This 6-story 400,000-square foot Queens Plaza North monster, built in 1911 at 27th Street, once turned out horse-drawn carriages and automobiles for the Brewster brand, and later Rolls Royce automobiles, and World War II fighter planes. Today it’s the home of Jet Blue Airlines and has been beautifully restored, though its original clock tower has been long absent. The one at the nearby Bank of Manhattan skyscraper a couple of blocks east will have to suffice.
The building is named for a company that was founded as long ago as 1810 by carriagemaker James Brewster. Brewster was known for its “bodies,” or carriagework, from its original horse-drawn vehicles well into the auto age. Brewster luxury autos were made in the company’s LIC building from 1915 to 1925, but the Depression cost it sales and the company was bankrupted in 1937.
Brewster was well-known as an auto manufacturer. The company is mentioned in Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”:
You’re the top! You’re a Ritz hot toddy.
You ‘re the top! You’re a Brewster body.
You’re the boats that glide on the sleepy Zuider Zee,
You ‘re a Nathan Panning, You’re Bishop Manning, You’re broccoli!
Porter’s songs, when performed today, often have his more esoteric references edited out. But to read his lyrics would provide a microcosm of pop culture in the 1920s and 1930s, when he wrote them. In June 2021, Porter continues to be relevant, as a contestant named Storm Large wowed the judges on TV’s America’s Got Talent with a new arrangement of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
After World War II, the Brewster Building ended its association with the manufacture of autos and airplanes, and its distinctive clock tower was removed as it was decaying. Its rooms were leased out to small manufacturers including garment makers. Metropolitan Life Insurance was the main tenant from 1980 to about 2000, with Jet Blue arriving in 2012, building its large illuminated billboard clearly visible from the Queensboro Plaza el station across the street. Jet Blue is contemplating moving to Orlando, Florida after its lease expires in 2023.
The only reminder of the building’s original tenement is a pair of escutcheons by the front entrance that read “B Co, Inc.”
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