Skip to Content

The Evolution of a Brooklyn Block

By Anna Schwartz

Posted on April 16, 2020

[Christmas mail delivery], circa 1925, gelatin silver prints, V1973.5.640; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.
[Christmas mail delivery], circa 1925, gelatin silver prints, V1973.5.640; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202; Brooklyn Historical Society.

This week we honor all the postal, shipping, and delivery workers who continue to deliver our mail, packages, and food throughout our vast city, come rain, shine, or pandemic.

This photograph of a US Postal Service carrier pushing his package-filled cart was taken in front of the Wynmore Social Club at 255 Adams Street in downtown Brooklyn around 1925. The club was located across the street from the main Brooklyn Post Office–which still exists today–on the corner of Washington and Johnson Streets. The Post Office opened in 1891-92 after many years of construction. It replaced a smaller post office located one block south on Washington Street, which would later become the site of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle headquarters.

Anyone familiar with the serene open space of Cadman Plaza near the Post Office today might be shocked by the area’s appearance 100 years ago. At the time, it was a bustling thoroughfare dense with theaters, shops, hotels, lodging houses, and even a bowling alley. A large dry goods store owned by German immigrants Louis and Herman Liebmann occupied the entire northern part of the block next to the Post Office. The multi-floor store, referred to as the Universal, sold everything from Parisian bonnets to tea scales.

Less than five years after opening, the Liebmann’s leased the store to theater proprietor Edwin Knowles. Knowles opened the opulent 1,728 seat Columbia Theatre on March 7, 1892. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described the theater as “Oriental magnificence combined with practical utility.” Two grand staircases led to elaborately decorated private boxes, where the who’s who of Brooklyn gathered on opening night to watch Augustus Thomas’ “Alabama.” In 1905, Columbia Theatre reopened as a burlesque house called the Alcazar Theater. Its success was short-lived, however, and ownership changed hands many times over the years.

As Brooklyn’s population grew, the block underwent major changes. In 1914, city officials approved the expansion of the Post Office north along the entire city block. The theater and adjacent building were torn down. Supervising architect James A. Wetmore designed the seven story addition in a similar architectural style to the original Post Office, creating the seamless edifice of civil splendor we see today.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. We look forward inviting you back to BHS in the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, you can use our Remote Research Guide to get started. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked