The Bull Shippers Plaza Motor Inn was a real place. It stood at 320 Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, a block from Pratt Institute. My apartment was diagonally across the street.
The Inn was a beautifully kept Early Romanesque Revival mansion and stood out on a street full of brownstones and apartment houses. I loved looking at the building and I loved the name of the place. The words, Bull Shippers Plaza Motor Inn, just rolled off your tongue. I imagined it as the name of a movie or novel. Oh, the stories it could tell. But what kind of place was it? My friends and I debated the issue and the consensus was a brothel.
In my senior year, after wondering and whispering about the place for way too long, a female friend of mine and I got the courage to go inside. Nervous and shaking we rang the bell on the front door. A beautiful African American woman in high heels, a big wig, skin-tight clothing with leopard print pants greeted us at the door. I explained we lived across the street and were curious how much the rooms rented for by the night. “The night?” she responded, “The rooms rent by the hour.” The place lived up to my dreams about what a brothel looked like with red velvet print wallpaper, elaborate chandeliers and gold, and velvet furniture. She invited us in and we took a quick look around the lobby. We enquired if we could see the rooms and were told that we could not, and we left.
We were two white kids from the suburbs, transported to Clinton Hill, Brooklyn to attend college and study design. We felt like we had peeked behind the curtain into another world that was completely foreign to us.
In trying to find out more about the place, I learned that it had been built as the Graham Home for Old Ladies in 1851, and had functioned as a woman’s retirement home until the 1960s when it closed and became the Bull Shippers Plaza Motor Inn. I graduated from college in 1981. The Bull Shippers Plaza Motor Inn finally closed in 1985 after numerous complaints to the police. The building was boarded up for many years until it was finally converted to apartments in 2001.