Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Two-family row houses
Address: 461-467 15th Street
Cross Streets: 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: French Renaissance Revival
Architect: Benjamin F. Hudson
Other work by architect: Two houses in Fiske Terrace
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD Extension (2012)
The story: We didn’t have much when I was growing up, but I never knew that, and neither did too many other people. I grew up in an upstate small town with a New England-like frugality, where people just didn’t throw their money around in ostentatious shows of wealth. We mowed our lawn, tended the landscaping that had been in place for a century, and had a beautiful old house that looked quite nice from the road. No one could tell the place leaked like a sieve, and we didn’t have the money to do more than patch. Many years later, subsequent owners of the property cut the trees down, plowed up the peony bushes and stored junk cars on the property, making it look like something out of “Deliverance.” These people actually had money, so I heard. They replaced the roof, at least.
Point being, you can’t look at the outside of a building and know anything definite about what’s going on inside. Real estate developers and home owners alike took that to heart when brownstone Brooklyn began running out of room for single-family row houses at the end of the 19th century. Flats buildings and larger apartment buildings were starting to be quite popular, but they were still a hard sell to people who had qualms about living in multiple-unit dwellings, no matter how nice they were purported to be.
Newer developments, like much of Sunset Park, were being built with rows of two-family houses. These row houses looked just like the one-family houses throughout the brownstone belt, but were built with economy in mind. One could live in a nice space made for a family, and rent out the upstairs apartment without sacrificing bedrooms, or having to install a new full bathroom, or kitchen. The houses were built for two families, with two apartments.
In advertising these homes, developers went for the snob appeal. In 1901, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote about them, saying they were ”particularly attractive to people who desire comparatively small apartments, but who object to living in flats, and they appeal to this class on account of their being more quiet and, possibly, more exclusive.” Two-family houses appear often in all of the later row-house neighborhoods: in Sunset Park, Crown Heights North and South, Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights, Park Slope, Bay Ridge, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens and other Flatbush neighborhoods.
The styles of houses vary by neighborhood, date, architect and developer, but they were all quite nice. They were three-story houses, mostly in the Renaissance Revival style of architecture, with simplified versions of the more expensive and ornate single family houses going up at the same time, often designed by the same architects. Axel Hedman, especially, was master of both kinds of houses.
This group of four two-family houses was designed by Benjamin Hudson in 1909. They are actually the last row houses to be built in this part of Park Slope, part of the Park Slope Historic District Expansion. They are in the French Renaissance Revival style, and the buildings have elegant rounded bays, stained glass transom windows, and fine stone entryways with carved pediments. This is the only group of houses in the district to be designed by Hudson, who left very little information about himself or his career behind.
Hudson angles the bays outward on the two end houses, while the two center ones face straight out. It’s an attractive feature that encloses and unites the group. Also uniting the group are the ornate matching pressed metal cornices and deep overhanging bracketed rooflines. Hudson may have gotten the idea from Axel Hedman’s rows of expensive upper-middle-class four-story single-family houses on Sterling and Park places in Prospect Heights. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. GMAP
(Photograph: Christopher D. Brazee for Landmarks Preservation Commission)