montague-street-anchor

Children play on the 19th century anchor and chain that sit outside 76 Montague St. Eagle file photo by Don Evans.

When Wolf Spille, owner of Sirius Ship Brokerage, decided to buy 76 Montague St. and move his business locally, he was already proud of Brooklyn Heights. He lived in a co-op overlooking New York Harbor, and he valued the link Brooklyn Heights could claim to the history of shipping in New York.

“Many ship owners lived in the Heights during the 19th century,” Spille recently told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Their ships docked below Brooklyn Heights, and they sometimes owned the warehouses along Furman Street, where goods were stored before or after shipping.”

His feelings for that historic link between shipping and Brooklyn Heights led him to buy the 19th century anchor and chain that sit outside 76 Montague St., his former headquarters. Now that the building has been sold — and re-sold — and will become a restaurant, the impending removal of the anchor leads to speculation.

“I wish the [Brooklyn] Heights Association could help find a spot locally,” he added, “where the anchor could sit and a small plaque could pay homage to that link… it’s part of the heritage of the Heights.” Spille suggested that the anchor be donated to the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA).

Following his purchase of the building in 1979, Spille said he wanted the anchor outside the front door from the start.

“From the very beginning, I had my architect draw a contemporary anchor and had him put it on the very first drawing. I was not concerned about getting one because another broker who lived on Staten Island told me that he passed an old ship breaker’s yard where he saw two huge piles of used, old anchors.”

When it came time to pick out the anchor from the pile, Spille knew what he was looking for. He wanted an anchor that was used around the 1840s and 50s because 76 Montague was built in 1859.

“The nephew of the shipyard’s owner and I walked around the area in chest-high grass, and we found one anchor, and then a second one where we were just struck. So the workers got a truck with a crane and pulled them out; one had a shaft that was too long and the other one was just perfect, and it’s the one you see outside the building now.”

Over the next two decades of Spille’s ownership of the property, he said he saw many men try to test their strength on the anchor, and many children use it as a jungle gym.

“The men would maybe push it to one side about two inches,” he said. “I was often deep down worried about some liability problem, and then somehow I remembered my years as a kid doing all kinds of things. There must have been thousands of children [climbing] up and down the anchor over the years — even my own kids — and nobody ever got hurt!”

The new property owners and what will be Gramercy Park’s Friend of a Farmer’s second restaurant location, said although they are planning on moving the anchor to make room for a patio, they would like to donate it to the Brooklyn Heights community.

Taylor Morabito, of Friend of a Farmer, said the team is planning on moving the anchor themselves.

“We are very excited about becoming a part of the Brooklyn Heights community,” Morabito said.

Even though the anchor will soon be removed in order to make way for outdoor seats, Spille remains hopeful that it will stay within the community as it was originally intended.

But late Tuesday, BHA Executive Director Judy Stanton told the Eagle, “On behalf of the BHA, I appreciate the thought on the part of Mr. Spille and/or the new owner.  They might be thinking that the anchor can stay in Brooklyn Heights, but the BHA is not equipped to handle such an enormous artifact.  We do not own our own space and we could neither store nor display it.”

Spille said he received many letters from neighbors during the years when he was the owner, expressing gratitude and appreciation for the anchor.

“I wanted this as a memory to all the seafaring people from the 16th and 17th centuries that were from or retired in Brooklyn Heights.”

Stanton suggested that the anchor is better suited for the Brooklyn waterfront. “My sense is that if the new owner or Mr. Spille are thinking creatively, they will no doubt find a fitting outdoor location near the Brooklyn waterfront, whether in a public park along the East River or at any number of waterfront event space venues that have large outdoor areas,” Stanton said. “And there is always the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which might have a good spot for it.  We wish them luck!”

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