Brooklyn structure: a small vaudeville group in Bushwick
Editor’s note: A version of this post was originally published in 2013. You can view the original contribution here.
This is a great building with an interesting past. The house at 709 Bushwick Avenue was built for a furniture maker named Martin Worm, a rather unfortunate name, especially for a man who worked with wood, but maybe it doesn’t matter if it is pronounced “Vorm” in the original German way has been .
Mr. Worm had a large factory called Martin Worm & Sons on the corner of Humboldt and Siegelstrasse in Williamsburg. He also had some bad luck along with his successes. In 1884 his factory was struck by lightning and suffered severe damage in the fire that followed. It was almost a total loss as you can imagine in a building with wood and solvents. But he rebuilt.
The house was later built, in 1878, to the design of John Platte, a local architect who worked primarily in the Williamsburg / Bushwick area and designed all types of buildings, from private houses to stables, tenement houses to ice houses for breweries . One of his last remaining ice houses is the Ice House on Dean Street, a former Building of the Day that won many “green” awards when it was renovated.
This house is all right, with an interesting Victorian Gothic facade highlighted by the domed window domes whose foundation stones are carved with a floral pattern in the neo-Greek style. The side and front of the house both have a generous two-story bay, and the front door is inviting with a small porch with pillars.
Until 1900 the house belonged to the family of Dr. Max Levy, who had moved here from his previous home on McKibbin Street. Dr. Levy was an aspiring member of the Brooklyn Department of Health who also had a private practice. In 1890 he married Miss Lillian Marks, and the couple were prominent enough for the wedding to make the papers that were celebrated as the important “Hebrew Wedding”.
Not all of his newspaper appearances, however, were good news. Soon after his wedding, he was sued very publicly by Solomon Levein, a cutter in a large clothing factory who claimed to have been the matchmaker who introduced the couple. He said he was promised $ 100 and received no payment. Dr. Levy said there was no deal but offered to pay $ 15. Levein turned it down, but before the case went to a judge it was dropped, “in relation to the fathers of the bride and groom,” the plaintiff said.
Dr. Levy had a very successful run as a member of the Health Board and has been involved in some interesting cases. But in 1898 one case was incredibly tragic. A boy walking through Cypress Hills Cemetery in Queens came across a man hanging from a tree. The man was in his late fifties, well dressed, with a Masonic pin and a gold watch in his pocket. Soon after, Bushwick attorney Sam Levy, who was Max’s brother, reported that her father, Ludwig Levy, who was living with him, was missing. The elderly Levy, a retired clothing maker, had suffered from dementia and depression. The body was believed to be his and that Mr. Levy committed suicide.
Dr. Max went into the Queens Coroner’s office but checked in as Mr. George T. Smith. He saw the body and confirmed that it was his father whom he identified as “Albert T. Smith”. The morgue released the body in his care. Days later it was announced in the newspapers that George T. Smith was indeed Dr. Max was Levy and he was struggling to misidentify. He stated that he did not want to further sadden his mother and the rest of the family by having his father’s suicide in the newspapers and that he was doing no harm to his deception. The Queens Coroner’s office declined to pursue the matter further.
The Levy family must have enjoyed living here in 709 Bushwick. The house has a spacious lawn, lots of space, and once had a carriage house at 58 Suydam Street. Until 1904 this carriage house was a playhouse for the youngest son Milton Levy, who was then eight years old. There were two children’s playhouses on the block, both run by and for children, but Milton’s American Opera House was a real operation. They produced plays and variety shows that cost three cents to enter. Milton was the manager and also an actor.
He had game plans for adults printed out and distributed in the neighborhood. The former carriage house had a stage and seating and was not closed until Mrs. Levy insisted on bringing Milton and the family to their summer home. The Suydam Theater, the other children’s theater on the street, played plays and included girls, but the American Opera House had no girls. “We want comedians,” Milton told the Brooklyn Eagle in 1904. Young Milton became a lawyer. The house remained in family ownership until at least the 1940s.
The house had been painted white in the 1950s but still appeared to be in good condition. A photo from 1958 shows a very attractive porch that was still in place in the 1980s. The original carriage house has long since disappeared.
Now the house has been stripped of paint and restored to its original brick facade, with the two-tone stone and brick cladding again being an attractive feature of the house. A side parking lot took up a large part of the lawn, but overall the house is again a showpiece on this block. Dr. Levy would no doubt have agreed.
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