Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: Union League Club History Revealed

October 24th, 2008 · No Comments

[Photo courtesy of Brooklynian.com]

Approaching the corner of Bedford Avenue and Dean Street in Crown Heights, one would have a hard time conjuring up the magnificent structure that once graced the corner in the bare bones of what stands there now. At the turn of the century, Grant Square in Crown Heights was one of the hubs of affluent Brooklyn. Anchoring the square at the corner of Bedford Avenue and Dean Street stands the former Union League Club. Built in 1889, the club was designed by Peter J. Lauritzen, whose firm was responsible for many buildings in the borough, including eight firehouses for the former Brooklyn Fire Department. Like other clubs of its time, the Union League Club featured a number of amenities—each floor with a special purpose. There were bowling alleys and shooting galleries in the basement, dining and reception rooms on the first floor, library and billiards rooms on the second, private dining rooms and bachelor’s apartments on the third, a gymnasium on the fourth, and a rooftop lounge! Reminiscent of the Montauk Club in Park Slope, the Romanesque Revival structure of light colored brick with rough-faced brownstone trim, it once featured a handsome and imposing octagonal tower at its corner and eagles atop the peaked gables on the roof (see picture #1). If you look closely, you can see that the main entrance is still flanked with portrait heads of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. It is now the Bhraggs Square Senior Citizen’s Center—and, sadly, has been stripped of its vertical tower and gables. It now has the aspect of a faded beauty, whose architectural visage hints at an earlier time.

Founded as a Republican club, many political affairs were held there. According to the New York Times (October, 1898) then Col. Theodore Roosevelt visited the club while running for Governor of New York State and was greeted by a crowd of over 4,000. He shook hands for well over two hours with a steady stream of people moving through to meet him. At the turn of the century, an equestrian statue of a war-weary Ulysses Simpson Grant was unveiled in Grant Square (see picture #2), paid for by the members of the Union League and sculpted by William Ordway Partridge. The statue still anchors the Square, which features other buildings of distinction—a Montrose Morris apartment building, The Imperial (1892), and the medieval–looking 23rd Regiment Armory (1891-1895), both close by.

The Center for the Urban Environment will be visiting the neighborhood, Crown Heights North, this weekend on Saturday, October 25th at 2 PM with tour guide Matt Postal of the Landmarks Commission. For information, www.thecue.org

(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.thecue.org.)

Tags: Urban Environmentalist