Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row houses
Address: 514-560 44th Street
Cross Streets: 5th and 6th Avenues
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1908
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Thomas Bennett
Other Work by Architect: Many more houses in Sunset Park, as well as in Park Slope
Landmarked: No, but part of Sunset Park district on the National Register of Historic Places (1988)
The story: Sunset Park contains hundreds of limestone row houses, mostly built in the very early 20th century, all lined up on the side streets and avenues of the neighborhood. They form an orderly and beautiful streetscape, enhanced by the topical features of this, one of the higher parts of Brooklyn. This block of 44th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue is especially photogenic. Standing on 6th Avenue, and looking north towards the harbor, the houses just flow down the hill, a progression of stairs stepped cornices and rooflines. It’s really one of the sights that make Brooklyn so unique and beautiful.
This particular group was designed by Thomas Bennett, and was built in 1908, as the development of Sunset Park was reaching its peak. Bennett, as well as the other architects who built here, was not trying to re-invent the wheel; the Renaissance Revival house had already been quite popular in other parts of Brooklyn since the mid-1890s, and was especially connected with another Brooklyn architect named Axel Hedman. Hedman had designed both one and two family homes very similar to these, in Crown Heights North and South, Lefferts Manor, Stuyvesant Heights and elsewhere.
Bennett was designing and building for more modest incomes that many of Hedman’s clients, but the effects are similar – rounded bay limestones, with classical ornament outside, with two families inside; the garden floor and parlor for the owner, the top floor through for the tenant. Today, many of these homes now have three apartments, one on each floor. The original homeowners and tenants were the middle class folk, many of Scandinavian origin, who may have worked nearby for Bush Terminal, or in one of the many factories and warehouses within it, and in the area.
Thomas Bennett was one of a handful of architects who designed Sunset Park. His office was in the area, at 3rd Avenue and 52nd Street. He was a prolific, if not always original designer, and also worked with developer Louis Bonert in designing handsome flats apartment buildings on 3rd Street and nearby, in Park Slope. By 1892, before he designed these limestones, he was commuting down to Philadelphia, where he was involved in building a great deal of the Germantown neighborhood. He opened an office there, and eventually, by the time these houses went up, in 1908, he was living in Philadelphia.
Bennett moved to three different office locations in Philadelphia before settling down. He must have commuted to Brooklyn for the Sunset Park projects, but since the houses were pretty standard, and all pretty much identical, it probably wasn’t a difficult thing to do with the help of assistants, the telephone, and the rails. In 1912, Bennett was listed in Philadelphia directories as an engineer, and a year later, he was listed as Vice President of the World Home Supply Company in Philadelphia, one of the area’s largest building supply companies.
Bennett may or may not have paid much attention to his Sunset Park buildings, but the proud owners of them certainly have. The blocks he designed, including this one, remain well kept and gorgeous. Bennett did a great job of grading them down the hill, or up the hill, depending on where you are, creating a beautiful streetscape; one reason why these houses are in demand. GMAP