The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

the king in yellow, brick

with 4 comments

Matthews Model Flats, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in the past, Newtown Pentacle HQ is embedded within one of the few corner to corner blocks of Matthews Model Flats remaining in Astoria, Queens. This is also one of the postings where I’m thinking out loud, so if your humble narrator is in error, let me know.

Yellow bricks, which once distinguished much of western Queens, compose the street faces of these buildings. This particular stretch of Matthews flats in Astoria is just about a hundred years old (1911), as is a lot of the building stock in what I’ve been told was called “the German Section”- “back in the day”. Model tenements, as they were known, and while walking my little dog Zuzu one morning I began to ponder those bricks. Those yellow bricks.

Everywhere you go, from Ridgewood to Greenpoint, Maspeth and Astoria- you see those bricks.

from an EXCELLENT illustrated history of Brick manufacturing in the New World at

The first bricks in the English colonies in North America were probably made in Virginia as early as 1612. New England saw its first brick kiln erected at Salem, Massachusetts in 1629. The Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam imported yellow bricks from Holland, which imparted a Dutch character to the architecture of the city. The excellent quality and abundance of local clays in the colonies made it unnecessary to import bricks from across the Atlantic. Brick-making centers developed in Fort Orange (what is now Albany), New York; near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as along the Raritan River.

Grand 30th avenue, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the real pleasures encountered when working on postings for this, your Newtown Pentacle, are the moments when I suddenly have to research something mundane because I realize that I actually know nothing about the subject. In this case, it’s bricks.

A couple of years ago, I pursued knowledge of industrial Honey production– How, exactly, do all those millions of gallons of honey get to the little bottles in your supermarket? What can the industrial process be, I asked. The answers are pedantic, complex, and suffice to say that China is the world’s Honey superpower and that Honey was arguably the first industrial commodity.

The story of these yellow Kriescher bricks however, has something for everyone.

also from

The Manhattan Fire Brick and Enameled Clay Retort Works (as described in New York Illustrated (New York: D.Appleton & Co., 1876) was located on East 15th Street near the East River. Henry Maurer learned the fireclay manufacturing business in his uncle’s firm, Maurer & Weber, and then established his own firm which relocated from New York and Staten Island to Maurer, New Jersey, in 1874

There were several firms in New York City that took advantage of the nearby deposits of fire clay and manufactured both clay retorts and fire bricks. In 1845 Balthazar Kreischer established a fire-brick works in Manhattan, later known as the New York Fire Brick and Clay Retort Works; Kreischer acquired a fire-clay deposit on Staten Island in 1852 and established a works there which eventually replaced the Manhattan factory (his son’s house, the Charles Kreischer House and the workers’ houses for the company, the Kreischerville Worker’s Houses are both designated New York City Landmarks). Joseph K. Brick established the Brooklyn Clay Retort and Fire Brick Works in 1854. The Maurer & Weber Company later known as the Manhattan Fire Brick and Enameled Clay Retort Works, opened in 1863.

In 1868 John Cooper established a business, later known as the Greenpoint Fire Brick and Sewer Pipe Works, at 413-421 Oakland Street, Brooklyn. While there were 350 fire brick manufacturers in the United States in 1895, the New York-New Jersey area remained one of the major fire brick manufacturing centers.

Matthews Houses – photo by Mitch Waxman

19th century businessmen were either merchant princes or robber barons, depending on your point of view. Both are accurate, but suffice to say that communities of labor would cluster around the industrialist, corollary industry would arise to support growing populations around the main mill, and even competitors would often locate in their vicinity to take advantage of locale and the skilled worker population. This is why you find financial, garment, and flower districts in Manhattan and its also why Astoria is visually distinct from the neighborhoods around it.

William Steinway was here, and his interests were larger than just pianos. Steinway was a primal force in digging the first Subway Tunnel from Queens to Manhattan (completed by Michael Degnon, of course), and was a major player in the Queens Trolley business. Wealthy, philanthropic, and well regarded by all reports- Steinway’s Piano mill pulled a population to it. Out on Staten Island, Balthazar Kreischer worked a somewhat coarser but technologically sophisticated operation that made… Bricks.


…trying to find the descendants of Balthasar KREISCHER (3.13.1813-8.15.1886) of the Kreischer & Sons Brick Company of Staten Island, and interred in The Green-Wood Cemetery of Brooklyn, New York.

Descendants/Family include his 4 daughters Catherine KREISCHER-WEBER, Fredricka P. KREISCHER, Louisa Albertina KREISCHER-STEINWAY and Caroline L. KREISCHER-ELLIS and his 3 sons: Charles C. KREISCHER, Edward B. KREISCHER and George F. KREISCHER. Some Kreischers settled into Brooklyn.

Louisa Albertina KREISCHER-STEINWAY (d. 6.30.1926) married Albert STEINWAY (b. 6.10.1849- d. 5.14.1877), the youngest son of of Steinway & Sons Piano Mfgr. of Astoria, New York, and had 2 daughters: Henrietta Julia STEINWAY and Ella Frederica STEINWAY. Louisa, Albert and Frederick P. Kreischer are interred in the Steinway mausoleum in Green-Wood Cemetery of Brooklyn, NY.

Maspeth Matthews Houses – photo by Mitch Waxman

Both great men were successful and accepted, rich beyond avarice, and had children. Steinway’s son Albert married Kreischer’s daughter Louisa, connecting the two families in business and standing. Both men also had holdings and interests in the burgeoning railroad business, Kreischer an investor in the Vanderbilt’s Staten Island Railroad and Steinway a rail mogul in Queens. Many of these yellow brick homes, so typical of ancient Queens, lie along the route that trolley tracks once followed.

My supposition is that Kreischer received a family discount for moving his product around on Steinway’s rails, and use of Kreischer Brick in a new project bought some good will from the Steinways- known for their generous nature and political connections in New York, Newtown, and the upstart Long Island City with its scandalous political class.

This is theory, of course, but sounds kind of like the way things worked in 19th century New York when the “old boys” club ruled. Again- theory.


“It was reported on the street on Friday that Gleason had sold his railway interests to the Steinway syndicate for $275,000. It has been reported for a long time that the Gleason roads did not pay. The road up Borden Avenue to Calvary Cemetery [in Woodside] was not well patronized. There are not many people who go to Blissville [Sunnyside] unless it is to visit the dead. The Blissville people as a rule do not travel much and when they do they patronize the Greenpoint line in preference to Gleason’s, thus his exchequer has suffered, and again the cars to the cemetery are cold this winter, and the conductors lugubrious on account of the scarcity of pennies and passengers, and a traveler after a survey of one of the cars, is tempted to foot it in preference to riding in an open car, as they had to do on Christmas Day.”

St. Joseph’s RC Church, Grand 30th avenue, Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Louisa’s brother Edward, it seems, met a tragic end.

Check out this page at, which tells a detailed story of that Kreischer Mansion where Edward lost his life, which describes ghostly phenomena and the violent history experienced by those who have inhabited it since.

Also, don’t miss forgotten-ny’s page on the Steinways and Kreischer’s

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] a foodstuff- like honey for instance. “How does one produce Honey industrially?” (which I’ve mentioned before), or “How, exactly, is Jell-O made?”. The latter case, incidentally, produced an answer […]

  2. […] be apparent were I to not mention the “Madison Avenue Bridge Centennial” but “the king in yellow, brick” advanced another of my pet theories and served up a fascinating (to me at least) sequence of […]

  3. I used to live on 42nd and 30th Ave. I went to St. Josephs in the late 70’s. Ended going to
    ps70. Boy I remember those rooftops. And the 4th of July battles between 41st – 42nd and 43rd street were intense! Nice photo, brought back memories of a simpler time. Thank you.


    March 2, 2012 at 10:21 pm

  4. […] I will admit that the connections between the Kriescher and Steinway families discussed in this Newtown Pentacle post from May of 2010 spurred my curiosity, but I haven’t strayed too far from the Northern Coast of the […]

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