Photo of the Week: An Old Saloon

Old saloon remodeled, 1923, v1974.1.182; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.001; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Old saloon remodeled, 1923, v1974.1.182; Eugene L. Armbruster photographs and scrapbooks, v1974.001; Brooklyn Historical Society.

I am returning to a more arbitrary choice for photo of the week.  This one I came across because it was taken in November.  It piqued my interest because it is a photograph that would interest many of our researchers.  Since the current renaissance of the cocktail started in the 2000s (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/fashion/17shake.html?_r=0) and NY State Law began to allow distilling in 2002 (http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/ABC/5/61), the booze business has been booming.  As a result, the library has been increasingly visited by students, documentary filmmakers, historians, and tour guides seeking out the history of fermentation from both an industrial and a social standpoint.  Unfortunately, photographs and documentation of this subject tend to be rare.

That’s why this photograph is a great discovery. It was taken by Eugene Armbruster who was not only a photographer, but also a little bit of a historian.  His photographs are rich with detail about locations they capture.  Armbruster also gives rich descriptions of the subjects that stand at these locations.  As per the notations on the back of each photograph, this photograph features an old saloon remodeled and reshingled. It was once the shop of Hatfield Fireworks at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Cooper Street in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn.  It’s strange that he refers to the structure as a saloon since by 1923 the country would be on the brink of its third year since the passage of the Volstead Act, which banned the production, sale, and transport of alcohol in the United States.  Many of Bushwick’s residents would have felt the economic and cultural impact of the law,  since it was home to many German residents who, when they immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century, brought their beer making skills with them. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Bushwick included a rich industrial area and a Brewer’s Row to whet the whistles of its workers.

As there is an increasing chill in the air this November, we can be thankful the 18th Amendment was reversed by the 21st Amendment in 1933 and Bushwick is once again home to many heart- and body-warming drinking establishments.  Sadly, this one didn’t survive, but I’m sure there’s a new one just around the corner.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our new website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Fri, 1:00-5:00 p.m.

About Julie May

I am the Managing Director of Library & Archives at Brooklyn Historical Society.
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2 Responses to Photo of the Week: An Old Saloon

  1. Jon says:

    A quick look on Google maps shows this old saloon still standing, but with a more contemporary Brooklyn remodeling job. If you notice the positioning of the windows and door, as well as those on the little structure just behind it on Central, you will see that they are laid out exactly the same (with the exception of a new attic window and the elimination of two street-level windows on the Central Avenue side). Great find!

  2. John Dereszewski says:

    Thanks so much for this picture.

    I think the building is situated at the northwest – not the northeast – side of Central and Cooper. If this is the case, the building may still exist – or at least did so a few years ago. (It was, however, vacant at that time.)

    My guess is that this building experienced a significant life even before its history as a saloon. The original Bushwick Road, which roughly corresponded to the route of the current Bushwick Ave. until Menahan Street, started, at that point, to deviate its course as it continued south. When it crossed Cooper Street, the Bushwick Road flowed down the current Central Avenue. So this building was situated at the intersection of two major – at least as considered in the mid-19th century – arteries. (Cooper continues into Queens as Cooper Avenue and then becomes Yellowstone Blvd. after crossing what is now Woodhaven Blvd.) Given the building’s architecture, it seems probable that it existed during this time.

    I also think that Armbruster was more than “just a bit” of an historian. While not professionally trained – and he certainly could have benefited from the services of a good book editor – his extensive studies of Brooklyn’s Eastern District provide the essential foundation for anyone seriously wishing to learn the history of this area. I know this was the case with me.

    Again thanks for this terrific photo.

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