Shop Talk with Brooklyn Makers: Build Your Block

Welcome to Shop Talk, our regular series highlighting some of the fantastic Brooklyn-made products (and their makers) available in the BHS Gift Shop, open daily from 12pm to 5pm!

Build Your Block

Brooklyn is an ever-changing borough, and whether you’ve been here your whole life or are just now calling it home, I think everyone can agree that it is a very special and exciting place to be. While new buildings are sprouting up around every corner, it is important that we take the time to appreciate and preserve the essence of classic Brooklyn. Our maker for this month, Patrick Chirico, found a unique way to pull this off: he creates pillows that allow people to have Brooklyn neighborhood blocks in the comfort of their own homes. From bodegas and pizza shops to the Brooklyn Bridge, thanks to Build Your Block you can construct your very own 3-D pillow street to show off to your friends! A very artistic and creative approach to history if you ask us.

We caught up with Patrick to find out more about his company and why he creates…

Tell us a little but about yourself…

I grew up in Watertown, NY, where they invented the safety pin and where they make those tree-shaped car fresheners. I have a beautiful wife, a dapple dachshund, and a munchkin cat. Soon to have a baby boy in October. I went to FIT for fashion design, and just took over from there.

What do you make?

We make building-shaped pillows so everyone can build a neighborhood block on their bed or couch. You can buy the neighborhood you want and then add commercial property, like bodegas and pizza shops. To help complete the 3-D pillow city, we have sets of mini ATMs, garbage cans, phone booths, etc., to build the foreground. We offer a set of pillowcases of the Brooklyn Bridge that make a 60-inch-long cityscape background to your set. Now you can lay your head in the streets of New York or be your own urban pillow planner.

How long have you been at it?

I have been running my own business, Wrecords By Monkey, since 2003, and I created Build Your Block in 2011.

What’s the story behind how you developed your product?

For the pillow sets, I was inspired by the buildings around us, including the bodegas and brownstones, the modern apartment complexes popping up all over Williamsburg, as well as the classic and abandoned buildings. We wanted people to be able to express their love of architecture and their city by creating their own personal blocks in their homes. People can pick and choose the colors and styles that most inspire them, and make a street on their bed or couch that is all their own.

Walk us through a typical day…

Wake up and walk the dog with my wife at McCarren Park, then grab a coffee from a local spot and skate or drive over to my studio/store in Bushwick. Then start the day with a touch-base sesh with my senior designer for both companies, Will Haude, and then cruise through emails, eat lunch, and get into the physical part of the day. Then begins micro-managing the team to work toward all of our daily goals. It always ends with a, “You’re awesome,” to everyone on the team so I can head home to have a late dinner with my wife and talk her ear off about the day and all my ideas until we watch a movie and fall sleep with some dessert.

What do you do when you’re not “working”?

I have adventures with my wife and dog and eat good food, as well as try to visit family and friends as much as possible.

What art or design currently inspires you?

Everything is constantly inspiring me, and most of it is from non art or outside inspiration. A great local artist is Bäst, and also the entire Justseeds crew is amazing: Chris stain, Kristine Virsis, Josh MacPhee. I do love handmade zines, and related art like Chris Uphues, Killer Acid, Wizard Skull, Noah Lyon, Matt Crabe. I’m also always following the millefiori/glass blowing movement and the 3-D printing movement, specifically 3DBrooklyn.

How has the city inspired what you make and how you make it?

If you have something to offer the city, it has something to offer you. My inspiration comes from the people and fashion, the buildings and architectural details, even the industrial parts, and from seeing everything constantly changing.

What is your favorite NYC museum and why?

American Museum of Natural History for sure! Endless amounts of information, amazing handcrafted art/objects/artifacts. The rock and meteorite sections are a must see every time, as well as the dioramas. Each visit is a whole new experience and it’s so easy to learn so much.

What is your favorite part of Brooklyn and why?

Carmine’s Pizzeria and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border, because you have access to everything!!

If not creating, what else would you be doing?

Teaching and inspiring.

For more Build Your Block products, visit the BHS Gift Shop, open daily from 12pm to 5pm! You can also learn more on their website,

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Retail | Leave a comment

Photo of the Week: Ready or Not . . .


[Leaves changing in Prospect Park], 1977, V1990.49.26; Donald L. Nowlan collection, ARC 120; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Labor Day is behind us.  Schools in New York City are well underway.  The Jewish High Holidays are around the corner.  This can mean nothing else (at least to me) except that Autumn is also upon us.  Chilly nights and cool mornings only lead to moderately warm middays.  People have begun to wear jackets in Prospect Park or a scarf to ward off the goosebumps.  I even felt the need for a light pair of gloves while riding my bike, though not enough to go looking in the closet for them.  Next up is the leaves changing and we will soon be burrowing in our cozy apartments wishing for sledding opportunities.

I’ve come to realize that the only seasons that are unbearable long in this region of the country are Winter and August.  So get to the park, go for a drive upstate, go anywhere outside — but make sure you see the Fall Foliage – it makes the changing seasons worthwhile (at least to me).

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here.  To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m.


Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Library & Archives | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

September Staff Pick from the BHS Gift Shop – The New York Nobody Knows by William B. Helmreich

Welcome to the latest installment of Brooklyn Historical Society STAFF PICKS, a fun way to explore our awesome gift shop! The BHS Gift Shop features many items crafted right here in Brooklyn, as well as an array of books on Brooklyn and New York City suitable for the whole family. Once a month we feature a staff member and their favorite item from our gift shop because, let’s face it, who better than our Brooklyn-lovin’ staff to give great gift ideas?

This month we chat with the wonderful Lead Visitors Services and Events Associate, Kate Ludwig, whose favorite book is The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich. Kate, who just received her MA in History from Brooklyn College, recommends this book to anyone who likes to explore and is interested in a little history from the back streets of NYC.

Kate Ludwig

Kate Ludwig / Visitors Services Manager / Long Island / Beach reader

“I would recommend this book to anyone who wants an easy read, especially if they live in NY. It’s a great contemporary insight into the streets of NY across all five boroughs and it provides great background information about each neighborhood as well. The author does a beautiful job at portraying each neighborhood as is and helps readers to understand how they have changed over time.” – Kate

 What is the last book you read? Hiroshima, by John Hersey

Any favorite hobbies? Boating, cars, fishing, reading, and traveling.

Why The New York Nobody Knows? Definitely because of the title and because I like exploring the city


Imagine walking 6,000 miles outside of New York City… if you walked east, you’d get to Iran, south would lead you to Argentina, west to Mongolia, and if you went north, you’d likely end up somewhere on an iceberg. Interestingly, this is the same distance as walking all of the streets in all five boroughs of New York City. William Helmreich walked 6,000 miles, and guess where he ended up? Right back in his apartment.

As a child, Helmreich used to play a game with his father called “Last Stop”, where they would pick a subway line, ride to the last stop, and then explore the new area. Now a professor and a writer, Helmreich expands upon this childhood pastime of exploring the city in a remarkable book on the diverse, rich and influential place that is New York City. Although he is a native New Yorker, Helmreich writes in a way that is easy for people who have never paid New York City a visit to explore the five boroughs through the pages of his book. From interviews with immigrants to our last three mayors (including the late Edward Koch), Helmreich takes the reader on a walk through NYC with some of the city’s influential contributors who do not always receive the recognition they deserve.

Book Excerpt:

Throughout the city, people of various ethnic and racial groups attend concerts, comedy shows, dance performances and the like, many which are geared toward their heritage and identification. It can be an Irish folk music trio, a Yiddish or Klezmer concert, a Polish polka troupe, an Iranian singer or a parade like the West Indian one in Brooklyn, or the Puerto Rican one in Manhattan….” P. 139 

Check out The New York Nobody Knows: 6,000 Miles in The City by William B.Helmreich, sold in the Brooklyn Historical Society Gift Shop for 29.95(+tax). We’re open Monday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm!

Gift Shop Photo

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Retail | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Brooklyn Bounty ’14: French Louie

In anticipation of Brooklyn Bounty, BHS’s premier fundraiser at 26 Bridge on October 22nd, we are profiling our participating restaurants and honorees of the Food & Heritage Awards. Below is a profile of French Louie, one of the delicious participants in our evening’s tasting menu.

French Louie: All Things French, American and Brooklyn


Chef Ryan Angulo of French Louie

Chef Ryan Angulo, of the recently opened French Louie in Ft. Greene, is at the stage of his career where he has some impressive laurels on which to rest. But after five years of success with his New American restaurant in Carroll Gardens, Buttermilk Channel, Ryan decided to take on a new culinary challenge. “I had visited Paris a few times and thought how great the food was. I thought, why not a French place with American influences?”

Ryan has this relaxed attitude towards most things in the kitchen, and this might be because it is truly his natural environment. When I asked how he became a chef, there wasn’t a long complex story, but he said simply that, “My first job was washing dishes, and I never left the kitchen.” Ryan will bring his natural gourmet hand to the Brooklyn Bounty festivities, and the possibilities of what to expect from him are endless.

When Ryan talked in mouthwatering detail about his dishes, it became clear why he opened the second restaurant. His creativity is the kind that can supply multiple outlets. He is the rare chef who spends a great deal of time in the kitchen cooking, even after a menu is set. “I am constantly reprinting menus,” Ryan explained. He relishes his time in the kitchen, sometimes staring at dishes waiting for the creative epiphany to hit for the perfect element the dish needs to become a classicsteak frites. Ryan also fosters a collaborative atmosphere in his kitchen, offering sous chefs a chance to work with him on designing menu items.

Perhaps French Louie’s signature dish, and one Brooklyn Bounty revelers will likely taste, is the Snails “Marchand de Vin.” A classic French dish, but with the New Orleans influence of the Marchand sauce, Ryan adds local grits to the plate, giving it the kick of the American South. Another fantastic dish, this one inspired by the soccas of the South of France, Ryan has created his own version with his Le Grand Socca, a chickpea flatbread featuring heirloom beans and smoky tomatoes. Of course, Ryan’s expert take on French staples such as Steak Frites and Duck Allard anchor the rotating menu.

French Louie's beautiful garden space.

French Louie’s beautiful garden space.

Most of the produce, meats, and fish Ryan uses are from local purveyors, and he has an especially strong relationship with Snug Harbor Farms on Long Island. “I’m a favorite customer. He knows I’ll take everything he’s got, so he usually stops at my door first.” Ryan enjoys cooking with these fresh ingredients, as well as the challenge of crafting with whatever may come his way. He notes that when he came to Brooklyn about six years ago, it was difficult to find quality local organic produce, as the demand was not large enough. Now, the thriving restaurant scene in Brooklyn supports a robust market and wide selection for such high quality food. This is exactly the food movement that Brooklyn Bounty is celebrating, and French Louie is sure to be a highlight for all tasters.

For his part, Ryan likes responsible, creative food when feeding himself and his family at their Bay Ridge home. “We don’t eat cereal,” he said wryly. Exactly, and neither shall we!

Don’t have your ticket to Brooklyn Bounty yet? Buy your ticket today!

Written by Avi Scher, Development Intern

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Great Trolley Strike of 1895 – Part 2

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 19 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 19 January 1895

This is part two of a two part series on the Great Trolley Strike of 1895. 

This is also the latest in a series of posts on the records of Brooklyn’s Corporation Counsel, which are currently being processed with funding provided by a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) “Hidden Collections” grant.

Finally, if you would like to hear more about the trolley strike and other forgotten events from Brooklyn’s past, please join me next Tuesday, September 9th, for the latest installment of Tales from the Vault!

By January 19th, 1895, a few thousand militiamen were deployed to the city of Brooklyn to defend the train depots and protect the few trolleys which were operating at the time. The militia was generally able to maintain control of the strikers and their sympathizers without the use of force, though tensions remained high. For instance, on the first day the militiamen were stationed in the city, a large crowd had assembled in East New York. They spent the day cutting trolley wires, obstructing tracks, and even bribed a few of the new motormen to leave their posts and relinquishing their cars to the mob. The police were once again unable to manage any semblance of order, and the militia had been sent to the nearby train depot. The crowds routinely mocked the troops, referring to them as “scabs” and “toy soldiers.” At some point, a man tried to snatch a rifle from one of the militiamen, and the colonel in charge, fearing for the safety of his men, gave the order to charge the crowd with their bayonets drawn.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 20 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 20 January 1895

Surprisingly, the charge resulted in only one injury. Charles Wilton, a painter who claimed he was simply returning home from work at the time, was bayonetted in the scuffle. Word of the stabbing soon spread, and the crowd at the East New York depot swelled to 2,000 people. The same scene played out again, with the crowd arguing with the militia, and reports of someone attempting to disarm one of the militiamen. The troops charged again, this time bayonetting two more men, before the crowd finally dispersed. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the following day, “[that] the scenes in East New York after nightfall were more turbulent than ever known in the history of the city.”

The city was effectively under martial law for the rest of the month. The situation on the streets of Brooklyn was unprecedented, with citizens fearing the violence of both the militia and the mob. By now it should be perfectly clear why someone like Thomas Carney was shot dead that January day in 1895. The militia had been marching through South Brooklyn from Atlantic Ave. to Hamilton Ave., making sure the trolleys were not being interfered with. Along the way, locals had been throwing bottles and pans at the troops. To protect themselves from projectiles the troops ordered residents to shudder their windows, and warning shots were fired at those who refused.

"Keep the Windows DOWN!"—drawn by T. De Thulstrup. Harper's Weekly, February 2, 1895.

“Keep the Windows DOWN!”—drawn by T. De Thulstrup. Harper’s Weekly, February 2, 1895.

As usual, tensions remained high. A man with a pistol was seen lurking in a window. The troops fired at him, entered his home, and soon turned him over to the police. Another man was arrested for hurling coal at the militia. The troops were clearly on edge as they made their way through the neighborhood. A captain reported that a man on a nearby rooftop had peered over at the militiamen three times, and that it appeared that he had somethiong in his hand ready to throw at the troops. The man was Thomas Carney, one of the few casualties of the 1895 strike.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 27 January 1895

Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 27 January 1895

By February the strike essentially ran its course. The trolley companies continued to hire new motormen, including some former strikers, and were able to get their cars running on a normal schedule. The violence that marred the early days of the strike slowly abated and the militiamen stood down. And while the workers effectively lost the strike (the company did not give into any of the union’s demands), they at least demonstrated the power of organized labor to disrupt commerce on a massive scale. Finally, I am sure that many of laborers took great pleasure when, months after the trolley strike had ended, the Long Island Traction company filed for bankruptcy and the corporation was dissolved.


Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Various issues, January-February 1895.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac, 1895.

Harper’s Weekly. “The Great Strike in Brooklyn”, February 2, 1895.

How We Got to Coney Island: The Development of Mass Transportation in Brooklyn and Kings Count by Brian Cudahy, 2009.

Report of the Special Committee of the Assembly appointed to investigate the causes of the strike of the surface railroads in the city of Brooklyn, transmitted to the Legislature April, 1895.

Posted in Brooklyn Past & Present, Hidden Collections, Library & Archives | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment