shutters and windows that don’t open. While the upper floors were used for pasteurization and bottling, the ground floor of 206 was used as a stable for horse-drawn carriages; a few years later, the stable was converted into a loading dock. The Classon buildings were one section of a three-part complex that also included 131-137 Emerson Place, built in 1924, and the main office at 574 Myrtle Avenue, built in 1918Susie Cagle

The Renken Company moved to Middlebury, CT in 1962. I still remember Renken’s as a dairy brand in stores when I was a kid.

The bottom floor is home to Wally’s Square Root Café.

In 2012, word came that the Renken plant was being considered by the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

The Renken Dairy Company building is an unusual example of the Moderne style of architecture applied to a small commercial structure in Brooklyn. It was constructed as an office in 1932 for the Renken Dairy, established in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. One of several such businesses in the borough, the Renken Dairy’s location in Clinton Hill created a local source for the processing and supply of milk from farms outside the city for distribution to the local population. The Renken Dairy, like others from this period, originally consisted of a group of buildings where the milk was delivered, cleaned and pasteurized, and bottled, all while being kept cool by its own ice plants. This office structure and a nearby utilitarian garage are the only surviving sections of what was once a bustling complex. 

Since milk was considered a vital part of children’s diets, sources of clean, healthful milk were crucial to neighborhoods where families lived. Before easy refrigeration, it was necessary to build these processing plants throughout the city. Dairies and their milkmen were a fundamental part of the lives of most children at that time.

This office building was designed by the firm of Koch & Wagner in the Moderne style, popular in the early 1930s. This style was a simplified version of the earlier Art Deco style, featuring light colors and straight lines to provide a sense of dynamism related to machines and their speed, seen as emblematic of the 20th century. The building design is expressed through horizontal bands of red brick against a light brick background and projecting or recessed planes on the building’s facades. The firm of Koch & Wagner designed numerous industrial, commercial and residential properties, primarily in Brooklyn and Queens, from 1910 until 1951. This building serves as a reminder of an earlier, more pastoral time in Brooklyn’s history, when most neighborhoods had a local milk processor for local distribution to insure the product’s freshness and quality. LPC

1/9/13





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10 Responses to RENKEN’S MILK, Fort Greene

  1. Pat Collum says:

    Renken’s milk was delivered in small bottles to schools also

  2. Larry says:

    We had Renken’s Milk delivered for several years to our home and were quite satisfied with their products and their routemen were very courteous and always tipped their hats to my Mom….

  3. Chee Ef says:

    Very nice building – amazing to find it little altered on the outside, although I hope the windows now open!
    How late were horses used for deliveries? Seems odd to me that stables would be built in 1923.

  4. Bruce says:

    My daughter (student at NYU Poly further west on Myrtle) and I discovered Wally’s a few years ago and we meet up for breakfast there a few times a year. Great breakfast/lunch place. In a classic example of not seeing the trees for the forest, never noticed the building that houses it. Also popular with Pratt Institute students.

  5. Simon says:

    It’s amazing how such a crappy neighborhood can become so trendy.

    • Kevin Walsh says:

      Crappy is in the eye of the beholder.

      • Kate says:

        Well said, Kevin! This is my neighborhood–and I love it (for its diversity, beauty… and I guess, crappiness?) I always considered this building to be in Clinton Hill / Bed Stuy border . I never knew its history (but was always curious)—thanks!

        • Simon says:

          I apologize…I meant to say “once crappy neighborhood”. I’ve known this area now for over 50 years and I also attended nearby Brooklyn Technical High School. I also worked in the vicinity for several years. My father was mugged near the Navy Yard and had to be taken to Cumberland Hospital. Believe me, this area was crappy. Now that the yuppies and speculators have come in with their big $$$ – voila – a new trendy neighborhood has unfolded. In the 60′s and 70′s this was considered a very-high crime area. In addition to that, The Myrtle Ave El made the area appear even more depressed . In my day the only wine available in Clinton Hill went for 99 cents and came in a small brown bag.

  6. Gerry says:

    There is a Renken Blvd. in Franklin Square not more than 2-3 miles east of the city line. Think it was named for same family

  7. Bill Tweeddale says:

    When I was going to PS 121, Brooklyn, back in the 50′s, we went on a class trip to the Borden’s plant in East New York. If I recall, we also went to a Bond, or Silvercup bakery. I guess the BOE thought it would be a good idea for kids to know where their milk and bread came from…

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