Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: Park Slope History Revealed

June 7th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Acme Cafe

Many of us pass the imposing, rather ornate, buff-brick Romanesque structure on the northwest corner of Ninth Street and Seventh Avenue in Park Slope without much thought to its past—perhaps stopping to shop at Brooklyn Industries or Urban Optical on our way to the F train. But the building has an interesting history.

Built by C. Nickenig in 1890 as social club, its first incarnation furnished the borough of Brooklyn with, according to its builder, “a suitable place of amusement.” In its early years, the crenellated roofline of the building had a 15-foot high tower topped with a flagpole bearing a flag with the hall’s name (see pix here, courtesy of Brooklyn’s Park Slope – A Photographic Retrospective by Brian Merlis and Lee A. Rosenzweig). The name of the building, “The Acme,” was also engraved in the Amherst stone of its tower. During these years, the establishment not only served as a lively center where fraternal and political organizations met but it was replete with bowling alleys in the basement and a billiard parlor on the second floor. The third floor boasted a two-story ballroom with balconies (later to become the offices of Old House Journal in 1989 for several years). The street floor claimed an excellent restaurant and bar, the Acme Café and Restaurant (for ladies and gentlemen), which had an outside beer garden where an entry to the Seventh Avenue station of the F train now stands.

A range of noteworthy events took place there. Some of these deliberately courted a select culture. In 1891, for instance, the Brooklyn Eagle reported a Winter Evening Social attended by the “elite of Prospect Heights” and a New York Times article dated six years later announced another high brow event that touted speeches by politicians Seth Low and Carl Schurz. But the Acme hosted sporting events too. The Metropolitan Cycling Club, as well as other clubs, had regular tournaments in the hall’s bowling alley, with winter games the norm.

The Café eventually became Diamond’s Bar and Grill (which was still in existence in the 1960s– with a reputation for being “tough”). The unruly atmosphere also had a long history. On July 12, 1938, Robert Joyce shot and killed Frank Harvey Krug and wounded William J. Diamond (who died later of his wound) in Diamond’s after having reportedly drunk eighteen glasses of beer. At the time, Joyce said he “just went haywire” after being ribbed about the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had just toppled the Giants from first place in the National League. Interestingly, Diamond was the son of the bar’s owner, Patrick J. Diamond, who was also Democratic leader of the Eighth Assembly District, known then as the Gowanus District. On a lighter note, that same year the Brooklyn Cage Bird Association held its annual show and exhibition of fancy feathered pets at Acme Hall, with entries from four states and Canada. The visitors equaled the number of birds, about 850 each.

In 1945, the building was purchased by Ernest S. Felzman. During this period, it contained stores and lofts—and, for many years, it housed illegal garment factories and residential lofts. (Interestingly, the old ballroom had been home to two separate discos at different times.) In 1986, Howard Pronsky acquired the building with the goal of creating an office building in Park Slope (before he began his $750,000 restoration, the Slope could only offer office space in its brownstones). The tower and crenellation were replaced by a rather plain cornice some time before that. On Saturday, June 15, the Center for the Urban Environment will conduct a walking tour of Park Slope South (Park Slope: Southern Exposure)— with tour guide Matt Postal—featuring this building and a number of others. For more information, visit us online or call 718, 788-8500, ext 217.

Ruth Edebohls is the Coordinator of Urban Tours at the Center for the Urban Environment. To learn more about the Center visit us at www.bcue.org.

Seventh Ave and Ninth Street

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 amarilla // Jun 8, 2008 at 7:56 am

    It sounds like the Park Slope Acme was no ordinary acme. From billiards, beer gardens, bird shows and disco to offices, offices and offices, um, I feel blah.

  • 2 Walter E. Hughes // Jul 9, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    I was a kid in the neighborhood in the late 30’s and shined shoes in front of Diamonds with my Friend who would become my Brother in law after the war. I remember a Packard touring car pulling up to the curb and several men in long coats got out and went into the bar and shot up the place. We ran across the street and ran down the Subway stairs I lived on 12th st at the time and went to PS 39 on 6th ave and 8th st. near the library. I have many fond memories of the Park slope and South Brooklyn Area. My wife and I were Married in Holy Name on 9th Ave and Prospect in 1952. It was a good spot for a shoe shine boy in 1935. I remember a tough Cop named Dutch Holland who would beat the crap out of you if he caught you.
    those were the good old days

  • 3 joan diamond // Aug 21, 2008 at 10:51 pm

    My grandfather was Patrick Diamond who owned Diamond’s Cafe on 7th Avenue & 9th street and William would have been my uncle. Both had died years before I was born. I had heard the story of the shooting by Joyce, but, I never heard about any other shootings in the bar. I have been researching family genealogy and would be interested in anything you remember.