Buildings of Brooklyn: Bushwick

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A historic home suffers a partial collapse

670 Bushwick Ave. (Erica Pishdadian / The Brooklyn Ink)

670 Bushwick Ave. (Erica Pishdadian / The Brooklyn Ink)

The building at 670 Bushwick Ave., a small apartment complex and historical landmark in Bushwick, Brooklyn, has a long and venerable history. The building — known by locals as either the Catherina Lipsius House or Cook Mansion, depending who you ask — was declared a landmark by the Landmark Preservation Commission in 2013. But more recently, it made news after a June 5 accident that injured 16 people.

The mansion was commissioned by Catherina Lipsius, owner of the Claus Lipsius Brewing Company, and completed by 1890, according to the Landmark Preservation Commission. At the time, “Bushwick was home to a large German community, and Bushwick Avenue was named Brewer’s Row for the wealthy brewery owners who built their homes there,” wrote the Commission.

Local brewer William Ulmer took up residence for a time after Lipsius, and, in 1902, Arctic explorer Dr. Frederick Cook purchased the home. Cook’s time as owner remains notorious — even inspiring one of the building’s nicknames — largely because he was such a notorious figure himself.  During his lifetime, he controversially claimed that he was the first man to both summit Mt. McKinley and reach the North Pole, wrote the Commission.

The building has changed hands several other times. It was purchased by an Italian family in 1920 and converted into a convent in 1952 when the Daughters of Wisdom, a Catholic religious order, took ownership. In 1960, they sold it to a doctor. He retained the home until 1995, when it was sold to the current owner, Jean Baptiste Bruno, according to public records.

From the street, the building looks imposing. Unlike many New York buildings, it is not directly next to any other residences, making it appear distinctly taller than its surroundings. It is an old-style red brick mansion, with a second-floor balcony and a circular tower than ends with a pointed roof. The building’s trim is dark green, and the building is surrounded by bushes, trees, overgrown leaves, and a metal fence, giving the building a bit of a spooky, abandoned atmosphere. There is a large pile of broken wood and scraps in the backyard from the recent accident.

“Part of the roof and deck came down, and someone broke their leg,” Manuel Recinos, a Bushwick resident who works in the building across the street, said. “I think another person got hurt pretty bad, too. It’s pretty terrible, you know. There are people living there. And it’s an old building, but now part of it is destroyed.”

The deck collapsed around 12:30 a.m., according to a Fire Department of New York spokesman. Sixteen people were injured, and two people were seriously hurt.

“It’s too bad,” said Shane Burklow, a resident of the building who said he has lived there nearly three years. “The owner got a fine for a violation, but my neighbor really brought too many people out on it having some party or something. It’s an old building; we all know that. I hope [my neighbor] gets kicked out.” Public records with the New York City Department of Buildings show that the owner received a complaint citation on June 5 requiring a structural stability inspection. The complaint status is now listed as “resolved.”

“There are four apartments inside, in total,” said resident Burklow. One on the top floor, two on the middle and the owner has the whole first floor. The building itself is great. It’s really well kept up. The owner kept the historic style inside when they refurbished it and tried to pick people who care about the building’s past to live here. I just hope it gets fixed soon.”

The building sits on the corners of Bushwick and Willoughby Aves., just across the block from several local bars. That’s keeping in the spirit of tradition for this property. Wrote the Commission, “Despite some alterations over time, the house remains remarkably intact and serves as a rare surviving reminder of the late 19th century period when the German immigrant community flourished in Bushwick and the manufacture and consumption of beer was a major part of the lives of people in this community.”

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