Mr. Junkersfeld’s Columbia Heights History

Mr. Junkersfeld looks at the evolution of Columbia Heights in his latest video. Karl comments:

This film is primarily interested in showing the viewer the wonderful houses/buildings that line a street that some may say has the most expensive real estate properties in Brooklyn. Columbia Heights is unique due to its historic housing stock, mostly dated in the 1840’s, and its spectacular views of the island of Manhattan via a promenade whose genesis is part of the story depicted in this film. Robert Moses plays an integral role in the story of Columbia Heights and Brooklyn Heights in general. What could have been, absent community involvement, is explored in the film using, as an example, of our neighbors to the south.
I found this perfect quote from an article by Mr. Liff in Newsday that aptly reflects the times back then:

“Moses could have run it down Van Brunt Street by the water, But he didn’t, “ Camille Sacco said of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. Instead, Moses shoved it through Hicks Street and bisected Sacco’s Red Hook neighborhood, in connecting the Brooklyn Bridge with the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The story was different in nearby Brooklyn Heights, whose more affluent residents were able to win design concessions from Moses that the poorer, mostly Italian immigrant Red Hook residents could not.”

Given the panoramic view from the Promenade, it seems like an obvious compromise. Having the highway on the waterfront in Southern Brooklyn also appears to be logical but was rejected based on, what Moses claimed, was National Security. The arterial system in NYC was considered our first line of defense in a world that, at the time, was probably panicked after just completing a World War that devastated the world community. Remember, at this time, the Brooklyn waterfront was integral to the homeland defense with the Brooklyn Navy Yard just north of Southern Brooklyn. What role this played is anyone’s guess. Are highways more vulnerable closer to the waters edge? Also remember Moses’s mission of clearing “urban blight” known to some as “slum clearance. We, in Brooklyn Heights, experienced that first hand with respect to Cadman Plaza.

“Brooklyn Heights remained intact, as the expressway was moved four blocks to the west and redesigned into a bluff-hugging, double-level roadway topped by the promenade and its magnificent Manhattan panorama. Red Hook got a below ground, open cut highway that still pours pollution into neighborhood streets.”

“They got the promenade and we got the shaft, “said Red Hook activist Celia Cacace.”

The story of Columbia Heights is a story of exquisitely preserved architecture, intrusive governmental action , citizen resistance, money and privilege, poverty and powerlessness, religion and Jehovah Witnesses, and finally interesting individual stories with respect to some of the parcels of land on this wonderful street called Columbia Heights.

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  • Steve Logan

    This last decade proved to be very turbulent and potentially destructive to the Watchtower organization.

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses now find themselves in a defensive mode. The beginning of this decade brought about monumental changes in their administrative business models. New corporations came into existence and for the first time none of the presidents, including the president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Max Larson, are of the anointed class.

    The U.N. scandal was very embarassing for the org. as well as the nationally televised Dateline program on child molestation brought “bad light” on “God’s only true religion”.

    A decade of unending bad press continued to come forward. Lawrence Hughes J.W. daughter, Bethany, died because of the policies on blood transfusions and a lawsuit pursued that exposed the Watchtower for the evil organization that it is. The press reported that at least 16 child molestation lawsuits were settled with individuals who claimed to be abused by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    A “gag” order was put on them and the W.T. paid out millions of dollars. The decade of the great sell off. Much of the real estate owned by the Org. in Brooklyn was sold and changes in the way they conduct their business took place around the world.

  • Cranky

    Very well-researched and interesting. This is rapidly becoming my favorite feature (no offense Homer) on BHB.

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    As you probably know, JW was the lone resistor to the landmarking of Brooklyn Heights. Prior to its implementation, JH was able to demolish some very beautiful buildings in the name of expansion for dorm space on Columbia Heights. As I mentioned, there were many conflicts between the BHA and JW.

    Fortunately, JW and the BHA were able to reach some sort of accommodation prior to the 50 foot rule being operative or it could have been worse.

    My comments about JW were parochial and pertained only to Brooklyn Heights and more specifically Columbia Heights with respect to Real Estate upkeep.. Their renovation of the Bossert, Towers and Standish were very important at a time when the neighborhood was suffering from neglect and its financially strapped Hotels were serving as a depot for NYC’s homeless and drug addicted. Obviously, I’d be remiss if I omitted the use of the St. George Hotel by the City though not part of the JW real estate portfolio.

  • david

    What nonsense, the Jehovah’s Witness camp is thriving. The incidents brought up by Steve Logan are nothing compared to what God’s People have dealt with in the past. Try standing up to the Nazis you whiner. In fact the more the doubters sneeringly gnash their teeth, which is all they can do, the more the Witnesses thrive.

  • nabeguy

    “gnash, gnash, gnash, who the hell is ringing my buzzer at 8:00AM on a Saturday?” Thrive on, but let me sleep, okay?

  • AEB

    Beautiful work, Karl! These pieces grow in sophistication, in the slicker use of montage, sound and so on. They’re a real pleasure to watch, as well as being informative.

    By the way, have I been mispronouncing Middagh? I always say MIDDAW; I note, though, that you say MIDDA.


  • nabeguy

    Sorry KJ, I got distracted by the JW discussion above. What I meant to say was…brilliant!
    Can’t wait for Part 2.

  • nabeguy

    AEB/Karl, after 53 years on Middagh, I still pronounce it Mid-Dawg with a hard G. It may be a Dutch name but, hey, I’m from Brooklyn, so you’ll have to cut me some linguistic slack.

  • melanie hope greenberg

    Just fantastic, Karl! I love to watch these. Since you started the videos I take longer looks around at our beautiful, elegant neighborhood instead of taking it for granted. I hope you will do a Hicks St video soon :)

  • my2cents

    That was really impressive production value Karl! Great job. You keep getting better and better.

  • AEB

    Nabe–and interested others–I found this “history” of…let’s call it M. Street:

    Clearly the issue of the proper pronunciation of Middagh is a case for the Brooklyn Historical Society. (Google failed me utterly in providing definitive pronunciation guidance.)

    But I could also check with the guys at Great Wall….

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    AEB, the author of February House (read half of it and had to put it down) agrees with you. (Mid-Daw)

    Here is an excerpt from the preface:

    “The chain-smoking former navy officer recalled the rich scent of chocolate that used to waft through the streets from a Fulton Street candy factory before World War II. I learned, too, how the Brooklyn Dodgers got their name (Brooklyn residents were once called “trolley-dodgers” because of the many speeding trolley cars on the borough’s streets); how a working-class girl could enjoy a free daily swim at the St. George Hotel’s swank saltwater pool (all it took was a doctor’s note).

    Most intriguing to me, however, were the references to a house that once stood at 7 Middagh Street (pronounced mid-daw), a short, narrow lane at the neighborhood’s northeastern tip overlooking the former dockyards and, beyond, New York Harbor. The house had been rented, one neighbor told me, by a group of well-known young poets, novelists, composers, and artists the year before America entered World War II. Aware that enormous devastation lay ahead and determined to continue contributing to the culture as long as possible, they had created an environment for themselves to support and stimulate, inspire and protect —just a few blocks from where I lived.”

  • Kenny

    It’s interesting the the ‘poor ole’ Jehovah Witness are/were the largest landowner in Brooklyn.
    Property that was tax free will now pay taxes as commercial occupants.

  • Jorale-man

    Great video – very informative and beautiful photography and music!

  • Fritz

    Montague Terrace Next? Can someone point me to a source for dates of buildings on MT?

  • nabeguy

    Karl, if the preface excerpt is any indication, I can see why you put it down. Since when is Middagh Street a lane? Amateur historians aside, I’m going to stick with mid-dawg, if for no other reason than that it’s the only street in the north Heights that retains a family name after that crazy lady went around changing them all to fruits and trees. Where was the BHA back then?

  • harumph

    A fabulous video – many thanks. My only criticism about your videos is the use of “star wars” titles themes – it is SO hard to read, and , quite honestly, I can’t read that fast! Especially on your notable bklyn heights – I couldn’t read all the names fast enough and had to play it several times. But truly, I love these videos, star wars themes and all! so thank you!

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    Whew, when I saw that tag name I thought it would be worse.

    I couldn’t agree more. Just received an email with the same complaint 10 minutes before your comment.

    “I liked it a lot. The only thing I would suggest is
    not using the animated text that scrolls into the video… for me it
    is too reminiscent of star wars.. and it is hard to read.”

    Appreciate the criticism. Basically, I was using these Star War Titles as visual fluff and read along with it since I didn’t expect anyone to keep up with its speed. Very ignorant of me. Thanks again.

  • AEB

    Thanks, Karl, for the pronunciation info.

    I must say, though, that the more I repeat nabe’s pronunciation to myself, the more I like it. Has the advantage of a canine suffix, so to speak….

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    You asked about Montague Terrace. I went to the assessor property records via Trulia for zip 11201 for my dates of building origination. Here is the link and scroll down to Montague Terrace.

  • nabeguy

    Fritz, Montague Terrace came as a result of the BQE construction that Karl mentions in the video. Prior to that, it was bisected by the Montague Street cut that ran down to the river ferry terminals. See the attached links

  • Jeremy

    Nabeguy, your pronunciation is mostly correct, though I think a some Dutch speakers would say midahg (long A and that germanic guttural G, similar to bach), not mid-dawg. Or so says a friend (American but fluent in Dutch). It means mid-day.
    As for the street being “the only street in the north Heights that retains a family name after that crazy lady went around changing them all to fruits and trees” – first, don’t forget about Hicks. And second, that story is bunk. All of the fruit streets were named that way from the very beginning. The reason why is speculative, but it has nothing to do with an eccentric lady middagh changing the street signs.

  • nabeguy

    Yes, I should have included Hicks, jeremy. Any clues as to the provenance of Henry Street?

  • Claude Scales

    While my quick and dirty web research hasn’t confirmed it, I think Henry Street was named for Henry Pierrepont, Sr., who, among other things, laid out GreenWood cemetery.

  • Publius


    Excellent work. Well researched and nice production.

    Two comments:

    1) You twice refer to the Jehovah’s Witnesses as “the Jehovahs.” That would be like calling a group named God’s Witnesses “The Gods.” The proper and polite way to refer to them is as the Witnesses. I’m sure it was unintentional.

    2) One of the buildings that you show in the film is the Witnesses’ dorm where 110 Columbia Heights once stood. It’s more than a minor point of history to note that’s 110 was the building where an incapacitated Washington Roebling observed the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    I’m looking forward to Part 2. Again, a very nice job. Ken Burns watch out.

  • Karl Junkersfeld


    You are entirely correct that I meant offense.

    As far as 110 Columbia Heights being where the dorm is presently, you are correct. I have a picture of Washington Roebling looking through a telescope from the very location. Good point. I’m convinced that the southern part of the dorm, which is where the picture I took was shot, was where the 2 buildings I indicated were. As you move north, there were other buildings on Columbia Heights that were demolished both by the Witnesses for dorm space and Robert Moses to make room for the BQE. The part of the dorm, moving north, that has the 124 over the doors was probably where 110 Columbia heights was. Could be wrong though.

    Basically we are talking same dorm but different section of it. It’s a dorm that takes up the entire west side on Columbia Heights from Pineapple to Orange.

    Publius, would I be correct in thinking that 124 Columbia Heights was the first dorm space built here in Brooklyn Heights for Jehovah Witnesses? Was always curious about that.

  • Karl Junkersfeld

    Meant no offense, I meant to say. Not a Freudian slip. Just a mistake. lol

  • nabeguy

    No worries Karl. Jehovah will forgive you.