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Out in the Cold: Part II

May 16, 2011 1:45 PM | 4 comments

Before turning the page on Brooklyn's own polar explorer, I figured we might as well give the good doctor his full due and take a look at a few other items in our collection related to his life and work.

In going through the materials related to Frederick A. Cook one photograph jumped out at me immediately. Having lived in Bushwick and having worked at the DeKalb branch for 2 years, I was more than a little excited to find this:

Though the area surrounding it today looks different, there was no mistaking that this was the same three-story red brick mansion still standing in the shadows of the elevated JMZ line at the intersection of Bushwick, Myrtle, and Willoughby. It's speckled here and there with graffiti, has a number of ten-speeds locked up to its fences and posts, and is surrounded by a much taller chain-link fence -- but this is the house I always wondered about and which I saw nearly every day when living just a train stop away.  

In between rain showers on Sunday I took the train over to Bushwick to take some photos of the place as it looks now, and comparing it with the old photograph --more than a hundred years old, from 1909 -- it was easy to see how much of the building's appearance had remained virtually unchanged. But, as you can guess, the buildings around Cook's old home aren't something the adventurer was likely to have seen.

Though I do like thinking of Cook, famished from his Northern trek, settling into a booth with a Double Down and a Dr. Pepper to regale the members of the Bushwick Club with tales of Arctic madness and photos of Eskimos.

This arresting image is the only photo in our collection taken during one of Cook's expeditions; a note in pencil on the back reads: "Eskimo guides who were with Cook in the early part of his stay in Greenland."

And in looking for more evidence of the lives that were lived in Cook's old house at 670 Bushwick Avenue, I found an answer to a reader's query from a 1953 edition of the Eagle that shed some more light on the subject.  

Since it's hard to read (not to mention the editor got the address wrong -- he states it as being 607 Bushwick Avenue) I'll retype it for you here:

"A little history for you on the Dr. Frederick A. Cook house FOR Ben Harry Lisk in re his Eagle letter of Jan. 4. Premises No. 607 Bushwick Parkway, now Bushwick Ave., southwest corner of Willoughby Ave., also known as Section 11 Block 3191 Lot 31, being a three-story brick building with a two-story rear extension, on land 60 feet by [95?] feet was the house of William Ulmer, the owner of the William Ulmer Brewery, AND later of Dr. Frederick A. Cook. Transferred a number of times since 1920, the Giambalvo family became the owners until recently. Present owners, I believe, are now the Daughters of Wisdom, Inc., since Dec. 18, 1952. [sic.]"

Not surprisingly, William Ulmer, the prominent brewer and real estate speculator behind Ulmer Park, called this mansion-of-mansions on the so-called Brewers Row home. Below you can see some of the other housing stock across the street from 670 Bushwick Avenue.

But who were these other people listed as former residents of the house? Looking in our clipping files I was able to find wedding announcements for the Giambalvo children. Judging by information in the first article you see below, it looks like Dr. and Mrs. Pellegrino Giambalvo had indeed left Brooklyn for Hempstead by 1952. Here is the engagement announcement of their son, also a doctor... 

And the wedding notice for their daughter...

I couldn't find anything in the clipping files that definitively tied the Daughters of Wisdom to the 670 Bushwick address, but they were described as performing charitable work for children throughout the Brooklyn community, with a few small offices or clinics in the borough. Here is a photo of one of the Daughters answering the call.

Above the front door of the house today you'll find the numbers 670-675 and beneath them, painted in gold script, the words The Brunos.

Though I wanted to knock on the door to see if any of The Brunos were home -- to ask them if they knew who Dr. Frederick A. Cook was, to see what they thought of this house, to invite them to join me for a Double Down -- I decided I better cut my craziness short and leave it at repeatedly photographing their home from multiple angles, making myself out to be the most lost and conspicuous tourist in New York City. So I went across the street to the tiny (.004 acre) park where a statue of Nike commemorates those Brooklynites from the 19th assembly district who died in World War I.

And as I was over there photographing the goddess, I saw a person appear in the doorway of the mansion. He was young, wearing a baseball hat, and carrying a yellow broom. He began sweeping the sidewalk in front of the house. Having finished that, he went back up the steps to the door, sweeping each step behind him as he went. Before I could get back across the street he was gone. I wandered behind the house to see what that two-story extension looked like. As far as I could tell it hadn't changed much since 1909. The whole back yard of the place looked pretty drowsy and overgrown. On the porch in a cage two white pigeons slept. In a small driveway behind the porch a red car was parked. Beside the car there was a dog house -- and not your classic wooden A-frame dog house but a plastic dog house molded into the shape of an igloo. It's no bronze statue of the goddess of victory, but as monuments to Frederick A. Cook go (whom Hugh Eames called "The Prince of Losers") it's a start.



5/24/2011 11:55:42 PM #

Nice work sleuthing, discovering, and sharing the ties between Brooklyn past and Brooklyn present!  


10/25/2011 9:05:38 PM #

Great work! You are certainly not alone in your interest in the history of this great building. I drive by and often circle around the block with pure fascination of this piece of history. I wonder what inside the house looks like and, if there is anything inside I.e photos, etc that would help shed light on the previous occupants.  I get the same chills of awe and fascination when driving by my neighborhood armories on Putnam and Sumner and on Atlantic and Bedford. I had the privilege, while working for NYC Summer Youth Program at the Armory aka The Pamoja House on Putnam and Sumner to tour its top floors where the national guardsmen once held class and its basement which has a bowling alley, a rifle range, olympic-size swimming pool and a tunnel (big enough for a truck to fit through) which is connected to all of the other armories in brooklyn underground. I was told that the tunnel was a strategic design to transport munitions to the armories underground in case brooklyn was under attack during WWII. I share your fascination. Please, keep up the good work.

Totally fascinated

1/6/2013 10:39:04 PM #

First things first I was that young male figure sweeping the steps. And second I am one of "The Bruno's" it's nice to see people who are interested in this house. But even with all the people who take an interest in it, it has yet to become a historic site, which in my belief should happen. But like I said earlier I am happy to know people show interest in this building.

Jean Bruno

5/29/2013 2:53:01 PM #

It looks like our Eagle editor, whom I quote above, is a little misinformed... and consequently, so am I. According to Bushwiki it looks like 670 was not Ulmer's mansion but rather that of Catherine Lipsius. Ulmer lived at 680. Here's a link to that thread on the wiki

And indeed, just doing a quick search on the Eagle online I find an article placing the Lipsius family at 670 Bushwick Avenue

Please forgive the mix up!

Ben G