There are monkeys on the rooftop. They are caged in a large glass structure, and fed a hearty breakfast of high strength Ex-Lax. Too many bananas for breakfast?
April 1, 1990
It is April Fool’s day, and a fifth grade class in an all boys school is a dangerous place. My friend is showing me his prank: he’s wrapped a bar of Ex-Lax in aluminum foil with extreme care, creasing and pressing the foil so it looks just like a Hershey’s bar.
In an feigned act of unexpected generosity, he offers the bar to a less popular boy, who falls for it, as less popular boys are wont to do.
He spends the next hour or so in the bathroom, and my friend is sent home, suspended.
The large glass structure is now a luxury selling point of loft 5E, one of the many condominium units parceled from the old Ex Lax factory, whose sign still stands proudly on 423-443 Atlantic Ave.
Atlantic Avenue’s long boulevard stretches eastward from the Hudson to the Van Wyck Expressway, well into Queens. From the river to the new Arena at the insane intersection of Flatbush and 4th Avenue, the busy thoroughfare is a mélange of Arabic and Islamic shops, antique stores, coffee-shops, and restaurants both chichi and greasy. And there are many vestiges of Brooklyn’s industry past. Exhibit One: The Ex Lax building.
The casual passerby may wonder—or giggle—when passing the monumental old building on Atlantic between Hoyt and Nevins: is it that Ex-Lax? Indeed it is, but our story goes back before Ex Lax was “the ideal laxative.” Like many stories, this one begins with beer.
In 1893, the factory was home to the August Busch Bottling Company. The ‘King of Beers’ was bottled right here, in the Busch factory. When Budweiser bubbled off to St. Louis, Ex-Lax moved in, in 1925.
Ex Lax was founded in 1906, by an immigrant from Lithuania named Israel Maltz. The factory produced “the chocolated laxative” on Atlantic Avenue for over fifty years, and they did in fact have monkeys on the roof that were the unfortunate subjects of laxative trials.
The building was converted to lofts way back in 1979—an early trendsetter for the ubiquitous “artist style lofts” that have become synonymous with Brooklyn real estate and, to some extent, urban redevelopment, in cities across the world.
There’s a 5-bedroom, 1800 square foot unit for sale, for the cool price of $1.25 million*. The listing makes no mention of the building’s past, though there’s plenty of emphasis on the walnut hardwood floors and Portuguese porcelain—not to mention the views from the public roof deck. No monkeying around up there anymore.