BROOKLYN’S FULTON STREET

by Kevin Walsh

Lost opportunities. Blown chances.

Once again, I’ve been cheated out of a vintage dining experience. I’d always been curious about, and wanted to take in a meal at, Brooklyn’s famous Gage & Tollner, which had been in business since 1879 and had occupied this same spot on Fulton Street, a couple of doors down from Smith, since 1892. I’d seen the reviews. I’d seen the occasional writeups in the press. But did I ever bother to round up a few associates and go in? Nah… always had something else to do.

I felt the same way about Flessel’s of College Point…but never learned my lesson. As Ray Kinsella found out in Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come, but I’ve found out that if you don’t come, they’ll leave.

So when I learned that Gage & Tollner’s owner, tired of losing money on the place, was closing down its gaslamped Fulton Street restaurant, I immediately called and tried to cadge a reservation. No dice. There was only one thing left to do: grab the Forgotten NY Olympus, get down there on closing day and start firing away.

From the outside looking in, of course.

 

Gage and Tollner

Real estate records show that the brownstone building occupied by Gage & Tollner dates to 1875. Many old buildings survive along this stretch of Fulton Street, but most of the top floors are abandoned and in any case have not been kept in the condition this one has been. [above photo: NY Times]

Gage & Tollner had 36 gaslamps, meaning it could stay open in a blackout. Its tables were made of mahogany. Several of its waiters had been on staff for decades.

My Bible in these matters, Ellen Williams and Steve Radlauer’s The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York, claims that the Bridge Cafe, on Dover and Water Streets in Manhattan’s Seaport area, has been a restaurant of some kind since 1794, but perhaps Gage & Tollner meant oldest restaurant under its original name.

Nose pressed against window, your webmaster gets the only glimpse he ever got of the cherrywood-framed mirrors. What a room it must have been. Gage & Tollner was known as a seafood restaurant with clams and oysters a specialty, and I’ve never been a mollusk fancier, so I would have gone for the crab cakes or the snapper.

Gage & Tollner was a bit pricey, especially for the Fulton Mall area. “Fulton Mall” has been known as such since the late 1970s, when a lane of traffic was eliminated, an Albee Square Mall building was built on the site of the old Albee Theater, and unique lighting and street signage was installed. Other than A&S, by then the grande dame of Fulton Street, the street had become a mishmash of 99¢ stores, pawn shops, and other bargain basement emporiums. Over time Gage & Tollner found it harder and harder to attract customers, despite hiring a string of acclaimed chefs. This gradual attrition made it too difficult for them to support the restaurant, it seems.

[2012 update: after a couple of failed franchise attempts to take it over, like TGI Friday’s, a jewelry store now occupies the space, which has had to keep its overhead lighting and beveled mirrors, as the interior is landmarked]

 

A look at a bus shelter, stoplight, fire alarm box and street sign from 1978. Fulton Mall was given a faux brick street paving, ‘street furniture’ designs and tower lighting unique to the Mall area in an effort to give it a unified look. Traffic was cut back to buses and local deliveries.

[in 2009, these items were removed and Fulton Street received a set of curving-masted, futuristic-looking lampposts, as well as updated shelters and historic signs]

Until the 70s and 80s, Fulton Street was home to a number of large department stores, A&S, Martin’s, Namm’s, Loeser’s, E.J. Korvette and many more. Most of their facades are still there, and if you look closely, their names can still be found, right there on the buildings, in many cases.

 

A&S was begun in 1865 as a partnership between dry-goods salesmen Joseph Wechsler and Abraham Abraham and, after they moved to Fulton Street, by then under an elevated train, in 1885, Wechsler & Abraham was believed to be the largest dry-goods store in New York State. Between 1893 and 1920, Abraham was in partnership with the Strauss family of Macy’s fame, which bequeathed the store a new moniker. In the 1990s, A&S was folded into Macy’s under the Federated Department Stores banner.

Through the decades A&S gradually took over a total of eight buildings along Fulton Street (which can be easily discerned when looking skyward at its multiform facades). A plaque denoting the present Macy’s A&S heritage can be found by the entrances on Fulton and Livingston Streets.

 

This terra cotta extravaganza on Fulton and Hoyt Streets, dating to 1890 (the date is featured on the building’s exterior) has been known both as the Wechsler Brothers Block and the Offerman Building. It’s reminiscent of H.H. Richardson‘s Romanesque offerings of the late 1800s, some architecture experts say. Remember, the Fulton Street El rumbled past till 1940, so the upper-floor detail was easily visible then. It makes an impressive sight when viewed on Hoyt Street from the south.

 

Adolph I. Namm started a dry-goods store in Manhattan in 1876 and moved to Brooklyn in 1886. Namm’s was on Fulton Street until 1957. Namm also had a wing named for him at Brooklyn Jewish (now Interfaith) Hospital. They’ve tried to remove it, but the Namm’s name is still readily visible on the facade on Fulton.

 

Another trace of Fulton’s department store heritage can be found in the IND Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street subway complex, where you can catch the A, C or G, but not the L, which here stood for Frederick Loeser & Company Department Store, which had a number of branches.

Loeser’s was situated in a block-wide building bounded by Elm Place, Fulton, Bond, and Livingston Streets from the late 19th Century until it was sold in 1950. May’s Department Stores is the present owner; the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce moved into office space in the building in 2004.

 

The Albee Square Mall, named for the long-gone Albee Square Theater (demolished 1977), has been renovated and renamed The Gallery at Fulton Street (even though it’s technically on DeKalb Avenue). Scores of theaters are named for vaudeville pioneer Edward F. Albee. The street signs still carry the name Albee Square, but that’s his only trace here now.

The ornate Albee Square Theater was just one of several movie, theater and burlesque houses dotted around the area. All are gone now; there was the Brooklyn Strand, the Brooklyn Paramount, the Loew’s Metropolitan, the Fox, the Orpheum as well. The Paramount’s ornate ceilings and pipe organ can still be found at the Long Island University basketball court.

[2012: in yet another change, the Mall was demolished in 2008 and new high-rise condominium is rising on the site]

 

If you think the Dime Savings Bank’s marble exterior, with its reliefs of the Brooklyn Bridge and Roman god Mercury and its numerous Ionic columns, is impressive, wait till you get inside. A towering, gilded rotunda arises under the dome, surrounded by Corinthian columns topped by giant dimes (Liberty dimes, that is; the building was completed by the firm of Mowbray and Uffinger in 1908 and expanded by Halsey, McCormack and Helmer in 1932, fresh from building a little tower we call the Williamsburgh Bank Building).

The building is now home to a Chase branch.

 

This impressive wraparound building on Fulton and Lawrence once had its own name, as witness the interlocking letters on its facade. The store was once known as Oppenheim Collins, hence he letters OC. Till the late 1970s, E.J. Korvettes occupied the ground floor.

 

The Liebmann Brothers building on Fulton and Hoyt (opposite the Offerman Building seen above) was built in 1888 by W. H. Beers. It’s crowned by a cupola and six terra cotta urns (one has been lost). Beers wouldn’t recognize the exterior now.

 

A painted ad unrecognizable from the street but likely readable from the Fulton Street el, which once passed by at eye level.

 

We’ll see the Majestic name again, but in this case it’s a long-gone hotel. Single rooms for $3 per night and doubles for $5. Check the old phone number: Majestic 5-8385.

 

I knew my high-school Latin would be good for something. Roughly, the sign on the left says, “Life is short; art is long” while the one on the right is actually two aphorisms: “Seize the day” and “Time flies.” In ancient Latin there was no punctuation or spaces between words, while only capital letters were used (“small” letters weren’t invented until the Middle Ages). C was always pronounced as a K, while “V” was pronounced as our “W”, so that “veni, vidi, vici” sounded like “wenny, widdy, wicki.”

 

The Latin can be found on the Harvey Theatre, formerly the Majestic, a converted movie theater on Fulton near Lafayette Avenue. It’s now a part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music complex. Your webmaster graduated college at BAM. You could say that I came, I saw and I left.

 

For the time being (April 2004), BAM itself, on Lafayette Avenue and Ashland Place, is swathed in a protective coating while its exterior is being restored and renovated. When the work is finished, its cherub-festooned terra cotta work will be fully visible again.

 

Fulton Street is dotted with the remains of formerly large funiture chains. Both J. Michaels and Mullins operated several large stores throughout Brooklyn. Your webmaster purchased a blue recliner in a J. Michaels on 5th Avenue in 1987 that supported his ever-expanding posterior well into the first decade of the 21st Century.

 

Fulton Street is very old. It originated as an Indian trail millennia ago; in the early 18th Century it was an original part of Kings Highway. Because it is so old, it predates the grid pattern in which Brooklyn was laid out and has several odd intersections on its western portion. Further east, it serves to separate the neighborhoods of Bedford Stuyvesant from Crown and Prospect Heights. Of late, there has been an effort to rename it along its entire length for Harriet Tubman, the pre-Civil war-era antislavery heroine. The street had been given its name a few years after Robert Fulton’s steamboat exploits.

Above we see one such intersection, where Fulton, Hanson Place and Greene Avenue come together. A handsome green space has been built, complete with shelter.

Who is that guy, seemingly waiting for the bus, on Fulton and Lafayette Avenue? You mean you haven’t heard of General Edward “Ned” Fowler? He led Brooklyn’s 14th Regiment in many Civil War battles. The sculpture, by Henry Baerer, was originally placed in Fort Greene Park in 1902; vandals broke off his sword hand and toppled him from his pedestal in 1966. The statue was restored and replaced in the small triangle here in 1976. Robert Fulton has a statue further down Fulton Street, in a park at Stuyvesant Avenue and Chauncey Street.

Your webmaster completed photography for this page March 20, 2004 and finished writing it April 9, 2004.

Thanks are due to Forgotten Fan Kurt Mitchell for assistance with this page.

31 comments

Darin March 19, 2012 - 4:51 am

Re: The Con Ed Headquarters

That building looks like a squared off version of my HS Murry Bergtraum.

Thanks for the gallery of Brutalist buildings, I love the way most of them look.

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Kelly April 24, 2013 - 4:41 pm

I have 3 drawings of Jesus walking with Daniel and Daniel in the Lions Den. On the back of one is the Fredrick and Loeser and Co. sticker with order # etc. I’ve never seen anything like these and they do belong together. How do I find out more info on the pictures? Your help is greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Kelly J. Bartlett

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Daniel Niemeyer July 7, 2012 - 12:31 pm

I am interested in the 1950s department stores, movie palaces, and passenger trains. About a year ago I visited downtown Brooklyn looking for some signs of the stores and theaters, so I think you postings are very informative. If I get the opportunity I will try to visit again and use your photos as guides. From your pictures I understand the the Abraham & Strauss (now Macy’s) building is still standings and so is the shell of Namm’s. Did I understand from your photo that the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce occupies the building that was formerly the Loesser Department Store building? Do you happen to know if the Martin’s Department Store building at 501 Fulton street is still standing?

Thanks for your postings.

Dan Niemeyer

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Angela Wimberly March 20, 2013 - 8:53 pm

Wow, it was great to see those old stores and buildings along Fulton Street. I remember shopping at A & S as a child right up until they closed in 1996. By that time Fulton street had become dangerous, and my family and I started shopping in Long Island. Great memories all the same. Downtown Brooklyn was so beautiful during the holidays. A & S had the best window dressings. Those were the days… Thanks for sharing the pics…

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Drew Wallner April 22, 2013 - 4:07 am

Your URL —
https://forgotten-ny.com/2004/04/brooklyns-fulton-street/

Ref: “Frederick Loeser & Company Department Store”
Walked through the IND station’s Hoyt Str. end mezzanine on Saturday (4/20/2013) – Those distinctive large art deco style “L” ‘wall plaques’ with matching ‘crown cornice’ tile-work are still THERE — in fact they look almost brand-new – poss. refurbished (?) in the MTA’s 2012 station work ?

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Kevin Walsh April 22, 2013 - 2:53 pm

Coule be they put them back. In any case I’ll amend.

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Stephen Surman July 25, 2013 - 9:01 pm

I worked as the Chief Engineer for A&S from 1976 to 1978. Christmas time there was very exciting. There were at least two Santas and his reindeer, of course. The Staff worked very hard to make the Store especially appealing to the customers. At that time, the Store offered excellent merchandise in a wide variety. As an Engineer, it was the behind the scenes that were especially interesting to me. Some of the earlier buildings were wooden construction but they were all sprinklered. Over a million gallons of water was stored in rooftop tanks, ready in case of an emergency. I loved the job and was on the move all day long. Too bad folks today can’t get that same feeling walking into a Macy’s.

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Mike January 17, 2019 - 8:36 pm

Stephen I loved the store I spent a small fortune in it . There is a story about an ice cream vendor floating about. It was by the subway entrance it’s like a damn legend he served it in parfait glasses with long metal spoons . looks like it was a mutable store thing . Any info please you will make my friends happy thanks

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Ted March 12, 2019 - 9:46 pm

That was in the cellar in A&S. It was a strawberry parfait that I can still recall the taste of. We lived originally on Atlantic Ave., but after moving My Grandmother would always take me so she could do her banking at the Dime. It would usually start with chow mein on a bun at McCrory’s as we came up from the subway and then culminate with this treat at A&S. It was one of my favorite memories. Christmas at A&S was also a wonderland. I recall a merry go round and wrapped gifts being handed out. God bless my years there and my family.

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maurice teahan April 12, 2015 - 7:15 pm

“Ars longa, vita brevis” is an anonymus translation of an “aphorism” of Hippocrates, the Greek physician. “Carpe diem” is from Horace’s Odes(Latin), Book 1, ode 11.Obviously it is in the same artistic and philosophical tradition.

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Jon Baker April 14, 2015 - 2:32 pm

Fulton St -> Harriet Tubman, reminds me of the famous SNL routine with Robert Guillaume and Eddie Murphy. Esp. since there have been trains over and now under Fulton since the 19th century.

Can’t find a video.
Dialogue, approximately:
Murphy: I’m going north on the railroad, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad!
Guillaume: Oh, you mean the Tubway.

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Anonymous January 25, 2018 - 5:10 am

Fulton st.where all the glitz Dept stores

Also H &H cafeteria & great movie houses .l remember them all .as “the” in place to go on Saturdays.

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Laura Alt Schmelzer May 30, 2018 - 1:56 pm

I grew up on 91st Ave which is a continuation of Fulton St when it crosses over Elderts Lane into Queens. My Dad told us that soldiers marched along our street on their way to the Battle of Brooklyn. Because of this, regardless of my Dads’ historical acuracy, I am interested in any early history of this area.

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julius k mcintyre October 31, 2018 - 9:27 am

i would like to see pictures of loemers department store in downtown brooklyn,ny

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julius k mcintyre October 31, 2018 - 9:28 am

i would like to see interior pictures of loemers department store in downtown brooklyn,ny

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rhonda November 2, 2018 - 3:25 pm

I have found an advertising object made of plaster for Bedford Surgical Co, 1326 Fulton St Brooklyn NY.
Any idea of when this business was open? trying to date the piece.

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Anonymous November 8, 2018 - 6:35 pm

a poor example of wasted leadership by Donald Trump, a shameful U.S. President of the United states that isn’t worth mentioning.

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Mike January 17, 2019 - 8:26 pm

So why are you posting this ? Your pretty damn wasted I guess . SMH

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Anonymous January 9, 2019 - 12:23 pm

The green fixtures in the Fulton St. photo didn’t go up in 1978, rather around 1985-1986. I was a high-schooler in the area in those years and I remember when they put those shelters up.

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Mike January 17, 2019 - 8:22 pm

Any info on an ice cream stand that was in the basement of McCrory’s or A&S They used a sweden machine to make a soft serve in Parfait glass with a long spoon I have been told .Funny how everyone knew they loved it no one looked at the sign lol

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Ted March 12, 2019 - 9:52 pm

See above Mike. If memory serves it was on the side of the escalator. No slouch was the waffle Neapolitan ice cream sandwich they made fresh. You could smell it coming up the wooden escalator entrance from the subway. Try smelling that in the subway now.

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Ted March 12, 2019 - 10:07 pm

I’m referring to McCrory’s for the waffle sandwich. A&S was the parfait.

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steve hertzfeld January 22, 2019 - 1:50 pm

My Grandfather, Samuel Hertzfeld, had a Department store at 366 Fulton St called “Wilson Department Store” where my father had a Camera shop during the 1940’s and ’50s
I do have a photo of the front

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mike dantonio July 19, 2019 - 11:24 am

my name is mike ,I worked at mc crorys back in 1966.the waffle stand was in front left of the store on first floor.the waffels were made fresh .then a wedge of napolian ice cream made up the sandwich .I think it was twenty five cents! how about that. to the right was a long stand up counter w/hot dogs,soda and such good ihings.upper rear the lunch counter .it was long w/many swivel seats. in the basement there was a hot dog counter w/a large rootbeer barel.just before the enterance to the subway.i have many many more memories to share.thanks 7/19/19

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mike dantonio July 25, 2019 - 10:21 am

hi again,mike d.here the ladies who worked in food service wore pink dressed w/white aprons.the men worewhite pants and whirt shirts. my first day of work at mc crorys was tue.july 5,1966.i was hired as a stock boy working basement stock room.i was told to bring a cart w/boxes of glass tumblers to housewares dept.there I saw a vision of beauty a sweet young sales girl named josephine. I had to see her again,my thunderbolt.i kept bringing boxes of glasses to her.finally she spoke to me.know what she said? please stop bringing boxes I cant see over the top.oops! I had many duties as a stock boy,one being mid day money pick up .a lady from counting room,a security guard(carrying)and my self pushing a steel (very heavy armored)money truck. 1st floor,mezz.,basement,up to second fl.then back to work .I spent 6 monthe working stock room when I was given the chance to be in mgt.training program.more on that leter ,back to josephine as of today we are 7 months shy of our 50th weding anniversary!7/25/19 more to come……..mike d’antonio

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Ted December 15, 2019 - 9:17 pm

Hey Mike. That’s great to hear about you and Josephine. Life was a hell of a lot sweeter back then. We lived with my Grandmother on Atlantic Avenue for some time before we moved to Long Island. I always will remember downtown Brooklyn as some of my fondest memories. Seeing Santa Clause and a merry go round in A&S. Dime Savings Bank looking like the Vatican. Horn & Hardatt with baked beans and pie. Chow Mein sandwich in McCrory’s and naturally the strawberry parfait in A&S. Grandma was always trying to make sure I ate! God bless her in heaven.

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Yasin Chaudhry January 6, 2020 - 1:34 pm

I remember getting off of the A or C train at Hoyt Schermerhorn, and being able to walk into the lower level of Mays Department Store, From there it was onto EJ Korvetts, A&S and then to Chock Full-o-Nuts for lunch!

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mike dantonio January 19, 2020 - 10:53 am

hi every one,mike d here again going through old memory box found pics of mc crorys store.looking back I have wonderful memories.i remember taking josephine to lunch at the bklyn dodger rest.across from jans.our favorite lunch was bacon and eggs w coffee and toast all for $1.25 (I wasn’t cheap I was on a budget) we also walked on fulton st and had a nedicks hot dog w/a cup of orange aid good times any one remember??1/19/20 10;30am

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Mike Lee May 3, 2020 - 10:34 am

It’s a shame you can’t go back in time….great memories on these pages, McCroy’s, Nedicks, and all the great other stores but most of all A&S at Christmas time. Thank you to all!!!

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Matt June 14, 2020 - 5:50 pm

I was in A&S’s many times as a child in the mid sixties, I remember the old fashioned elevators with the elevator operators. In the basement near the entrance to the revolving doors to the subway was the ice cream stand with a long marble counter top where at times it was many people deep trying to get a ice cream (or was it an ice cream custard of some sort ?), men wearing long coats with hats struggling to get to the counter. That treat was I believe to this day the best ice cream (or custard, it was smooth and creamy) I ever had. I only had the vanilla one, long tall thin glass with a long silver spoon. I have looked for something similar and never found it in all the years since. It was not only myself that felt this way. I would love to know anyone who worked there and what info they could provide.

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TED June 29, 2020 - 10:35 pm

The strawberry parfait at A&S was heaven in a slender glass. I can even recall a smell of, I believe, the wrapping paper during Christmas time as soon as you’d walk into the main entrance. Anyone remember Loft’s candies. My Dad would get me a paper mache pumpkin for Halloween. How about the Boston peanut and Chicklet machines in the subways. I’m not gonna say that those times where without their problems, but boy, they seem so small compared to today.

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