Building of the Day: 47 Plaza Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Apartment Building
Address: 47 Plaza Street West
Cross Streets: Union St. and Berkeley Place
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1928
Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance with hints of Deco
Architect: Rosario Candela
Other buildings by architect: Manhattan-740 Park, 834 5th Ave, Brooklyn- Berkeley Plaza Building, 39 Plaza Street West.
Landmarked: No, believe it or not.

The story: Rosario Candela was born in Sicily, and came to the United States permanently in 1909. The son of a plasterer, he graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture in 1915. He was exceedingly talented, so much so that he was said to have put up a velvet rope around his drafting table, so other students couldn’t copy his work. After graduation, and work in a couple of established architects’ offices, he put out his own shingle, and began to design apartment buildings.

This is a story of a man being in the right place at the right time, with the talent to match the need. The ‘teens and early 1920’s saw unprecedented growth in luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan, and Candela soon found himself designing large buildings on Park and Fifth Avenue, Sutton Place, West End Avenue, Broadway and Riverside Drive. Many of his buildings are rather understated, but Candela mastered the art of the terraced setback as well as being a master of his interiors. He loved puzzles and cyphers, and his apartments could be a wonderful jigsaw of shapes, interlocked and intersecting in novel ways. Many were duplexes, with dramatic entry hallways, with swooping staircases, the apartments containing the most modern of conveniences and features. The rich loved him, and living in a Candela building, then and now, gives one bragging rights.

The Great Depression put an end to the rush of luxury buildings, causing Candela to have to lay off a lot of his staff of 50, but he stayed in business, designing smaller, and what some may consider more mundane commercial and residential buildings. In the late 1930′s, he took up cryptography, and broke the code of a famous French cryptologist working in the 19th century. He taught the only class of cryptology in the US at Hunter College, in 1941, and wrote two books on the subject. With at least 60 buildings to his credit, he worked up until his death in 1953.

This building is a gem. Known as Brooklyn’s Flatiron Building, the co-op apartment building hugs the circle approaching Grand Army Plaza, with the point of the building ending in a single window. Candela designed this at the peak of his popularity and it shows what great architecture should show: a building making an aesthetic statement of its own, while being perfectly placed in its environment. The brick and terra-cotta trim is extremely attractive, and also echoes the buildings surrounding it, and I think, gives a nod to the nearby Montauk Club. The apartment building’s shape itself, leads the eye towards the park, and gently curves around the oval. The AIA Guide praises it as homage to the great Circus (a ring of buildings enclosing a central space) at Bath, designed by John Wood in Bath, England, in 1754. This is fine apartment building at its best. GMAP

19 Comment

  • Rosario Candela was the best. To paraphrase Cole Porter, he was the tops, the smile on the Mona Lisa, the lean on the Tower of Pisa.
    My personal favorites are the exquisite apartment buildings on Claremont Avenue north of 116th Street in Manhattan, unfortunately one has to be a professor at Columbia University to live in them. They are the pinnacle of the Beaux-Arts apartment building IMO, although of course his palatial apartment buildings on CPW are more famous. He was the tops.

  • I walk past that building every day and never knew it was a Candela. Very interesting!

    I agree that he was the best NYC apartment house architect (with JER Carpenter and Emery Roth close behind). Although, Minard, as far as I know, he only did one building on CPW — No. 75. It’s a pretty plain building, and it has been somewhat butchered over the years as a result of multiple, small windows having been combined into large picture windows. The fenestration is really a hot mess. You may have been thinking of Emery Roth, who was responsible for some of CPW’s best — the San Remo, the Beresford and (to some extent) the Eldorado.

  • I’m going to have to kick myself because I never really looked at that beautiful detail on thid building. What a treasure. (HI, loweruwsider!)

  • Hi bxgrl! If Minard gives me a hard time for schooling him on CPW, please rush to my defense and tell him that I’m not as curmudgeony as my posts would suggest (or at least I hope that’s what you’ve been told)!

  • A fine building with some of the quirkiest apartment plans in the city. Really, Candela had to be good to pull off this odd-shaped site and create units as nice as these. Still no match for his Park Avenue numbers where the demands of his upper-class clients shaped true palazzos in the air. But at 10-percent of the purchase prices at 740 Park, who’s complaining?

    And thanks, Montrose for pointing out the stylistic references to the Montauk Club. I’ve walked by both buildings much of my life and never noticed! (My own Emery Roth building in Manhattan has vague Venetian/Moorish references and I always wondered why. Turns out there was a 19th-century building right across the street that had them and inspired Roth. Torn down decades ago, it leaves my building as its memory. How’s that for ghostly “contextualism”?)

    Nostalgic on Park Avenue
    Chair, American Society for the Preservation of Pre-War Apartments

  • Montrose. Do you know what was on the property before the apartment building was built? I’ve seen photographs with grand 19th century mansions in that area. Many of them were replaced by apartment buildings.

  • henrystarch

    A beautiful and unique building. How many Rosario Candela buildings are there in Brooklyn? I have worked on apartment alterations at 740 Park and 834 Fifth. Both great works of RC. 740 has a superior lobby, entrance experience, detailing, materials. The exterior detailing and massing is great too. RC legacy is not only his many buildings but his influence on colleagues who imitated and created much of what one thinks of the NYC apartment building and the character of many (albeit manhattan) neighborhoods.

  • Particularly nice window – the guards add a klassy touch. NYLC or HDC should give an award for best off-the-shelf window guard solution, although that’s probably too nitty-gritty for them. Anyone want to guess on the “family crest”? The builder was Jacob Mark. Built on site of E. P. Morse mansion, Morse – first person to lease – took a penthouse resembling Doges’ Palace.

    PS: Pace Elliot and Norval, but isn’t Bath a bit of a stretch?

  • This is truly a beauty. I admire it every time I pass it by.
    If only the builders of today had an ounce of what this man had….

    But I guess they think “fedders” doesn’t look to bad…..vomit!

  • dogelder is correct as usual. Ajeillo is the architect of the fab piles on Claremont, I momentarily got my Sicilian master architects mixed up.
    As a penalty I will spend the weekend doing community service, specifically scrubbing archways in the park.

    • Parks got there first. Everything was scrubbed clean. No evidence whatsoever. It was like a Hitchcock movies, except you don’t look like Tippi Hedren.

  • Thank heavens. I’m off the hook -and I have always been a little spooked by The Birds.

  • Brooklyn’s version of the Flatiron Building!!!

    • Someone asked if there is another Candela building in Brooklyn, and the answer is yes. The only other pre-war Candela building is 39 Plaza Street West, on the same block of Plaza Street. It was built two years before 47 Plaza and for the same developer, Jacob Mark. Many of the finishes are the same in both buildings, and both buildings have retained their beautiful mahogany, manually operated elevators.

      Candela did design more buildings in Brooklyn, but as part of his vastly changed post-war practice. He was one of six architects who designed the now defunct Fort Greene Houses project, and he also co-designed the Concord Village complex near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.

      Someone else asked what structure was on the site of 47 Plaza before the current apt building, and the answer is it was a very large private home, which was the first dwelling built on the site after the City of Brooklyn built Grand Army Plaza (then known as Prospect Park Plaza).

      The original 47 Plaza Street was built for a successful silver manufacturer, George W. Shiebler, in 1894.

      The house’s final occupant was a Canadian-born shipbuilder, Edward Morse, and his family. When the apt building was built, they rented three of the forty-three apartments. Some of Morse’s descendants still live in one of the private houses along Prospect Park West.