Building of the Day: 385 Henry Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: mixed-use commercial/residential building

Address: 385 Henry Street
Cross Streets: Corner Warren Street
Neighborhood: Cobble Hill
Year Built: 1871
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Cobble Hill HD (1969)

The story: This building is such a neighborhood anomaly. For far too many people today, a building’s worth is measured in terms of potential FAR, so the mere sight of this fabulously wide and low, two-story building must fill them with aggravation every time they pass it. “If only it wasn’t landmarked! Think of the condo we could build here!” Well, too bad. This little 19th century gem is going to stay just as it is.

The LPC records are not very much help here, but we do know that this corner building was built in 1871. Further research in city directories might tell us if it was always a building of shops, or if it had a less glamorous beginning as a series of stables, or some other service for the very wealthy people who lived nearby. I’m guessing stables. The ground floor saw a lot of changes before the building was included in Cobble Hill’s historic district in 1969, also a time when research materials were not as accessible as they are now.

No matter its origins, what a fine building this is. The builder may have only been providing a service building of some sort, but he designed it to complement the mansions and fine row houses in the neighborhood. The most distinctive features are the segmental-arched dentil brick lintels on the second floor windows, and the cornice, which has amazingly survived intact all around the wide façade of the building, on both street fronts. Necessary for a stable – no, but thank you for doing it, none the less.

The first floor is now home to several shops, and the second floor has at least one or more apartments. At 65×40, with all of those windows, the second floor would make a fabulous apartment or two. I’d love it. The building is not fancy; it’s not innovative or special in an architectural way. It’s just a good older former utilitarian building that is part of a larger historic area, and as such, contributes to the overall ambiance of the neighborhood. Cobble Hill is lucky to have it. GMAP

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark, 2012

12 Comment

  • cara greenberg

    Ah yes, it’s a building with mucho potential and value (not to mention historic/architectural interest!) Several storefronts — not long ago, a little-old-lady hair salon and laundromat among them, now chichi boutique and Boca Luppo, the ‘small plates’ place with the not-so-small prices. Anyway, nice to see it recognized, since the backyard of my house on Verandah Place nearly meets the rear facade of this building and I looked over its roof from my bedroom for many years. A few years ago, that building was on the market for $2.1 or 2.2million — don’t know what it sold for — and I thought that seemed quite reasonable, with all those storefronts. I believe the upper floor is (or was at the time) configured as one living loft/apartment. Might well have been a stable — if so, it was a big one, maybe for the horses who drove the horsecars that ran up & down Atlantic Avenue to the ferry landing.

  • Love Boca Luppo – had it been around when I lived on Kane St in 1990 I might never have moved.

  • slopemope

    these little gems of new york fill your heart and imagination like a cup of hot cocoa on the first snow of the year.

  • isn’t it wonderful how well-designed and proportioned even simple utilitarian buildings used to be?

  • Love this building every time I walk by it.

  • Love this building every time I walk by it.

  • no-permits

    when this was built, i bet people looked at that same way see a feeder building today. but i do like it.

  • Thank goodness someone had the foresight to build out the commercial spaces before the building was landmarked; otherwise it would have to stay stables forever. Such a great looking spot couldn’t exist, because landmarks would never approve the change without proof it had previously been storefronts.

    • Sorry, Lalaland, but that’s just not correct. Landmarks approves change of use in buildings all the time. They don’t expect a stable to be a stable in the 21st century.

      They also approve changes in facades, provided they are well done, and are stylistically appropriate. It’s taken on a case to case basis. Your ideas about what landmarking is and isn’t are usually quite off the mark.

      • And you think the commercial space – as built – would have been approved? Maybe I’ve seen too many of the sensationalized examples over the last decade, but I sincerely doubt it. I watched an owner battle landmarks for years; the building once had a storefront – he had pictures, so that was permissible – but they wouldn’t allow him to build a restaurant. I also remember reading about Norah Jones battling to put windows into her building, and a cafe in the West Village that uncovered a sign from the 1930′s where preservationists were putting pressure on Landmarks, to force them to keep the sign. My boss had to replace a several-thousand dollar door because they didn’t like the design, even though it was wood and beautiful. To my eyes, St. Vincents hospital closed because they weren’t allowed to build the facilities they needed.

        My criticism is that wealthy homeowners are creating downzoned landmarked neighborhoods in areas where there is the greatest demand, supporting inflated property values. Within those zones are tons of buildings that have little historic value, but they are frozen without regard to quality. Landmarks does approve changes, but at great cost and time. Meantime, too often a property is bought on the free market with no encumbrance and it’s threatened with a post-purchase landmarking.

        Landmarking – which I support – seems incredibly chaotic and capricious and often unfair. I think it needs proper resources, but should then be expected to create a thorough list of what exactly constitutes a landmark and should build the list to be voted on immediately. There aren’t that many buildings that it should be a 30+ year project; we should be able to clear through the list in a few years and be done. I work in the outer reaches of Brooklyn and see a ton of great buildings nobody is thinking of; if the process was standardized those buildings might be included too.

        I grew up in the burbs where towns use zoning in a very exclusionary way, and I don’t want to see a variation of that replicated here. I think Williamsburg and downtown Brooklyn are important, because what I fear are days when areas like that can’t happen. Those areas moderated price increases because of the huge increase in inventory; without them our very expensive borough would be even more unaffordable, and that’s not ideal – you want people to have income to spend on other things besides their mortgages.

        So that’s my holistic picture – I support landmarks but I think it needs to be improved dramatically. I support building because it helps NYC grow, which is hugely important for our long-term outlook, and will allow for further improvements to things like infrastructure. I fear price increases because it drains the economy. I’m not trying to offend, and I think your BOTD series and everything else is fantastic. I took the bait (see your 1st paragraph, no?) in the spirit of debate, and I hope you take it in good spirits too.

    • Plus, they make people keep the same area code, and won’t let them buy self-adhesive stamps. C