Memory Lane: The Asher Dann & Sons Building When Horses and Trolley Cars Roamed Boro Park
The Viznizter Chassidim came to Boro Park early on—as early as the 1970’s. They
have inhabited the old building on New Utrecht Avenue on the corner of 53rd
street (half a block from the Shomrei Shabbos shul) for almost as long.
But on the 53rd street side of this beaux arts building are two landmarks that stand out, and lend testament to the origins of this building.
Above the side entrance hang two pieces of beautiful limestone that refuse to age. It them is inscribed; “Dann Building,” and “1920.” What is Dann, and why is it inscribed on this building?
Asher Dann and Sons turns out to be a real estate firm that had a great hand in developing Boro Park, Bay Ridge, and other parts of Brooklyn. They were headquartered, at least for a time, in this very building at 1239 53rd Street.
Asher Dann was a Jewish resident of Boro Park in the 1910’s, 20’s, and early 30’s, and was a part of Temple Emanuel, where he was a prominent personality.
A testament for the stellar work of Asher Dann Co. comes from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle from August 8, 1918. The occasion is the inauguration of the Bath Beach Post Office, on the corner of Nineteenth Avenue and Benson Avenue. The headline reads, “Building is Completed 90 Days after first spade is dug (!), Asher Dann Gives Supper.”
The article notes that the building is made of hydraulic brick and stands at 4,000 square feet. It notes that Asher Dann, the builder, experienced significant difficulty in securing labor and materials for this building—despite the fact that it was of governmental nature.
“Following the inspection of Postmaster Walter C. Burton and a large number of officials and residents of the section, Mr. Dann was host at a supper at the Belmont Mansion. One hundred and twenty five persons were present.”
A testament of the times—this being in the aftermath of the WWI era—, and the way those people saw this achievement as a direct outgrowth of the American Capitalistic economic system, one Magistrate Geismar declared; “Any people that can conduct its industrial, civic, and social life with such a large measure of success at the same time fighting a most formidable enemy—any such people is bound to win.”
In 1921, the publication of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Bulletin announced that Asher Dann was accepted to membership into the chamber, following the recommendation of F. S. Pendelton and R. W. Goslin, prominent insurance men in Brooklyn.
Countless items related to the Dann Company developing real estate throughout Brooklyn, and in Manhattan as well, appear in the real estate publications of the times—and have them quoted as authoritative voices for the importance of buying in these areas before the boom would come.
If it weren’t so precarious, the following episode from Boro Park of yesteryear involving Mr. Dann, would be humorous—as the Eagle from August 5, 1905, tells us, in a headline reading “Car Upset Wagon.”
“In a collision yesterday afternoon on eighty-Sixth Street near twenty-First Avenue in which a wagon was run down by a trolley car., one man was perhaps fatally injured and several passengers on the car were more or less painfully hurt. The man who is now in the Norwegian Hospital (the precursor to Lutheran Medical Center—which still today remains the first choice for trauma victims) is Asher Dann, owner and driver of the wagon. He is 41 and resides at 5312 5th Avenue.”
The report goes on to explain that Dann turned his horse and carriage right into the path of the oncoming trolley car, and upon impact the horse and wagon both overturned onto Dann who suffered a fractured skull and multiple other breaks. The driver claimed that he rang the bell repeatedly to warn him—but it was too late—and there were no arrests.
Well, Asher Dann went on to have a refuash Sheleimah, because he lived until the age of 70, in July of the year 1933, when his death is announced at his summer home on 7 Dutchers Boulevard, Atlantic Beach. The funeral was held at Temple Emanuel of Boro Park.
A year later, his unveiling is announced at the Dann family mausoleum in Washington Cemetery—a stone’s throw from where Asher Dann developed much of the buildings around that very area in Boro Park of yesteryear.