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Illusion and Reality at Loew's Kings

Feb 25, 2010 6:26 PM | 1 comment

News of the planned renovation of the Loew's (pronounced LOWees in this part of the world) Kings Theater on Flatbush Avenue sent us scurrying to our files for Loew's ephemera. And, given the sad history of the theater over the past thirty years, it caused us to think a little about the tenuous nature of plans, and their tendency to turn into something other than reality. One could be forgiven for greeting the announcement of a planned $70 million cash infusion with more than a little scepticism--after all, we heard it all before, and more than once. Dolores Del Rio

After the Kings went dark, the Amsterdam News on July 1, 1978 reported that Community Development funds would be funneled into the acquisition and renovation of the theatre,  "to provide cultural facilities and attract private investors for commercial development."  But by 1980 that plan was scuttled. A scaled-down version put forward in 1981 also bit the dust. Theatre lovers and preservationists never gave up, but it seems they had a hard row to plow.  Between 1987 and 1992  funds from  Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden  allowed for a roof renovation, but according to the New York Times, the estimate for complete restoration of the theater in 1996  was about $10 million.

Kints Theater inaugural program

In 1992 New York Newsday reported that "several community groups and Nakash Brothers Realty are working together to restore the Loew's Kings to its former glory." Plans mooted at this time included  "a 3,200 seat theater, a 500-seat restaurant, a catering hall, a health spa, a hotel with convention facilities, and the first wax museum exclusively featuring international black leaders."  Once more the ideas all came to nought. Enter stage left Magic Johnson in 1998, when hopes were raised that  the star point guard would infuse new life into the dormant husk, but once again the movie palace only fell into deeper disrepair.

A recent New York Times article asserts confidently that this time, "'s for real. A developer has signed an agreement, made a down payment on a $70 million renovation and plans to turn the building back into a functioning entertainment site."


Loew's Kings Theater auditorium

So in celebration of what appears to be a sure thing, here are three scans from the Loew's Kings Inaugural program.  On Saturday September 7th, 1929, the evening began with the Star Spangled Banner. There followed a "Divertissement Musicale" played by the Loew's Kings orchestra; a Dedication trailer and a Movietone greeting by MGM stars; an organ solo feature; a stage presentation called "Frills and Fancies"; and then Wesley Eddie and his Kings of Syncopation with the real Dolores Del Rio, in person, and the Chester Hale Girls.  The feature presentation was the United Artists picture, "Evangeline," starring that same Dolores Del Rio, this time the illusory version, in celluloid.



Obscure Quotes... compiled by Brooklynites

Feb 23, 2010 4:59 PM | 0 comments

Be on the lookout for enlightening and eccentric quotes on our Twitter page, as we've decided to start pulling inspiration from The Beecher Book of Days.  This charming little book was published in 1886 by editors Eleanor Kirk and Caroline B. LeRow. 

Many of the quotes come from Beecher's sermons, but some are pulled from works that Beecher read or owned, giving us insight into both Beecher's mind and the reading habits of 19th century Brooklynites. 

There are two or three quotes for each date (plus some extra pages in the back to record your friends' birthdays).  We admit that some are more interesting than others.  We'll save you the trouble of reading the whole book by checking each day and posting our favorites.

So if you want to be inspired by Henry Ward Beecher's library, you'll have to follow us on Twitter.  And while you're there, you can learn about upcoming programs, view highlighted items from the collection and learn all about Brooklyn's past - one "tweet" at a time. 


This Wednesday: The Stages of Brooklyn: an Illustrated Talk by Cezar Del Valle.

Feb 21, 2010 3:14 PM | 0 comments

From Downtown to Bushwick to Brighton Beach, theaters could once be found in almost every neighborhood of Brooklyn. Cezar Del Valle shares his unrivalled knowledge of Brooklyn's stages in a lively illustrated lecture at 7 p.m. on Wednesday Feb 24th in the Brooklyn Collection Reserve Room, Central Library, 2nd floor.  This talk will cover legitimate theater, vaudeville and other live venues. Mr Del Valle will return in April to cover Brooklyn's many movie theaters. Seating is limited so come early and join us for wine and cheese from 6:30 to 7.

Clara Whitehill Hunt, Superintendent of Work With Children

Feb 19, 2010 3:20 PM | 0 comments

 Children and librarians at the Bushwick Branch

In an era when it is common for people to spend two years in a position and then move on, Brooklyn Public Library remains an institution in which many people spend lengthy careers. This was as true in the early years of the 20th century as it appears to be today. Clara Whitehill Hunt worked for the system for 36 years, from 1903-1939. Brooklyn's library system was in the early years of its development when Miss Hunt, who had spent some years in the classroom and risen to the rank of principal of a small elementary school, became convinced that librarianship was the path she wished to follow in life. After training at the New York State Library School in Albany, she organized a children's room in the Apprentice's Library of Philadelphia, spent four years  as a children's librarian in Newark, and in 1903 came to the notice of Dr Frank P. Hill, then Director of Brooklyn Public Library.

He hired her as Superintendent of Work with Children. From then onwards her devotion to the profession of children's librarianship was complete. She organized children's rooms in every Brooklyn branch as it opened. In the early years of the 20th century, New York and many other cities across the country were the recipients of grants from Andrew Carnegie for new library buildings. Between 1904 and 1923, 21 branches were built in Brooklyn, each custom-designed for its site by a talented architect. Miss Hunt established collections and trained librarians for this rapidly expanding system, creating a librarian training program that offered "a limited number of places to  young college women of acceptable personality." Later in her career she provided the vision behind the Children's Room of the Central Library.

Fireplace at Brownsville Children's

A leader in her field, Miss Hunt had strong opinions about what constituted suitable reading matter for the children of Brooklyn.  In one of many articles produced for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and several professional journals, she wrote:  "...a long continued diet of mediocre reading will weaken a child's mental powers and ruin his appetite for good books...the child allowed to indulge in the cheap series habit becomes a sort of psychological dope fiend...  Of course, some strong-brained children break away from a trash reading period, just as they emerge unhurt form the diseases of childhood." (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov 11 1922).  Evidently comic books would find no place in her collection, nor did Huckleberry Finn  and  Tom Sawyer, works she considered would exercise a vicious influence upon young minds. Her successor, Irene Smith Green wrote of her "She was a person apart, a power absolute. She was unacquainted with compromise, implacably fair, idealistic, the unshakeable arbiter of right and wrong in a world of shifting values."

While the parameters of what she considered acceptable reading for children may have been narrow,  she required of herself and the librarians who worked in the system a constant critical reading of children's literature, ensuring a well-informed staff. None of this reading could be done on work time--it was a pleasure for which librarians should not expect to be paid.

She was, it would appear, a bit of a tartar. Yet remarkably, her staff admired her, and she wrote warmly of them. In her notes for the design of the Brownsville Children's Library she showed great concern for their welfare: "Staff rooms. These should be large, convenient, attractive because of extra strain of work at Brownsville. Have kitchen and sitting room...In kitchen a large sink near the light, sink and stove near together, large ice-box, china closet, gas range. In sitting room large dining table, couch, rug, easy chairs. Economy to keep staff well by comfort and beauty in staff rest room."

Clara W. Hunt, Milton J. Ferguson and Flora de Gongorza celebrate 25 years of Browsville Children's branch

While our librarians today no longer espouse Miss Hunt's censorious attitudes towards children's literature, her legacy of commitment to service remains.  There is also a more tangible legacy of her career here in Brooklyn Public Library--the Clara Whitehill Hunt Collection of Children's Literature, comprising approximately 13,000 books dating from 1741 to the present. It includes miniature books, special editions, fine illustrated editions, early textbooks and primers, picture books, signed first editions and more. It is a remarkable collection, formed by a remarkable woman and her successors, and like so much that goes on in libraries, it is the cumulative result of many years of service.


Brooklyn: How Sweet It Is!

Feb 18, 2010 9:51 AM | 6 comments

Giant Easter Egg, 1951

From fall through early spring, it's easy to have candy on the brain.  Over the past months I've had my share of peanut butter pumpkins, marshmallow santas, chocolate coins and sugary hearts.  (And my favorite, the elusive cream egg, has yet to arrive.)

Today our craving for sweets is satisfied by factories all over the world.  But up until just a few decades ago, many of my favorite treats would have been produced right here in Brooklyn.  For example, the Just Born company, home of those cute marshmallow peeps, has only been located in Pennsylvania since 1932.  Just Born's founder, Russian immigrant Sam Born, got his start with a small shop in... you guessed it... Brooklyn.

Brooklyn and the candy making business have had a long relationship.  Photographer George Brainerd captured a patriotic "candy man" on a street corner in the 1870s.

Brainerd, Candy Man, 1870s

Listing in 1898 Business DirectoryYou could find candy making under several headings in the Trow Business directories of the late 19th and early 20th centuries:  Chocolate & Cocoa, Chewing Gum and Confectioners (wholesale).  A total of 28 businesses were listed within these categories in the 1898 edition.  This number increased to 92 by 1912. 

Only one chewing gum company was listed in the 1898 directory:  Adams & Sons of 156 Sands Street.  Thomas Adams has been called the "father of chewing gum," having gotten into the chewing gum industry when it was just starting out.  Mr. Adams' use of chicle caused him to name his product Chiclets.  Chiclets were manufactured in Brooklyn until 1903, when his sons moved the business to Newark.  Adams built a mansion at 8th Avenue and Carroll Street, and urban legend has it that some of his servants still haunt the place to this day.Federal Chewing Gum, 1910

Chiclets weren't the only form of gum made in Brooklyn.  The women in the image above are hard at work at the Federal Chewing Gum plant in Sunset Park's Bush Terminal.  Also manufacturing at Bush Terminal until 1965 was The Topps Company, creators of Bazooka Joe and baseball cards; its corporate offices remained there until 1994.   

One legendary staple in Brooklyn's sugary past was Barton's Bonbonniere, better known as Barton's Candy.  Barton's was established in 1938 by Viennese immigrant Stephen Klein.  During the height of it's production, the 1950s, Barton's had three kosher manufacturing plants in Brooklyn.  The main plant was at 80 DeKalb Avenue, and we have a great collection of photographs depicting their daily work courtesy of the Eagle.

Barton's Candy, 1950

Barton's Candy, 1950      (This one reminds me of Lucy and Ethel's brief candy career.)

Barton's was an international distributor and they were particularly known in the Jewish community for being "the" Passover chocolate of choice.  The Klein family sold the business sometime after the 1960s.  The Barton's name was used by several parent companies, but it came to a sad end in 2009.

Not far from the old Barton's site, at 315 Vanderbilt Avenue, you can find a building labeled "Candy and Confectionery Workers Local 452."  This particular location for the local candy making union headquarters opened in April 1947.  At that time, the union represented 4,200 workers, many of whom lived and worked in Brooklyn.  A few articles from our clipping files prove that not everything was sweet in the candy business.  As with most Brooklyn industries (of which there were many!), bargaining disagreements and strikes were common.  A sad story from 1948 tells of a robbery at the headquarters - the thieves made it out with $4,350. 

As with many of  Brooklyn's industries, the competition for more space, cheaper labor, easier shipping and larger markets caused most of Brooklyn's local confectioners to either leave or close shop by the late 20th century.  Today, Brooklynites continue the candy tradition, albeit on a smaller scale.  Most notable is Mr. Chocolate himself, Jacques Torres, whose "state of the art" chocolate factory has been producing truffles, bars and sinfully good hot chocolate since 2000.  But Torres is not alone.  I recently had a Maple Pecan Chocolate Bar from Williamsburg's Mast Brothers that put my mass-produced holiday favorites to shame.  These smaller businesses may not ever grow into the great Brooklyn candy businesses of the past, but they are a reminder of Brooklyn's heritage in all things chocolatey, sugary and sweet.    

Note:  This piece's title was inspired by our very own Borough President's office.