Along the dark edges of Brooklyn lay two abandoned and derelict police stations. Their fate is, as of this writing, completely uncertain.
The Architects Sex Lives
The first of these buildings it the former 68th precinct building. It was landmarked in 1984, though it still sits derelict today. The second is the former 75th precinct, which was vacated by the NYPD and was used for awhile as a church before falling into its current neglected state.
Holding cell bars removed from the basement.
Both of these buildings have previously been attributed to architect Emile M. Gruwe, whose personal life seemed to be a tawdry mess (more on this later). Gruwe’s name appears in the original Landmark preservation writeup, though it appears that the research behind the LPC write up (as well as others online) was very much incorrect. The LPC now attributes the design of this building, along with many other police stations in Brooklyn, to one George Ingram. This recent NY Times article focuses on Ingram’s work for the ‘Department of Police and Excise’ – Brooklyn’s forerunner to what eventually became the NYPD when all the boroughs joined into NYC.
Exterior of the 68 pct. in sunset park.
Ingram seemed to live a productive life, designing basically every old station house in Brooklyn. Gruwe, however, seems to have lived an ‘interesting’ life – and by interesting, I mean having fathered at least 3 kids (plus maybe a 4th that died or worse) with a wife whom apparently was either insane or he was trying to kill. The couple was the subject of an NY Times article on December 6, 1878 titled “A WOMAN’S STRANGE STORY; IS EMILIE GRUWE INSANE. HER REMARKABLE NARRATIVE–AN ARCHITECT WHO IS ACCUSED OF BEING A MONSTER–WHAT MR. GRUWE SAYS.” – where Mrs. Henrietta Gruwe claims her husband attempted to poison her, abandon her penny-less on a trip to Germany, and have her institutionalized upon her return. Given all of the drama at home, I find it hard to imagine Emile got much work done – and certainly couldn’t have cranked out the numerous police stations that are now attributed to Ingram.
And if Gruwe actually had done the work, I’m sure no one will want to admit it today. Can you imagine the lede? “historic NYPD station houses designed by potential spouse abuser”.
Inside the lobby of the 68
In 1999, the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association (BCAA) purchased the building for a little more than $200,000 from another community group, the Sunset Park Music Group.
“We hoped we’d be able to raise enough money to restore it,” recalled Paul Mack, who founded the BCAA, an expanding network of 18 senior centers and childcare programs.
A check of city records shows that the building was still accessible as recently as last fall.
Adventure & Current Status: The 68
The old 68 frankly isn’t worth the inherit risks of trying to climb around inside of. Upon arrival here you’re greeted by the amazing brick and terra cotta exterior – a true gem of Romanesque hybrid design and craftsmanship. The story quickly changes on closer inspection though. After hopping the fence, access to the building interior is easy enough to find. however, there really isn’t much left to the interior to explore. A fire in 1980 caused just enough damage to the wooden structures inside to cause a partial interior collapse. The center of the building has caved in clear to the basement level, leaving no access to the upper floors. The parts of the first floor that have not collapsed are shaky at best. This isn’t the kind of place you want venture far into, as the added weight of your body can easily further collapse the floors and send you into a free fall. That’s fine if you have no regard for your own life, but maybe not so good for anyone tasked with having to rescue you.
Crossbeams have fallen away from the brickwork, leaving several areas of flooring entirely unsupported.
Some very old and much newer tags.
Adventure & Current Status: The 75
The 75 in 2011.
The old 75 station house is inching towards the same condition. Sometime between 2011 and 2014 a section of the roof caved in. We took a quick look around the exterior but saw no obvious access points. I have heard of attempts by actual city employees to gain entry to this build having been repeatedly turned down. (these were curious first responders keenly interested in history, without ill intent). Perhaps the church group doesn’t want to allowed inside due to the hazardous conditions which, if found by the Department of Buildings, would likely result in fines (which really wouldn’t help save the building).
The current owners – “People’s First Baptist Church” seem like an interesting crowd. They bought the building from the city in 1976 (likely at a very low price). According to Lady Simone, the church’s leader, they want to repair and reopen it as a shelter for homeless pregnant women. In her words: “My husband was ill, so he was never able to do much with the property, but he always had great dreams, especially for using the building to benefit the youths and veterans in the community. He was a Navy veteran, and he wanted to make a better life for people in the area.” The church used the building up until 2006. Since then, maintenance has consisted primarily of keeping the protective sidewalk shed installed. No permits for work on the actual building have been filed in years, and no source of funding is currently known. An interior repair of a building this size could run up to 100k.
Street and aerial views from Google circa 2014 – note the hole in the roof
You would think repairing and reopening this building would be a slam-dunk project for current Mayor DeBlasio, who has opened new homeless shelters across the city and vows to open more. Here sits an amazing historic building that is going to waste. Clearly the church group can’t handle the job on their own. Without repairs in the next few years, there won’t be a building worth saving.
Lady Simone is also the author of a ‘new york best seller’Last Castle in Brooklyn, which features a photo of the building on the cover.
The future of both of these buildings is, for the foreseeable future, relatively grim. The 68th would require a complete gut rebuild, with new crossbeams, flooring and utilities. The 75 is presumed to be in better shape, but no one really knows for sure, and the ambitious current plan to open it as a shelter without significant funding doesn’t seem like it’ll happen anytime soon.
For both of these buildings, I can only hope they are repaired and restored to their former beauty.
*Note* An earlier edition of this article was posted in 2011.