Brooklyn Public Library

Mobile AppDownload our Mobile App

eNewsletterSubscribe to BPL eNews


A Freeman is Hard to Find

Jul 18, 2012 11:08 AM | 0 comments


Who is your favorite Brooklyn architect of the past? Raymond Almirall? W.B. Tubby? Montrose Morris? The Parfitt Brothers? Frank Freeman? Or do you have simpler, ancient tastes, eschewing the renowned builders of yesterday for some long-gone anonymous practitioner of the Walloon vernacular, perhaps?

If you were Norval White (and I presume you are not) -- architect, architectural historian, and co-author of the oft-consulted, exhaustively comprehensive, brick-thick AIA Guide to New York City -- you'd probably say Frank Freeman. White, after all, thought him to be Brooklyn's greatest architect.

But if you are one of those for whom an oculus might as well be an ogee, a plinth a pergola, and a Romanesque Revival police precinct a ham sandwich, the name Frank Freeman probably means as much to you as a tax form written in Linear A, which is to say, squat. So let's see how much light our collection can shed on this Brooklyn architect and the buildings he left behind as well as those which, due to some unforgivably overzealous city planners and forgivably overzealous fires, now live on only as miniature, uninhabitable, 2D versions: i.e., images.

Down in the morgue we have one envelope [Freeman, Frank Dead] containing one article which is, unsurprisngly, an obituary. I was surprised, however, that this was all we had on our borough's greatest architect. The obituary does its morbid work, relating to us that Freeman was 88 when he died in a convalescent home in Montclair, New Jersey; that he was a native of Hamilton, Ontario and came to Brooklyn in the late 1880s; that he lived at 213 Washington Avenue; lists some of the major buildings he designed; gives us two sentences about the wife, Katherine E. Caldwell, who preceded him in death; and then wraps it up with the names and whereabouts of his descendants and the time and place where the bereaved and familiars can expect funeral services to be held and interment to occur. And that's it for Frank Freeman in the morgue.

The place to turn, however, is online to the digitized Brooklyn Daily Eagle, since it is before 1902 (the date at which our Eagle digitization project has presently paused) that Freeman launched his career in Brooklyn. Searching for "Frank Freeman" there you will turn up 72 articles about the architect, most of which have to do with design competitions, opening ceremonies for new buildings, and appraisals of his work. Some of Freeman's finest work was done before 1902, including:

The Brooklyn Fire Headquarters (1892) [note dog on ledge]

1910 photograph by Irving Underhill

Hotel Margaret (1889) (No longer standing)

Early 20th cenutry, hand-tinted photo postcard from our post card collection.

The Thomas Jefferson Association Building (1889-1890) (No longer standing)

From page 438 of The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Germania Club (1889-1890) (No longer standing)

From Artwork of Brooklyn, New York

The Bushwick Democratic Club (1892) (No longer standing)

From page 441 of the The Eagle and Brooklyn: The Record of the Progress of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The Eagle Warehouse and Storage Company Building (1893)

1907 photo of the Eagle Warehouse

And the Brooklyn Savings Bank (1894) which Francis Morrone, in his indispensable book, An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, refers to as Freeman's finest work. (Sigh, no longer standing)

From Artwork of Brooklyn, New York

Where we don't have photos of Freeman's work in our collection, or simply haven't been able to dig any up, the online Eagle is, again, a good place to turn. In an article on the opening of the Freeman-designed 9th precinct police house at Gates and Throop, which the Eagle called "The Finest Police Station in the World" we can catch a glimpse of the now-demolished building.

The same goes for dreamed-of, but never built designs, such as Freeman's plans for a dome atop City (Borough) Hall.


As I hunted around for more on Freeman, whether in Morrone's guidebook, the AIA guide, or online in pieces like this one from Brownstoner, it came up again and again that Freeman left very little behind by which historians could know him. All this made the discovery of some Freeman tidbits in Brooklyn Life particularly exciting.
1910 photograph of the Crescent Athletic Club by Irving Underhill

Making use of our invaluable index to Brooklyn Life, I found two mentions of Freeman in that society set's magazine: one issue, from 1906, includes a photograph of the architect along with interior shots of the Crescent Athletic Club, another one of his remarkable buildings; and the other issue, from 1892, carries a brief description of the man.

Photo of Freeman from Brooklyn Life. Vol. 34, No. 876, page 16.

The Great Hall and Office, Looking into The Grill Room [from the same issue]

The Main Dining Room, Occupying the Entire Pierrepont Street Frontage [from the same issue]

One End of the Grill Room in the Rear of the Main Floor [from the same issue]

The other mention of Freeman appearing 14 years earlier, paints the portrait of a young man just hitting his stride. The description, in a column called About Brooklyn People, begins:

Mr. Frank Freeman, the young architect who has made fame and fortune for himself in Brooklyn, is about two and thirty, slight build, medium height, dark hair and beard and dresses like a man always in a hurry. Mr. Freeman is a Canadian by birth but a Yankee in action. He is nervously quick, and is an intimate friend of hard work, which he rightly credits with his success. Mr. Freeman is happily married, has two children, owns the house he lives in and thinks the world a good place...

And thanks to Frank Freeman, we here in Brooklyn can think our borough a more beautiful place. Oh, and in case you missed it earlier, here's a cropped close-up of that dog...