The 20th Century
Most construction in Fort Greene was completed by the end of the 1890s. Only five superb buildings from the first third of the 20th Century were added: the HSBC (Williamsburgh) Bank, Hanson Place Central Methodist Church, Queen of All Saints RC Church, the Masonic Temple and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar opened the Academy in 1908 in a performance of Charles Gounod’s Faust.
In the 1920s-40s Fort Greene was a brightly lit Hollywood showcase with numerous cinemas, including the Paramount from 1928 which had a great Wurlitzer organ, still in place. On the side of Paramount along DeKalb Avenue (now the Long Island University gymnasium) there remains a palimpsest of a sign advertising the Paramount Theatre. The famed Brooklyn Fox (which hosted the Murray the K shows) was up a few blocks on Flatbush. Marianne Moore, the renown poet, lived on Cumberland Street during this period, and she was a big fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. She once wrote that “Baseball is like writing, and writing is exciting.” Acclaimed writer Richard Wright’s celebrated novel, Native Son, was said to have been written on a bench in Fort Greene when the author lived on Carlton Avenue.
By the mid-1950s Fort Greene was in serious decline, a product of the earlier Depression and the chopping up of grand homes into rooming house for Navy Yard workers during World War II. The network of highways pioneered by master builder Robert Moses was instrumental in the mass exodus which fueled the growth of the suburbs. Many historic homes became derelict or abandoned, their windows and roofs totally gone; dirty mattresses and trash in the yards. In the 1960s a growing surge of newcomers began reclaiming and restoring these grand houses, starting a movement of sorts. Brownstones were practically given away to those willing to put in the sweat equity. This “movement” shaped what is know today as “Brownstone Brooklyn.”
A desire for Historic District designation took root in Fort Greene, as well as neighboring Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. The movement in Fort Greene was led by the late Mr. Herbert Scott Gibson, an African American who lived in the street called Washington Park. He organized the Fort Greene Landmarks Preservation Committee whose efforts led to success. In 1978 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designated both the Fort Greene and BAM Historic Districts. In order to incorporate as a non-profit, the earlier committee obtained IRS approval in 1994 and became known as the Fort Greene Association, Inc.