Sailors, food and art: All play a part in the story of 44-46 Beard Street, a utilitarian Italianate-style building overlooking the waterfront and Ikea. It was built as a storefront with residential space above sometime between 1880 and 1886.
A lone survivor, and a witness to over 130 years of shipping and industrial history, 44-46 Beard Street gives us a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of Red Hook.
We hope you’ll sit down and take a few minutes to delve into the history of this building, its surroundings and its inhabitants, but if you only have a moment, here’s a brief synopsis: It began as a hotel catering to sailors, dock workers and travelers, with a ship supply business and restaurant on the ground floor. Notably, a child of the first owners grew up to become a successful cartoonist and painter, best remembered as one of a small group of early modernists who introduced avant-garde art to Americans by creating the famous 1913 Armory show in Manhattan. In recent years, restaurants have continued to flourish on the premises.
The property, on a 25-foot-wide corner lot across from Ikea, was recently rented to a new generation of entrepreneurs. For more information or to arrange a private showing of historic commercial properties in Red Hook, please contact the O’Connell Organization.
The history of Red Hook is a history of Brooklyn’s relationship to the water that is all around it. The Hudson River emptied out into the Atlantic Ocean that lapped up on Red Hooks’ banks, which allowed for great trade routes to be established. The nearby Gowanus Canal made heavy industry in Brooklyn possible, and the movement of materials more efficient.
Both owe a debt to the saltwater ponds and marshes that preceded them, home for centuries to Native people, and taken over in the 17th century by the Dutch, a nation of farmers and traders who knew a lot about flooded and soggy lands.
The Dutch found the entire Red Hook and Gowanus area to be much like home. It was marshy land with ponds and streams running through rich and fertile earth. They shaped the land to their agriculture, damming ponds and filling in streams in order to plant orchards and fields.
The natural harbors that stretch from Greenpoint to Bay Ridge became ports early in the young city of Brooklyn’s development. Red Hook would become the most important of all. South Brooklyn, which includes Red Hook, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Gowanus, were important parts of Brooklyn by the dawn of the Revolutionary War.
The Growth of Brooklyn’s Harbors
Visionary developers saw the potential in Red Hook, and began several long range programs which would change the topography of the area and make it the finest port in America. First came the Atlantic Basin, built by the Atlantic Dock Company, which created a sheltered port for hundreds of ships. The nearby piers were lined with grain and other warehouses. Located alongside Buttermilk Channel, the docks were completed in 1847.
A few years later, in the 1850s, William Beard and Jeremiah Robinson began building the Erie Basin. Designed to be the receiving end of the long Erie Canal journey, these artificially enclosed docks were even larger than the Atlantic Basin, with piers and warehouses capable of enormous storage and shipping capabilities.
The Irish-born Beard was a true visionary, and in ingenious builder. Many of the arriving ships were empty of goods, but were loaded with rocks as ballast. He invited them to dump their cargo in his basin, before loading up with goods, thereby building up the land upon which he built his piers and warehouses.
Beard created 135 acres of docking space. The Erie Basin opened for business in 1864, and soon became one of the most important ports for grain, cotton and other goods.
The Basin also housed ship building and repair docks. These “dry docks” made out-of-water repairs possible, and serviced all kinds of crafts – from large schooners to private yachts to tug boats and lighters.
44 Beard Street stands across the street from the Erie Basin, and looks out over some of Red Hook’s famous dry docks. This building has seen a lot of history.
44-46 Beard Street – Built on Landfill
Atlas and insurance maps give us a timeline. When the first detailed map of the area was made by British cartographer Bernard Ratzer in 1770, the land that would become Beard Street was underwater. It was called Mill Pond, one of the largest ponds in the Red Hook/Gowanus area.
Mill Pond is shown clearly on the Ratzer map, and is also documented 100 years later in an 1874 DeBeer’s map showing the boundaries and landowners of the early farms in Brooklyn. The pond was filled in over the course of the 19th century by William Beard and others. It was completely a part of the landmass by 1874, 10 years after the completion of the Erie Basin.
Beard Street was originally named Elizabeth Street. An 1880 map of the area shows no building on the corner of Elizabeth and Dwight Street. A subsequent map, published in 1886 shows a masonry building on the corner, taking up half of the lot, with a wood-framed stable on Dwight Street.
44-46 Beard Street was built sometime between 1880 and 1886. The utilitarian Italianate-style building was built as a storefront with residential space above.
Francis and Amelia Kuhn – The International Hotel
The first owners of the property were Francis and Amelia Kuhn. He was a Bavarian immigrant who came to the United States in 1859, at the age of 16. Two years later, he went back to Germany and returned to Brooklyn with his Spanish-German wife, Amelia Barbas Hergenhan.
The couple became American citizens in 1871. Their only surviving son William was born in 1877. Francis was a saloonkeeper in an establishment on Van Brunt until the mid-1880s, when they established the International Hotel and a chandler’s business in this building. The storefront held their ship supply business, and the upstairs hotel catered to seamen and also had restaurant for them on the ground floor of this long building.
The Kuhns ran the International Hotel for over ten years. They lived nearby at 436 Van Brunt Street. The two locations and the Red Hook waterfront were the playground of their son William. He would grow up inspired by his surroundings and by the influences of his mother, who encouraged his interest in art.
When William was a young man he changed his name to Walt Kuhn, and became a successful artist. He took drawing classes at Brooklyn Poly Technical Institute while running a bicycle shop in downtown Brooklyn. In 1899, he moved to San Francisco where he made a living as a cartoonist for a magazine, and then later travelled – first to Paris, and then Munich, where he studied at the Royal Academy.
Upon his return to the United States in 1904, Walt Kuhn became an active part of Manhattan’s art scene and was a member of the Salmagundi and Kit Kat Clubs, and taught at the New York School of Art. He made his living cartooning for Life, Puck and other periodicals.
Kuhn is important to American art primarily because of his organization of a 1913 show at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. He and several other American artists founded the Association of American Painters and Sculptors in order to bring new forms of art to audiences.
After a whirlwind tour of Europe in 1912 to find the newest, most audacious and modern new artists and bring them to NY, he was responsible for introducing America to Cubism, Fauvism and Futurism, the most important art of the early 20th century. The show was a financial and critical success, for which Kuhn received much of the credit.
He went on to have an important career as an artist himself, and is remembered today as one of America’s early Modernists. His portraits of circus performers are especially prized, as well as his other works.
Unfortunately, Kuhn suffered from gastro-intestinal problems throughout his life and died suddenly of a perforated ulcer on July 19, 1949. This impressive career got its start right here in Red Hook.
The Savarese Family
After a short stint where the hotel belonged to Louis F. Wild, by 1900, the International Hotel had been passed on to the Savarese family. Mareano and Mary Savarese, both Italian immigrants, were the head of a large family that took over the business. They had 10 children; six sons and four daughters.
They kept the International Hotel name, although the Eagle also referred to it as “Savarese’s Hotel”. It remained a popular hotel for sailors as well as dockworkers and laborers. They also had a saloon on the premises, and a trucking business called M. Savarese & Son.
By this time, Elizabeth Street had been renamed Beard Street, after William Beard, whose influence was everywhere.
The 1900 census lists the 12 Savarese family members, with the kids ranging from 2 to 26, as well as five boarders, all in the docks related trades. It’s hard to determine exactly where they were living at the time – in this building or nearby, as it was listed only as “Long Dock, Erie Basin.”
The family made the local papers now and then. In August of 1903, one of the older sons, George, was driving the company wagon in downtown Brooklyn when the horse panicked and bolted. George was not able to control the mad dash down the street, and the horse injured several people as well as itself, along the way. The police finally caught the cut and bleeding horse, which calmed down after a while.
A different kind of panic ensued only two months later, when Luigi Savarese was arrested here at the saloon for selling liquor on a Sunday. His next door neighbor, Bartlett Sullivan, at 48 Beard Street, was arrested for the same offense in his own saloon.
In 1907, Hugo Von Hatchling, a young man from Germany went missing. He spoke five languages, and had come to America to make his fortune. In a tale well known to many in our city, he could not find a job commensurate with his abilities and ended up as a waiter at the International Hotel, where he also had a room. He had taken a position as a waiter on a ship to Boston, but came back a few months later. He still had his room at the hotel, but was not able to get his old job back. He then disappeared forever. It was hoped that he had boarded a steam ship on the docks and was working as a waiter there.
In 1910, Joseph Savarese made the papers for the best of reasons. He was now the eldest son, and had taken over from his deceased father. It was Thanksgiving, and the Eagle noted that Mr. Savarese had invited 24 homeless Irish painters, all dockworkers, to his hotel for Thanksgiving dinner. The men were treated to turkey and all of the fixings.
Prohibition and gambling came in the 1920s. 1922 saw an arrest for the sale of a glass of whiskey, while 1927 saw two Savarese brothers picked up for bookmaking. There were fires, none really bad, and traffic accidents. The family was connected to 44-46 Beard Street until at least the 1940s, when Theresa Savarese, one of the four sisters, died here at home in 1941. That was the last entry of the Savarese family at this address.
Forward to the Present
Seventy years later, much has changed. Red Hook has changed drastically in ways the Savarese and Kuhn families could never have imagined. The most defining factor of their immediate neighborhood – the dry docks directly across the street — changed hands several times.
With the urgings of William Beard and Jeremiah Robinson, a Boston company originally built the steel-enclosed dry docks, way back in 1866. They were called the Erie Basin Dry Docks. But they were not financially successful and in 1888, they were sold to the Anglo American Dry Dock and Warehouse Company.
Anglo American became the Robins Dry Dock Company, and finally, the Todd Shipyards. In 2005, the shipyard and its dry docks were torn down for Ikea and its parking lot. The block surrounding 44-46 Beard Street had long been a large parking lot for buses. The building was the only remaining building on the entire block.
As Red Hook began its resurgence as a residential as well as industrial neighborhood, the old International Hotel saw new life as a restaurant. Its recent incarnations were Lillie’s, La Bouillabaisse and Annabelle’s.
A lone survivor, and a witness to over 130 years of shipping and industrial history. The stories the bricks in this building could tell!
The stage is now set for the building’s newest leaseholders to move in and write the next chapter of this Red Hook story.
For more information or to arrange a private showing of similar commercial or mixed-use properties in Red Hook, please contact the O’Connell Organization. The firm owns many historic commercial properties in Red Hook, including the Beard and Robinson stores, and has played a key role in developing the area in recent years.