Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Flats Buildings
Address: 4801-4819 4th Avenue
Cross Streets: 48th and 49th streets
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1904
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Henry Pohlman
Other Buildings by Architect: Similar apartment buildings in Park Slope, Prospect and Crown Heights, also row houses in Sunset Park and above neighborhoods.
Landmarked: No, but on the National Register of Historic Places (1988)
The story: Henry Pohlman was a busy man around the turn of the 20th century. His firm, Pohlman & Patrick, was designing flats buildings and row houses in all of the still developing neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, and most expansively, Sunset Park. According to the city records, Henry Pohlman was a draughtsman in Brooklyn for ten years, between 1887 and 1897. He then opened his own firm, Pohlman & Patrick, with a partner. I couldn’t find Patrick’s first name anywhere. The man was practically invisible. They weren’t together all that long, anyway.
Pohlman must have been the artistic half of the firm, and he was fortunate to be working when the last big wave of construction was about to take place in these neighborhoods. While designing upper class townhouses and mansions probably was a desired goal of many architects, there was a lot of design lower on the social scale. Attractive housing was being built for the middle and working classes, and there was plenty of work to go around. In Sunset Park, Henry Pohlman ended up with a lot of it.
He designed many of the two family row houses in Sunset Park, some in groups and others individually, on single lots. They are scattered throughout the neighborhood, from 42nd Street on up. But his greatest contribution to Sunset Park was in his four-story, eight-family, walk-up flats buildings. They, too, are scattered throughout the neighborhood, with an especially attractive grouping here, on 4th Avenue, between 48th and 49th streets.
Pohlman was no stranger to these kinds of buildings. He also built them in other neighborhoods, most notably in Park Slope. He found a formula that worked for him and repeated it, with small variations, wherever the houses are found. A year before he built this row of five flats buildings, he built a smaller row on 8th Avenue in the Slope. One of them, called the “Lorraine” looks just like the 4th Avenue apartments, with only small differences in the color of the brick used, and the grandness of the entryway.
He liked to design two wings, with rounded bays, coming off a center, set-back entryway. The center hall and stairway rose in the middle section, with the apartments on the left and right. Here on 4th Avenue, the lots are big, 36.75 feet wide, making each apartment wider than many of a similar type. The apartments were floor through flats, extending the length of the building: 76 feet. The flats opened up onto a shaft way about a third of the way back, allowing for windows in every room. This was due to a recent code change in tenement law, passed only a year or so before.
Pohlman’s flats buildings are all very handsome. The Renaissance Revival styling was perfect for these four-story walkups, and most of the buildings of this type are built in the Renaissance Revival style, with light colored brick, usually a light grey or tan, with limestone or cast stone trim. The buildings have a low stoop, with an elegant entryway, flanked by pillars supporting a pediment with decorative ornament.
Unlike most flats buildings on major thoroughfares like 4th Avenue, the buildings do not have storefronts. There are apartments on all four floors. Five floors, on the corner building. Even more remarkably, especially for New York City, none of the first floor apartments have bars on them either, at least not in the front. Pohlman also designed the corner building, 4801, or more accurately, 404-406 48th Street. It’s really on its own, with different lines of fenestration, and an extra story, but he used the same brick and general styling, and it works in the streetscape.
The thoroughfare that is 4th Avenue no longer has all that much curb appeal on many of its blocks. Too much has been destroyed or changed for the worse. This is still a fine looking block, and I hope it remains just as it is, with perhaps only a power wash to bring out all of the great highlights. I love the ebb and flow created by the bays and the center entryway sections. The great building on the corner of 49th Street is actually several years earlier, by a different architect. That story at another time.GMAP
(Photograph: S. Spellen)