Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Flats buildings
Address: 99-109 Berkeley Place
Cross Streets: Sixth and Seventh Avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1888-89
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: C.P.H. Gilbert
Other Work by Architect: In Brooklyn, most of Montgomery Place, as well as houses on Carroll between 8th and Prospect Park West, Adams house on Carroll and 8th, and others in Park Slope.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD (1973)
The story: According to the Brooklyn Eagle in 1889, “it was freely predicted that flats would soon forfeit popular favor, but the continual additions to their number seem to contradict the theory.” In 1888, architect C.P.H. Gilbert was hired to design six adjoining flats buildings in Park Slope for developer S. F. Hill. Gilbert was only twenty-seven at the time, but was already in demand. The same year he designed this building, he wowed the gentry with his design of the Adams House, on Carroll and Eighth Avenue. His career would take off in Brooklyn, with his commissions for the fine houses on Montgomery Place, Carroll Street and elsewhere to soon follow. It’s a good thing he got these flats buildings out of the way first, because they are gems, as well, and should be as appreciated as his fine houses.
One look at these flats buildings, and you know someone very good, who knew the style backwards and forwards, was responsible for these buildings. Brooklyn was graced with some amazing Romanesque Revival architects, and Gilbert was certainly one of the best. He began by pairing up the six buildings, creating large arched entryways that spanned two buildings. The six buildings now look like three very large and expensive manors.
It’s a grand illusion for a public that was still unsure about living in a flat. The floors above the entryways were bricked flat, further enhancing the illusion, as the rounded bays undulate from the center, with angled bays with decorative brick trim on the first and last buildings, containing the whole group. Gilbert uses ashlar cut stone to great advantage, along with the rich brick and terra-cotta trim; the quintessential Romanesque Revival massing and mixture of textures and materials. Stained glass transoms complete the picture. He’s got all kinds of goodies in these buildings, subtle details that are worth a stand and stare to really appreciate a master at work.
These were not cheap tenements by any means. They were large, floor-through apartments, one on a floor. Each had seven to nine rooms, including a live-in servant’s room and half bath, kitchen, bathroom, two parlors, dining room and two or three bedrooms. When the buildings opened, the Eagle described some of the apartments at great length. They were all wallpapered extensively, in the late Victorian style with a wide upper frieze. The colors of the papers were light with cream colored painted ceilings. There were portieres between the two parlors. The woodwork was “antique oak,” and the mantel in one of the front parlors had a tiled hearth with a grate and a beveled mirror above the mantelpiece. The dining room had a dado with oak borders, with a corner mantel in ash. The main rooms all had decorative corbels and cornices. The kitchen had a high wainscoting in pine, probably beadboard, and had cabinets and an ice box in ash. They even described the servants’ rooms, which were usually just painted cream and light brown. No decorative wallpapers in there.
Rents for these apartments were a bit higher than the going rate in the Slope, or in other similar neighborhoods, like Bedford and Clinton Hill. In 1899, a nine-room flat in 99 Berkeley was renting for $42/month, while seven-room apartments in this and the other buildings averaged around $32.50 a month. Today, the buildings are all co-ops. These are among my favorite apartment buildings in the Slope. I hope many of the original details have survived the century. GMAP