Transcending time, the newly restored Livingston Collection at 68 Livingston Street (also known as 76-78 Court Street) has witnessed a vast and storied history spanning over 160 years. During this time, the very first free public secondary school in New York City was housed within its walls. Various commissions, political, civic and social clubs gathered here, in pursuit of their respective missions. A remarkable reflection on the topics that kept the borough of Brooklyn engaged through the course of time, 76 Court hosted The Woman League of Voters, The Independence League and the Brooklyn Economic and Social Club, a club integral in hosting talks of prominent figures of the day. Steadfast lecturers promoted their causes, including leading members of the Women’s Suffrage movement. The Brooklyn Eagle chronicled the life and goings-on within these same walls, from its pre-civil war era inception to the modern day. Here's a quick glance at some of the events that have graced the halls and spaces of this historic location.
Retailers such as J. Vanderbilt started advertising their family shoe business, housed at 76 Court, in the Eagle in 1871. A women’s millinery shop touted the latest Parisian fashions. A picture framer, confectionery store and a coin-operated bowling machine showroom shared the retail space over the years.
Willcox & Gibbs Sewing Machine Company, a global business which ran its publicly traded, Manhattan-headquartered company for 140 years, had its Brooklyn office and showroom here. The very same Willcox & Gibbs inspired its first sewing machine manufacturing manager and prodigy engineer, Henry M. Leland, to found the Cadillac Car Company, and later the Lincoln Motor Company. Leland recognized that within true interchangeability of parts lay the key to a successful sewing machine, and conceived a great future automobile industry. Leland, known as the Master of Precision, was among the pioneers who set Detroit on its course as the automobile capital of the world.
Teunis G. Bergen is a descendant of one of the original families of Brooklyn with roots dating back to the early 17th century. Born in Brooklyn and a lifelong resident, Bergen's role as a major civic and community figure in Brooklyn spanned most of his life during the 19th century. He was elected to the Thirty-ninth Congress and served as U. S. Representative for the second district of New York holding office from March 4, 1865 to March 3, 1867. He engaged in agricultural pursuits and surveying, and was supervisor of New Utrecht, Kings County, New York from 1836 to 1859. He was a member of the New York constitutional conventions in 1846, 1867, and 1868, and was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions at Baltimore and Charleston in 1860. Bergen was a farmer, surveyor, soldier, historian, and part owner of the forerunner of The Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. He also served on the board of the Brooklyn Parks Commission which met regularly at 76 Court Street.
In 1878, the first free public secondary school in New York City was housed here. At this time Brooklyn was its own city and not yet technically part of New York City (until 1898 when the five boroughs comprising New York City were consolidated and united to the metropolis we know today.) Nonetheless, the Central Grammar School’s first class consisted of 528 girls and 113 boys. Established out of this noble educational experiment were Girls High School, and Boys High School in 1892, Manual Training (later John Jay) High School in 1894, Eastern District High School in 1900, and subsequently all other public high schools throughout the City of New York. During his administration, Mayor Ed Koch dedicated this site with a plaque to commemorate this historic milestone.
Pioneers like Brooklyn resident Dr. Alma Webster-Powell spoke fervently and often within these same walls we have in place today, while playing her hand in ratifying the 19th Amendment of the Constitution. Dr. Webster-Powell was a lawyer, suffragist, feminist, dress reformer, and grand opera soprano. She has been prima donna soprano for the royal operas of Berlin, Munich, Prague, the City Opera House of Frankfort Main and Breslau and the Metropolitan Opera-house of New York. As a scholar, she acquired the academic degrees of LL. D., Mus. B., A. M. and Ph. D. from the New York University Law School and Columbia University. In revolt to the hobbling traditional skirt fashioned by the women of the day, she advocated the bifurcated skirt known as the “trouserette” in an effort to defy the oppressing dress women were expected to adorn. In 1909, she patented a waterproof coat and skirt protector of her invention. In 1911, she publically cut off her four-foot long hair in protest and threw away her brush and comb. In 1914 she authored Music as a Human Need: a plea for free national instruction in music.
Through the ages, 76 Court hosted dozens of professional and vocational schools offering classes in business, bookkeeping, telegraph operating, stenography and management in an effort to empower men and women and advance their careers. With its prime location close to Borough Hall, court houses, municipal buildings and subway, 76 Court was and remains at the center of it all.
The Merchants Record & Show Window of Chicago & New York, an illustrated monthly journal for the merchant, window decorator and advertiser, represented a flourishing industry in the decorating field during the golden age of the department store and window display of the early 20th century. Stores needed new and alluring ways to entice customers. The Window Dressing Institute at 78 Court Street promised a budding new career for those with a creative eye and a stylish sensibility.