Building of the Day: 1-3 Albany Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: row houses and garage
Address: 1-3 Albany Avenue
Cross Streets: Decatur Street
Neighborhood: Stuyvesant Heights
Year Built: early 1890’s, most likely
Architectural Style: Queen Anne/Romanesque
Architect: Unknown, perhaps Frederick B. Langston
Landmarked: No, but calendared as part of the Stuyvesant Heights expansion.

The story: Here is a mystery. Several mysteries, actually. Here is a handsome corner home that looks like one large house, but is in actuality, two 16’ wide houses. Frederick B. Langston, a familiar name in Bedford Stuyvesant’s architectural pantheon, designed the flats buildings across the street, and he may have been responsible for this one. His style and time period certainly are in synch. He was a master of Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne, and the house has several design details that he would have used. Then again, there were also others who had similar styles. I was not able to find any records of the property whatsoever.

Another mystery is the carriage house that sits on Decatur Street in the lot of number 1 Albany Ave. Even though the original doorway has been bricked over, it’s easy to see where the original double doors were hinged. It’s a bit small for a horse and carriage, it may have been a garage built later for a motor car. Another mystery – who built it, and when? Today it looks like it provides storage and perhaps a community room for the residents of the apartments now in the two houses.

Mystery number three: who was the original owner? Was it a father/daughter, or similar arrangement, or just two very narrow spec houses? Whoever they were, they left no social record in the papers, no architectural record in The Builder’s Guide. The high quality of the construction and the ornament suggests an upwardly mobile clientele.

And lastly, who in their right mind would brick over the wonderful little windows leading up the stairs, as well as the great arched window on the ground floor? Look at that expert brickwork forming the voussoir around the arches. This was not hack work, leading one to believe that one of the better architects of the time was at work here. Also the entire house was probably white limestone, not painted to look like brownstone.

Who knows what’s going on inside, but I suspect the entire interiors of both houses have been drastically changed. All of the properties on this small block; these two houses, the flats buildings across the street, and the apartment buildings opposite them, all belong to the same HPD development group, and were purchased en masse, for affordable housing about twenty years ago. The exteriors of these buildings will remain as a tantalizing mystery, asking who and when, and what happened? Perhaps when the designation report from the LPC comes out, the mystery will be solved.

11 Comment

  • fascinating… too bad about the side windows, they must have been incredible from the inside.

  • Dahlberg?

    I don’t know his work well enough to say if this fits, but he appears as the architect for new building app #547 in 1892. The application isn’t for exactly this site, but it overlaps slightly and is for the same owner (Betts) that bought the property in 1890 and shows up in 1894 selling 3 houses on Decatur and Glenada Place (previously and later Albany Ave.). (Based on the 1898 map, there were three buildings, and from the looks of it, plans for another 3 next door.)

    • Unsigned letter received by the Streetscapes column, 1991:

      “Who cares about the buildings on the block and what year they were built. Get with it.”

    • Unsigned letter received by the Streetscapes column, 1991:

      “Who cares about the buildings on the block and what year they were built. Get with it.”

    • Yes, but that app does refer to 12 houses, the whole thing rather aggravating. Although no longer complete, this row was only three houses, 1-3-5, that at no. 5 now demolished. Garage 1912, for Dr. E. Pender Porter (lived at 1 Glenada), designed by Walter Volckening.

      • The 12 houses start 30′ south of Decatur, so they don’t include 1, 3 and part of 5. I don’t think this is the right application, but it is the same owner – Betts appears in ’94 selling 1, 3 and 5. Which was why I was wondering if this is consistent temporally or stylistically with Dahlander.

        Aggravating, indeed – very close, but not quite there.

  • I like the carved beastie creature; wonder if it’s terra cotta or carved? That is strange about the closed up stairway windows. Perhaps it’s because the stairway was completely relocated during renovations?

  • How do you think they make that shaped brick, the really thin ones? First, does the architect really, really make a drawing showing exact dimensions? I doubt it. Then, the brickmaker has to calculate the angles and arcs of the bricks. Then, the brickmaker has to make the brick, allowing for shrinkage. Then somebody has to wrap the brick – how did they do that??? And get it to the site without breaking. Or allow for extras. And then, how, really, do they lay up that arch? I mean, OK, centered on a half-round of wood or similar, but how do they lay the brick up around it, keeping it even.

    This is the kind of thing I have never found in the RERG. WBer? c

    • The answers to all life’s secrets are found in the Guide, Chris.

      I suspect the brick was molded in stock sizes. This type of arch in Roman brick was common enough at the time that there would be demand for specific brick sizes. It might be a custom order, but the sizes were probably something you could find in a catalog (another trip to Avery…).

      The Guide doesn’t enlighten on this matter, but it does include weekly commodity prices for various building materials.

      As to how they did it – skilled masons, a commodity that is sorely lacking these days.

    • The answers to all life’s secrets are found in the Guide, Chris.

      I suspect the brick was molded in stock sizes. This type of arch in Roman brick was common enough at the time that there would be demand for specific brick sizes. It might be a custom order, but the sizes were probably something you could find in a catalog (another trip to Avery…).

      The Guide doesn’t enlighten on this matter, but it does include weekly commodity prices for various building materials.

      As to how they did it – skilled masons, a commodity that is sorely lacking these days.