Brooklyn Structure: Bushwick’s Physician’s Row

Editor’s note: A version of this post was originally published in 2013. You can view the original contribution here.

William Ulmer was perhaps Bushwick’s most famous brewer, which says something, given that in the 1890s, Brooklyn, the fourth largest city in America, had 45 active breweries.

At the turn of the 20th century, his large brewery complex on Belvidere and Locust Streets in Bushwick was producing over three million gallons of the frothy brew annually. Brooklyn’s German and increasingly non-German population had made beer the king of drinks, and William Ulmer was certainly one of the princes of beer.

The success of his business made Ulmer a millionaire, and like many rich men, he started investing money in real estate companies. He never seemed too interested in it, however, and aside from his own homes, he only appears to have funded one project, that group of five large Queen Anne townhouses at 683-691 Bushwick Avenue.

But like many real estate owners in Bushwick, he relied on the talents of just one architect in all of his projects – the most talented and productive architect in the region: Theobald M. Engelhardt.

Brooklyn Architecture 683 Bushwick Avenue William Ulmer Bushwick

683 Bushwick Avenue

Engelhardt has been introduced here many times; He was one of the most important and prolific Brooklyn architects of the late 19th century. He was the son of German immigrants and grew up in Williamsburg. His father was a builder, and at the beginning of his career the young Theobald began building and later designing breweries.

It was from there that his career began as the brewers needed houses for themselves and their workers, as well as clubs and places of worship. In the growing area in the eastern district from Williamsburg to Bedford to Bushwick all kinds of buildings were required.

Brooklyn Architecture 683 Bushwick Avenue William Ulmer Bushwick

689 Bushwick Avenue

Engelhardt designed most of William Ulmer’s brewery complex, which was listed as a historical monument in 2010. He also designed the Ulm mansion and this row of houses. It’s unclear if these were built to be sold or rented to the brewery’s top management, or if they were just speculative housing, but his target buyer here was a person with good means. These are big, beautiful examples of upper-middle-range homes, all of which were single-family homes when they were built in 1890.

They soon became a Doctor’s Row, with doctors occupying many of them for at least the next 10 years. No. 683 was the home of a Dr. Robert Daniels, followed by Dr. William Runger in 1896, Dr. Herman Bender in 1899 and son Dr. Philip Bender in 1911. No. 687 belonged to Dr. Theodore Burr in 1898, Dr. Frederick A. Cook from 1899 to 1902 and Dr. Frederick Cordes from 1903.

Brooklyn Architecture 683 Bushwick Avenue William Ulmer Bushwick

685 Bushwick Avenue

No. 691 was the home of Dr. Benjamin Maggio. Before Dr. Maggio was also home to a judge, Magistrate Higginbotham, from 1903 until at least 1905. The house in the middle, number 685, belonged to Henry Eppig, son of another well-known brewer, Leonhard Eppig. Henry was big in the ice cream business and the major shareholder in the Eastern Ice Association.

Brooklyn Architecture 687 Bushwick Avenue Frederick Cook

The Arc de Triomphe was erected over Bushwick Avenue near Myrtle Avenue to welcome Frederick Cook back to Brooklyn in 1909. Image via Finding the North Pole (1909)

A name in the group may also be known. Dr. Frederick A. Cook was the famous explorer who was a member of several expeditions to Greenland and tried to climb Mount McKinley (aka Denali). When he wasn’t in the world to explore, he was a successful surgeon who lived here for at least three years. He and Robert E. Peary both claimed to be the first to arrive at the North Pole in 1908. This led to a scandal when a committee of the National Geographic Society found that Cook’s claim was unfounded, and Peary’s name made history books as the first on the North Pole. The turmoil caused Cook’s decency to begin in shame and misery.

Brooklyn Architecture 683 Bushwick Avenue William Ulmer Bushwick

Before that, Cook married his second wife in 1902, and the newly married couple moved from 687 Bushwick to the mansion commonly associated with his name, the former Catherina Lipsius mansion at 670 Bushwick Avenue.

This mansion was also designed by Engelhardt, is still standing today and was listed as a historical monument in 2013. A story for another time in a neighborhood full of interesting stories.

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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