Former 75th Police Precinct Station House Renovated

former 75th castle police precinct renovated


Update May 27, 2024: On a brisk Monday, March 4th, 2024, a beacon of hope and care emerged at 486 Liberty Avenue in East New York. This new facility, established by Care For the Homeless, is set to be a cornerstone in the community, offering a sanctuary for 157 homeless men grappling with mental illness. Beyond just providing beds, this site encompasses an Article 28 community health center, dedicated to addressing the primary medical care and behavioral health needs of both its residents and the broader community.


Under the stewardship of a seasoned director, the shelter will employ a robust team of 76 professionals. This team includes social workers, case managers, housing specialists, and a vigilant 24/7 security and maintenance crew, all committed to fostering a supportive and secure environment for the residents.


The health center will be a lifeline for many, operating five days a week and staffed by a multidisciplinary team. This includes a physician, nurse, medical assistant, and specialists in mental health and substance use disorders, all working in concert to provide comprehensive care. Their mission is not just to treat, but to uplift, ensuring that every individual receives the attention and support they need to rebuild their lives.


This initiative marks a significant step in addressing the multifaceted needs of homeless individuals, particularly those battling mental illness. It’s a testament to the enduring commitment of Care For the Homeless to foster a community where every person has access to the care and support they need. The establishment at Liberty Avenue stands as a model of integrated care, aiming to bridge gaps and build a healthier, more inclusive community.





From Policemen to Priests: A Timeline of the Precinct-Turned Church

 


In the heart of the Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn, a piece of the city's history stands resilient against the march of time. The corner of Liberty and Miller Avenue hosts the formidable visage of what was once the 75th Police Precinct Station House. With its 19th-century bones and layered past, this station is a chronicle of the urban evolution, from its humble beginnings as the 17th Police Precinct—boasting a modest band of 38 men—to a bustling precinct accommodating 60 patrolmen, 14 horses, and a curious duo of police cats. This remarkable transition was ushered in by Captain Hugh Frank Gorman and his team on a balmy summer day, June 2, 1982.


In its heyday, this precinct governed the largest territory in New York City, a sprawling nine-square-mile jurisdiction stretching from the fringes of Queens County to the town of Flatbush, and from the waters of Jamaica Bay to the county line. Within this labyrinth of streets thrived neighborhoods such as East New York, Brownsville, and Cypress Hills, each pulsing with their unique urban life. While the concrete and steel of Brownsville teemed with people, the larger precinct was a landscape of rural charm, speckled with farms and detached homes—the enticing targets for seasoned burglars.


Yet, as the area blossomed, the constraints of the precinct became starkly apparent. Designed to house no more than 113 officers, the Liberty Avenue building struggled to safeguard the 90,000 souls scattered across the district's 139 miles of streets. The cries for improved coverage, particularly from the northern community of Cypress Hills, echoed through the precinct's long corridors but were met with years of waiting. The inevitable rise of the motorized patrol car saw the horse stables make way for a three-story garage in the 1920s, marking the transformation of the 44th precinct into the 75th Police Precinct, a name it held until 1973.


A feast for the eyes, the old station house is a confluence of architectural marvels. The late Victorian Romanesque Revival style manifests itself in the three-story, yellow-brick edifice that stands over a sandstone foundation. The façade is punctuated by a round corner tower and a Norman-inspired main entrance portico, while a two-story brick stable—connected by a one-story brick passage—adds character to the structure. Adding a touch of modernity to this Victorian narrative is a non-contributing, three-story garage block built in 1926, believed to have replaced the earlier, smaller stable wing.


In 1973, the rhythmic footsteps of officers were replaced by the serene hymns of a church congregation as the building transitioned into a place of worship. By 1974, the station closed its doors, the precinct headquarters shifting to 1000 Sutter Avenue. The building, fondly christened "The Castle" by locals, changed hands over the years. After a stint under the ownership of the People’s First Baptist Church, it was sold to Triple Five Holdings LLC for $1.4 million in 2016. Despite a period of disrepair, the Castle's historical significance earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, facilitating the owners' access to tax incentives for rehabilitation work.


The station, with its asymmetrical and picturesque massing, is a tribute to the architectural sensibilities of the late nineteenth century. The round tower at the street corner, the projecting wall sections, and a striking round-arched entrance facing Liberty Avenue each tell tales of a bygone era. The charm of the Romanesque decor, the sandstone corbel carved as a lion's head, the blind arcading, and the parapet walls whisper secrets of the past to those willing to listen. Inside, its architectural prowess continues, hosting a large muster room, captain’s quarters, a large sitting room, dormitories, and the remains of the stables, their architecture a testament to the city's evolution.


However, the passage of time has taken a toll on the records of this architectural marvel. An attempt to scan and preserve the interior images for the National Register of Historic Places met with unfortunate mishaps, leaving the visual archive nonviewable. It's a poignant reminder of how swiftly opportunities to preserve our history can slip through our fingers. The sting of a missed exploration opportunity lingers, a testament to the fleeting nature of options and the importance of seizing them when they arise. The Castle stands as an enduring symbol of a city's evolution, reminding us all of the value of preserving the tangible remnants of our collective history.


It was back in 2020 when I came tantalizingly close to delving deeper into this historical enigma. The sight of the entrance window, a gateway to the precinct's past, filled me with a sense of anticipation. Yet, the fickle nature of time played its part in the grand scheme of things. A day later, the window was concealed behind an unyielding wall of cement blocks—a poignant testament to the ephemeral nature of opportunities.

It's a lesson life teaches us over and again: you never know when a sliver of possibility might be snuffed out, as fleeting and capricious as a candle's flame in a gust of wind. In my case, that opportunity was a mere 24 hours, a precious moment lost in time.

So here we are, standing before this fortress of history, reminded of the vital importance of seizing chances when they present themselves. Because sometimes, even a day's delay could mean a missed opportunity, a lost insight into our shared past. The old precinct, forever trapped behind an impenetrable wall of cement, is a constant reminder of chances lost and the compelling need to embrace opportunities, however fleeting they might be.



The 1800s Brooklyn Police Department




In the latter half of the 19th century, as Brooklyn began to burgeon like an unchecked vine, the need for a formalized police force became inescapable. From this need, various forms of law enforcement sprouted, sowing seeds of order amidst the city's relentless growth. It wasn't until 1870, however, that the notion of a dedicated police board took root, eventually evolving into the Department of Police and Excise in 1873.


Sprouting from this new institution, precincts and sub-precincts unfurled throughout Brooklyn, adapting existing edifices to their needs. The city pulsed with change, each beat ushering in a new era of civic responsibility. It was in this climate of change that new station buildings, soon to be known as the 68th and 75th precincts, were erected in 1886. These precincts emerged as stalwart pillars of Brooklyn's burgeoning municipal landscape.


Nestled within the freshly annexed territory of East New York, which had until recently been administered as the Town of New Lots, was the 75th Precinct. It quickly adopted an alias more fitting to its local character, known affectionately as Cypress Hills.


The turn of the century marked a watershed moment in Brooklyn's history. As 1898 dawned, Brooklyn ceased to stand alone and was woven into the tapestry of New York City, becoming one of its five boroughs. With this consolidation, a symphony of seventeen disparate police administrations orchestrated a merger, forming a unified New York City Police Department that echoed across the city's diverse terrain.


This melting pot of law enforcement adjusted over the ensuing years, with precinct numbers waxing and waning like the city's population. It was around 1929 that the 75th Precinct finally settled into its present-day designation like a ship finding its mooring after a long journey at sea. This number, now entrenched in the annals of Brooklyn's history, stands as a testament to a story that stretches back to the borough's wilder days, speaking volumes about the ongoing evolution of law, order, and community.



The Department of Police and Excise Build Campaign 



In the twilight years of the nineteenth century, the precinct station houses were hubs of municipal activity, serving a host of functions akin to a city within a city. A typical first floor was punctuated by the stern, commanding desk of the sergeant and the office of the precinct captain. Above, patrolmen who toiled through grueling sixteen-hour shifts found respite in sleeping quarters. Larger station houses even afforded patrolmen the luxury of day rooms or reading rooms, pockets of tranquility amidst the tumult of their duties.


Each precinct house was a microcosm of the city it served, complete with a small cell block for the apprehended and lodging rooms offering a haven for the homeless. As the utilization of patrol wagons burgeoned post-1887, stables became a requisite fixture of these precinct complexes.


Colonel Thomas Carroll, freshly appointed as Brooklyn's Commissioner of Police and Excise in 1886, found himself confronted with a vast and varied landscape of precinct facilities. While a few buildings, such as the 5th on North 1st Street and Bedford Avenue, the 9th at Gates and Marcy Avenues, and the 8th on 5th Avenue and 15th Street, were owned by the department and considered paragons of their time, many precincts were bursting at the seams.


The ranks of patrolmen had swelled, mirroring the exponential growth of the city and its precincts. The result was an array of makeshift precinct houses, some of them leased, squatting in commercial storefronts and tenements. These precincts, identifiable only by the emerald glow of police lanterns by their doors, bore the weight of an expanding city and a stretched-thin force.


Commissioner Carroll took up the mantle of reform, spearheading a program to establish purpose-built, city-owned precinct station houses. This campaign was as much a salve for the existing precincts as it was a birthplace for the newly-minted ones in the burgeoning corners of the city. By 1887, the blueprints for four new buildings were unfurling.


When the reins of the department passed to Police Commissioner J.D. Bell in 1889, he continued Carroll's campaign. By 1892, Brooklyn was witness to a dozen new station houses, either complete or rising steadily from the city's heart. Echoing this surge of growth, Mayor David A. Boody ventured a prediction, envisioning a future where every Brooklyn station house would be owned by the city. He painted a portrait of precincts that would stand as commodious, well-equipped sentinels, rivaling any in the nation. This ambitious vision, cast from the seed of Carroll's initiative, reflected the spirit of a city forever in the throes of metamorphosis.








The Architecture of Brooklyn Precinct Station Houses





In stark contrast to New York City's established in-house architect, Nathaniel D. Bush, who had been crafting designs for station houses since 1862, Brooklyn's Police Department lacked such a figure. The task of designing public works, including precinct houses, fell to the Brooklyn Department of City Works in the mid-1880s. However, the rapid expansion of the city bore heavy demands on the department, and it found itself outsourcing the planning and design of public buildings to private architects and engineers.


Brooklyn's precinct houses emerged as distinctive public structures, often stately positioned on corner lots. Inside, their diverse functions were neatly compartmentalized: the stable, cell block and lodging rooms were nestled within a wing that connected to the main building by a stairwell when the plot allowed. Many boasted towers that pierced the skyline, conjuring images of medieval fortresses. These towers, perched either at corners or rising from boldly-arched entrance porches, were more than just architectural grandeur; they enhanced visibility and offered vantage points from which officers could keep a vigilant eye on their surrounding territory, recalling an era when much of Brooklyn was farmland, watched over by policemen stationed atop high brick towers.


Contemporary descriptions from the late 19th century highlight the stark contrast between the imposing precinct houses and the humble residences nearby, an intentional juxtaposition that underscored the authority and presence of law enforcement.


In the architectural tapestry of the time, Brooklyn's precinct houses stood apart from their contemporaries in New York City. The Italianate and French Second Empire station houses in Manhattan, conceived by Nathaniel D. Bush, were typically more formal structures sans towers, tucked away on less costly mid-block sites. Conversely, the prominent corner locations of police stations were a defining characteristic in Brooklyn.


The 1886 design by Emile M. Gruwé epitomized the precinct house as a fortress of order and peace amidst a swelling labor-class neighborhood. The Romanesque Revival style employed was a mirror to the era's state armories, reinforcing a strong image of authority and strength. This style was not just a nod to the prevailing architectural trend but also reflected an understanding of the style's resonance with the public.


Henry Hobson Richardson, with his designs for several libraries and the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, showcased the potential for Romanesque civic structures. Soon, the country witnessed a proliferation of courthouses, post offices, schools, and other public buildings donned in Romanesque attire. In Brooklyn, the United States Post Office's Brooklyn Central Office and the Brooklyn Fire Headquarters were notable structures in the Richardsonian-inspired manner, adorned with rugged, rock-faced granite or brownstone.


James W. Naughton's public schools, such as P.S. 76 on Wyona Street, demonstrated an affinity for the Romanesque Revival style, bearing a resemblance to Brooklyn's police precinct houses through the use of brick, stone, and ornamental pressed brick. Sadly, P.S. 76 was demolished in 1996, giving way to George Walker Jr. Park, named after a former police officer.


The Renaissance Revival style, showcased in Frank Freeman's design for the 9th Police Precinct Station House at Gates and Throop Avenues in 1895, signaled a shift in the aesthetic of Brooklyn's station houses. This transition exemplified the city's constant evolution, reflecting the ever-changing tapestry of architectural styles, public needs, and civic consciousness.





The Future of the Precinct Station House



Fast forward to 2003, and the building was under the ownership of People’s First Baptist Church. With grand ambitions, the church hoped to repurpose the station house into a haven for veterans or a shelter for victims of domestic violence during the early 2010s. However, the formidable price tag of approximately $20 million for necessary renovations proved prohibitive.


The vacant edifice changed hands in 2016, purchased by Triple Five Holdings LLC. In 2018, the company set in motion an extensive restoration project, beginning with a permit application to insert new floor joists, a crucial first step to stabilizing the historic structure. The renovation swung into full gear in early 2019 and the fall of 2022, with both the exterior and interior undergoing painstaking reconstruction.


As of July 2, 2023, the exterior of the building stands firm and restored, with the brickwork mirroring its original appearance. Peering in from the street, one can observe the interior construction nearing its completion. Although the building is currently classified as a commercial property, it is set to undergo another transformative chapter in its rich history. According to designs and property information from Milagros & Associates LLC, a full-service Project Management consulting group, the once precinct station house is on course to become a new 34,200-square-foot Transitional Housing Facility for Women.


For those curious about the building's journey and wanting to dive further into its past, there's an article penned three years ago: "Former East New York 75th Precinct Station (153rd Precinct)." From a beacon of law enforcement in a burgeoning city to a vital shelter providing respite and hope to women, the evolution of this building encapsulates the spirit of resilience and transformation that is inherent in the fabric of Brooklyn's history.



La versión en inglés de este ensayo se puede encontrar aquí: URL




Sources:

1. Admin, Clio and Laurie Paonessa. "75th Police Precinct Station House. Clio: Your Guide to History. December 14, 2021. Accessed July 2, 2023. https://theclio.com/entry/143077

2. The East New York Project. Accessed July 2, 2023. http://www.tapeshare.com/PS76.html

3. NYC Historic Districts Council. Former 75th Police Precinct Station House, Six to Celebrate. Accessed December 10th 2021. https://6tocelebrate.org/site/former-75th-police-precinct-station-house/

4. Richardson, C. (2012, April 23). Brooklyn church hopes to turn derelict former police precinct into vets' housing, domestic violence center. New York Daily News.

5. De Vries, S. (2019, February 21). Preservationists in East New York Want to Shower Some Love on the Historic 75th Precinct Station. Brownstoner.

6. Lopez, Rosemary. "19th‐Century Police Station to Be Sold by City at Auction", September 14, 1975, Page 88. NYTimes

7. The Hatching Cat, "1909: Dewey and Dick, the Brooklyn Police Cat Mascots of 484 Liberty Avenue", January 22, 2022,  hatchingcatnyc

8. The Precincts of the Patrol Borough of Brooklyn South, Police NY


        

        

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