Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row houses
Address: 565-597 Fourth Street
Cross Streets: Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1905
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Arthur R. Koch
Other works by architect: similar group across the street at 536-584 4th St. With partner, Chas. Wagner, the Ralph Bunche house in Queens
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD (1973)
The story: This block is one of the classiest blocks in Park Slope, and the main reason for that is that one architect designed most of the houses on the block, and did so with all of the exuberance that the Beaux-Arts/Renaissance Revival has to offer, which is considerable. The block is a monument to the talents of architect Arthur R. Koch. Today, we’ll look at the odd numbers, and come back to the other side of the block at another time. This side of the block is all about creativity and contrast within the confines of symmetry.
583 4th Street is the center house of this group of 16 houses. For some reason, 581 was omitted from the numbering, so next door to the left is 579. All of the houses to the left of 583 have their doors on the right side of the houses, all of them to the right have the doors on the left side; a nice variation of left/right already. 583 has that wonderful patinated copper oriel that stretches across the width of the house, which really accentuates its center position. The oriel on 589 may be copper too, underneath the paint. That would be great. The rest of the row is a wonderful collection of houses with alternating two story bays, oriels, arched windows and doors, rectangular windows and doors, and lots of ornament. The corner houses hug the group, curving around to enclose this row of special homes, all built in fine Indiana limestone.
The ornament on these houses is especially fine, with keystones on the ground floor of some houses displaying a wonderful collection of Medieval-looking royal figures rendered as foliate Green Men and women, as well as fauna and flora, or Classical details on all of the houses, somewhere. It’s a great collection of stone carving, worth a trip just to see and marvel at, with Greece and Rome vying for attention amidst Renaissance and Baroque Italy, on a very Victorian house. In addition, subtle carving has been placed around window frames, and the cornices are alternating in style and size. None of this is vital to the structure of the houses, yet they would be so much less without these wonderful touches of whimsy, beauty and craft.
Walter Koch (1874-1952) was a Brooklyn man, educated at Pratt Institute. He had a prolific and impressive career, designing buildings mostly in Brooklyn and Queens. He was the president of the Brooklyn branch of the AIA for many years. His interests extended beyond architecture, and he was one of the founders of, and a board member of the People’s National Bank. He designed several People’s branches in Brooklyn. He was also on the board of the East River Savings and Loan, and the Bohack Realty Corporation.
In 1910, he went into partnership with Charles C. Wagner, a fellow Pratt graduate, and as partners, they began designing banks, apartment buildings and homes. One of their rare suburban style homes was for Ralph Bunche, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, and first (and only) African-American Undersecretary of the United Nations, appointed in 1954. The Bunche house, in Kew Gardens, was built as part of the development of that neighborhood, in 1927. Many people remember Koch for this house, and rightly so, but his early houses, such as this block in Park Slope, are his true architectural legacy. GMAP