Last month, OHNY intern Elis and staff Jessica Mak and Jailee Rychen visited the Brooklyn Historical Society, a local urban history center, whose mission is to preserve and foster the study of Brooklyn’s 400-year history. Designed by George Post, the building features bold use of terracotta on its exterior, beautiful bronze fixtures, and a stunning library and research center.

The Brooklyn Historical Society is housed in a four-story Queen Anne style building, located in Brooklyn Heights. Architect George Post, who went on to build many of New York’s earliest skyscrapers, as well as the New York Stock Exchange, designed this neighborhood gem. Post’s preference for large, uncluttered open spaces using innovative steel support systems can be seen throughout the BHS’ interiors.

Local unglazed terracotta was used on the entire exterior of the building. The second-story façade, sculpted by Olin Levi Warner, depicts various American flora and heroes of the arts, like of Guttenberg and Shakespeare, as well two great heroes of American history on the front of the building. Can you guess who they are?

The interior of the building is just as stunning and has been carefully preserved. Much of the original Minton Tile floor can still be found in the building today, as well as some of the most beautiful custom made bronze hardware designed by Post. Original 1880s period lighting fixtures can also be found throughout the building. In 1991 the building received several landmark statuses, including recognition as a National Historic Landmark in the National Register of Historic Places, as well as by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Brooklyn Historical Society’s Othmer Library is among the few interior landmarks in Brooklyn, designated by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Hand-carved, black ash wood bookshelves and iron columns enclosed in wood, support the balcony. However, on the second level, the ceiling is not suspended by the bookshelves, but by a truss system using iron trusses on the roof, that mirror the design of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge. Among the society’s collection are rare books, manuscripts, artworks, and maps.

The Brooklyn Historical Society is currently undergoing interior renovations, only the second since its opening in 1881. The first renovation, which lasted from 1991 to 2003, involved restoring the façade and removing an elevator from the lobby to restore the original open lobby and stained glass skylight. The current renovation project, expected to be completed by 2013, seeks to transform the Brooklyn Historical society’s ground floor and lower level into a quality public forum. State-of-the- art facilities will be used for exhibitions, public programs and private events. It will also restore the building’s historic entrance as the main entrance.

Our thanks to Cristina Garza at the Brooklyn Historical Society for the in-depth tour. We look forward to another visit when the renovation project is complete!

Brooklyn Historical Society

128 Pierrepont Street

Brooklyn, NY

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