Charles Pratt was a wealthy Kerosene and later Oil refinery owner based in North Brooklyn.
Later a Vice President of Standard Oil and founder of Pratt University, one of his first large business concerns was the Astral Oil Works. Specializing in Kerosene Oil (and replacing the expensive and rapidly depleting supplies of whale oil) the company slogan read “The holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral Oil.”
Pratt’s Astral Oil Works operations in Greenpoint suffered from workers not being able to find decent and affordable housing in the area for their families. Pratt decided to do something about that.
Designed by architects Lamb and Richh the “Astral” building was erected in 1886. A Queen Anne style apartment house it was patterned after the Peabody Apartments in London. The structure is on Franklin Street, between Java and India Streets and wraps around the block with five separate arched brownstone entrances each leading to a separate section of the building. Apparently not everyone was happy living in the building as there were two separate attempts to burn it down just two years after it was constructed.
The apartment building was the setting for a recent novel “The Astral” about a poet who lived in the building before being kicked out by his wife. It is also rumored that actress Mae West was born here, though there is a rival claim that she was born above Teddy’s bar in Williamsburg.