Then And Now, In The Neighborhood

Ben Feldman, our volunteer extraordinaire, has been cataloguing our Historic Fund collections for years. Ben occasionally takes time off from cataloguing to blog, research, and write books. And, he gives talks also. If you would like to join Ben this Saturday at Green-Wood, to hear his tales of research (“Uncovering Long-Lost Stories: Digging Dirt At Green-Wood”), here’s a link to his talk and trolley tour.

On one of Ben’s recent research excursions to the Municipal Archives, he came across a real treasure trove: tax photographs of New York City, taken from 1939 to 1941, showing virtually every building in the five boroughs. Ben ordered¬† a few¬† photographs of the buildings near Green-Wood’s Fifth Avenue gates for our collections; here are a few of the most fascinating.

First of all, here’s a photograph taken on Fifth Avenue, between 25th and 26th Streets. The intersection of 25th and Fifth is at the right of this photograph.

View on Fifth Avenue, just south of 25th Street, across from Green-Wood. That dark area at the top of the photograph is the El--the elevated railroad. The Green-Wood elevated stop started just north of 25th Street and extended slightly past 24th Street. You can also see the horsecar rails in the pavement in the foreground; they were removed just two or three years ago when Fifth Avenue was repaved. In 1940, a blacksmith business was just to the left. Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.
A recent photograph of the same spot, with Fifth Avenue in the foreground. The Weir-McGovern greenhouse is at right. If all goes well, Green-Wood will close very soon on its purchase and that and of the peaked-roof building at left.

Now, heading down 25th Street from Fifth Avenue towards Fourth Avenue, on the south side of the street, right next to the Weir-McGovern greenhouse, this was the scene circa 1940:

J.R. Pitbladdo, monument maker, circa 1940. Much of the Pitbladdo family is interred at Green-Wood. Courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives.

And, the same scene today:

Pitbladdo, now doing business as the Brooklyn Monument Company. Their building and work shed at rear left are little changed. Note that the cornice on the brick building at right, visible in the 1940 photograph, has been stripped off.

A bit farther down 25th Street towards Fourth Avenue, across on the north side of 25th, was Wollmers Florist. Verrazano flooring now occupies this spot.

Wollmers Florist, circa 1940. Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.

According to the tax map, Wollmer’s greenhouse ran through the block, stretching all the way from 25th to 24th Streets. Here’s an image of Wollmers’ greenhouse, from a letterhead in Green-Wood’s archives:

Letterhead for Wollmers Florist, from 1926. Note the glass entrance to the greenhouse, at upper left.

It must have been quite something to come out of the subway on Fourth Avenue, start walking up the hill towards Green-Wood, and to stop off at Wollmers’ or Weir-McGovern’s greenhouse for a bouquet or a plant for grandma’s grave.

Finally, here’s the establishment of one of the nearby monument makers, John Feitner.

John Feitner, not surprisingly, established his monument-making business right near Green-Wood's entrance. Note the stones in the foreground, soon to become cemetery monuments. Courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.

I recognized Feitner’s name from his work at Green-Wood. I thought I knew two pieces at Green-Wood with his mark, and, lo and behold, here they are:

John Feitner created these marble portraits and granite bases for Friedrich Rollwagen and his granddaughter, Friederike. Feitner's mark is at the base of the right monument.
Monument-maker John Feitner's mark appears on both of the Rollwagen monuments.

A trip back in time, about 70 years or so. Enjoy!

11 thoughts on “Then And Now, In The Neighborhood”

  1. Very interesting.

    I didn’t know 5th Avenue had an El. Can you advise it’s termini?

    It’s interesting too that the industrial building next to Pitbladdo had shutters, too.

    I also noticed the chimneys that were taken down. Originally, they would have exhausted fireplaces or stoves located there to provide heat–before the boilers and steam heating became popular. Like on the house I live in now on 40th Street in Sunset Park.

    Reply
  2. The elevated line was the 3rd Avenue El. The internet has many photos and information on this line, unfortunately only a few photos have Green-Wood in them.

    Reply
  3. Hi,
    Thanks for posting this information & photos. The J.A. Wollmers florists was my father’s family business. I remember playing at the florist shop when I was very young, 4-6 years old. My father John A. Wollmers, Jr. died in December 1951. My mother sold the business to the Weir florists, just up the block on the corner of 25th St & 5th Ave. Even though the photo of my family’s florist building was taken in 1940 or so, by the time I was there it had been updated to a modern brick facade. I remember playing in the greenhouses which ran from 25th st back all the way to 24th St. I also remember the Weir building’s unique architecture as well. I never thought I’d see anything so timely as this is so thanks again for posting.

    Reply
      • Hi again Jeff,
        I commented back on Oct. 27th re:my father’s florist business: J.A.Wollmers. Since then I have gone back into my family’s archives and discovered a photo of the brick frontage of the building with large picture windows and an iron fence around the front of the building. In the corner of the picture a fender and wheel is visible from an old Model T type vehicle, which leads me to believe that the original picture that you posted was WAY before 1940, probably more like 1900-1920s. I’d like to be able to send you a copy of the photo. Can you tell me a site or address? Finally, if you were to look closely at the photo, you’ll see two rectangular bronze nameplates on the brick facing. It says J.A. Wollmers, diagonally with the addresses 215 and 217. I still have both of them. Thanks again for your hard work.

        Reply
          • Hi Stan,

            I seem to have missed your last comment. Sorry about that. Yes, we would love to have photos of J.A. Wollmers on 25th Street. And, if you are thinking of donating those plaques somewhere, Green-Wood would be very happy to have them. You may send whatever you have to: Jeff Richman, The Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11232. Thanks!

  4. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for getting back. I’ll send out a copy of the photos of the front of the building. I’m undecided about the bronze plaques; I think my to sons may be interested. Best wishes, Stan

    Reply

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