Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Private house
Address: 523 East 16th Street
Cross Streets: Ditmas and Newkirk Avenues
Neighborhood: Ditmas Park
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: Bungalow
Architect: Arlington D. Isham
Other buildings by architect: Most of the houses on this block, as well as others in Ditmas Park
Landmarked: Yes, part of Ditmas Park HD (1981)
The story: Ditmas Park is the most familiar neighborhood name for people considering what is now called “Victorian Flatbush.” It was developed as a suburban community, modeled on the neighboring upscale community of Prospect Park South, but for people of more middle class means. The land Ditmas Park sits on was once the farmland of the Van Ditmarsen family, a large farm established by Jan Jansen Van Ditmarsen, Jr. in 1695. The land remained in the family, now called “Ditmas,” until 1902, when they sold it to developer Lewis H. Pounds.
Pounds came to Brooklyn by way of Kansas, where he had begun to dabble in real estate development. He saw the potential in Flatbush, and started buying land, beginning first in the Beverley Square area, in 1899. Teaming with partner Delbert Decker, Pounds bought the Ditmas farm, and began developing it. There were some houses here already, but most of the neighborhood was empty, hilly land, with no roads, and certainly no utilities or services. Pounds and Decker began by having the land graded, roads laid, utility lines brought in, and the new blocks divided into plots.
Taking his cues from Prospect Park South, Pounds established firm guidelines for development, intending for the neighborhood to have a similar scale and ambiance, with free standing homes, landscaped lawns, and trees and plantings a-plenty. The architectural styles in Ditmas Park are a varied mixture, but Colonial Revival, the most popular style of the 20th century, is in abundance, but not alone. Gaining in popularity at the beginning of the new century was the new Bungalow style.
The American bungalow got its start with furniture and style master Gustav Stickley and his Craftsman Magazine. It was huge. I’ll go into more detail on this important style at another time and place. The bungalow style here in Ditmas Park was taken up by developer Henry Grattan, who had purchased a couple of blocks from Pounds, including this block of East 16th Street. Grattan had local Brooklyn architect Arlington D. Isham design thirteen bungalows for 16th Street, between Newkirk and Ditmas, and a couple beyond.
Isham was a talented architect, and he took to the bungalow like a master. All of the style’s iconic features are here: the steeply sloping roof that encloses the porch; the fat, squat columns that support it; as well as the generally cottage-y feel of the house, the shingled sides and smallish windows — all comfortable, yet stylish and spacious enough for a family. Many of the houses also have a Japanese feel, with Asian-inspired brackets, windows and other details.
All of the houses in the group are subtly different, and all worthy of notice, but this one, number 523, is one of my favorites. Who would not like that large front porch, sturdy and inviting? Very similar to its neighbor, 519, this house is made more interesting by the cut outs of the porch, allowing for the larger windows on the second floor. The original windows are still there, and add a lot to the design as well.
Bungalows exist in many places, and have many vernacular and regional forms, but share in basic design. These are not as well-known as some, but are great examples of middle class suburban living in the city. GMAP
(Photo: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark, 2011)