On the corners of Fourth Avenue and Senator Street, there’s an unusually large (for Bay Ridge) if architecturally uninspired building. Until recently, it housed various municipal offices, especially those dealing with benefits administration, but now it sits empty. (Public records indicate NYU has leased it, as of November 2016, but there’s no indication that the university has done anything with the building, nor has it announced what it plans to do with it. Lutheran Hospital, which operates health centers in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge, merged in 2015 with NYU Langone.)
Where did such a building come from?
Construction began in 1924, according to public records (and the date carved into the façade on Fourth Avenue), by the Kings County Lighting Company, which provided most of the gas to Bay Ridge, as well as gas to Borough Park, Bath Beach, Bensonhurst, Midwood and Parkville. The company operated a plant on 55th Street and First Avenue. In 1919, the company produced more than 1.5 million cubic feet of gas, most of which it sold to its 38,000 customers, serviced by almost 200 miles of gas mains.
In 1925, KCLC was bought by the Long Island Lighting Company, a rival of Brooklyn Union Gas until the turn of the twenty-first century, when the two merged to form Keyspan (which has since been absorbed into National Grid). Back in the 1920s, electric lighting was not yet ubiquitous (though it soon would be), and gas was also used to power stoves, water heaters and furnaces—even, uh, refrigerators.
The office building in Bay Ridge, variously referred to as 6748, 6740 and 6734 Fourth Avenue, appears in a Brooklyn Eagle roundup of new real estate projects in June 1924, planned as six stories of offices and showrooms, at a cost of $350,000 (almost $5 million today). The final building, however, was only four stories tall. Work was finished on September 11, 1925, according to a certificate of occupancy from the department of buildings issued ten days later.
Renovations were authorized in 1946, after which another certificate of occupancy was issued, certifying a showroom on the ground floor and offices on the floors above. In the 1930s and 40s, the building frequently appears in the Brooklyn Eagle because of its use by local community groups and social clubs, the showroom doubling as a “huge recreation hall” used by the local Police Athletic League, the Catholic War Veterans, the American Legion, the Air Force Association and so on.
The last alterations to the building are in 1964, with new certificates of occupancy issued the following year, making no mention of a ground-floor showroom, only offices. Presumably, this is when the building came under the control of the city. (In 1961, “Templar Oil Products” listed its address there.) A Times article from 1974 lists the address as a district “human resources” office, overseeing some social security program payments—which is more or less what it would do for about another forty years.