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Anna Schwartz
June 14, 2021

Brooklyn Borough Hall murals, circa 1939. Edgar E. Rutter photograph collections, RUTT_0001.  Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

This week's POTW takes us inside the office of the new incoming Brooklyn Borough President as New Yorkers get ready to vote in the June 22 primary election.  Borough Hall, originally City Hall, is located in the heart of downtown Brooklyn and is one of the borough's oldest public buildings. It was also home to two highly contentious 900 square foot murals, whose final fate remains unknown today.  

In 1937, the Works Project Administration (WPA) commissioned New York-based artist Alois Fabry, Jr. to paint a massive mural in the building's impressive two-story lobby, known as the rotunda. Fabry, only 25 years old at the time, spent two years creating his masterpiece, including three months researching and consulting with local historians on the history of Brooklyn. The work, titled Brooklyn—Past and Present, depicted the history and development of Brooklyn from 1609 to the present. Notable figures and scenes included Henry Hudson's encounters with the Lenape; George Washington leading his troops during the Battle of Long Island; Plymouth Church preacher Henry Ward Beecher waving goodbye to a group of departing Union soldiers; the expansion of the subway system; and the modernization of the Brooklyn waterfront.  

Borough Hall murals, 1937. Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, NEIG_2236.  Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
Borough Hall murals, 1937. Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs, NEIG_2236.  Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

The public's reaction to the murals was lukewarm at best. Some complained the color was too vivid. One resident bitterly described the murals as "amateurish, garish monstrosities." The Brooklyn Daily Eagle labeled them as "the murals nobody loved." In 1946, less than a decade after completion, Brooklyn Borough President John Cashmore ordered their removal. The New York Times compared their untimely expulsion to the demolition of Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center mural in 1934. Both artists were accused of including a figure resembling Lenin. Today the interior walls of Borough Hall remain unadorned and the location of the removed murals unknown.  

Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collections? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images, or the digital collections portal at Brooklyn Public Library. We look forward to inviting you to CBH in the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our resources page to search our collections. Questions? Our reference staff is available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]

Comments / 1 comments

That looks like the wall where a staircase is adjacent to now. Fascinating photo!
June 15, 2021, 6:05 pm  

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