Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row houses
Address: 87-93 Rutland Road
Cross Streets: Flatbush and Bedford Avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Year Built: 1925
Architectural Style: Neo-Georgian
Architect: Slee & Bryson
Other works by architect: Many other row and freestanding houses in PLG, as well as in Crown Heights North and South, Victorian Flatbush and Park Slope. Also Albemarle and Kensington Terraces in Flatbush
Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Lefferts Gardens HD (1979)
The story: These are among the last houses designed by Slee & Bryson in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and some of the most interesting. The year was 1925, and the firm had been quite busy in PLG, designing all kinds of modern brick housing for the Norris Building Company, one of the major developers of Lefferts Manor, and the general Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood. Slee & Bryson’s forte was brick houses, and they designed them in all kinds of different variations, in many of Brooklyn’s growing early 20th century neighborhoods.
John Bay Slee and Robert Bryson had met in the offices of John J. Petit, the chief architect of Dean Alvord’s Prospect Park South development in Flatbush. Both were about 25 and worked for Petit for a couple of years before going out on their own as Slee & Bryson in 1905. They continued to work in PPS, designing Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival style houses there, and elsewhere in what we now call Victorian Flatbush.
The Colonial Revival style was the most popular architectural style in the United States for almost fifty years, from just before the turn of the 20th century, until World War II. It drew from the Georgian and Federal Styles of Colonial America, along with even earlier Dutch antecedents, and represented a comfortable and very “American” form of architecture that resonated with the public. In Slee & Bryson’s capable hands, that translated into several different forms of brick housing; urban row houses and free-standing suburban style homes.
The firm was also quite adept at the Medieval and Tudor Revival styles, which were also very popular in the early 20th century, especially in the suburbs. For some reason, these English-style homes derived from buildings as much as 700 years old, also resonated with the American home buying public. The duo incorporated many elements of Medieval and Tudor styles into their buildings, creating in the process an entirely new style.
In 1918, Slee & Bryson designed a group of houses for developer Mabel Bull on Kenmore Terrace, in nearby Flatbush. They were based on the English Garden style houses popular in England at the time. That style incorporated the new urbanism; a mixture of low-density, low-scale suburban development within the restrictions of an urban setting. The houses were comfortable, but attached cottages, separated from each other by that new 20th century necessary amenity – the garage.
Seven years after designing the Kenmore Terrace houses, Slee & Bryson designed this group of four attached houses here in Lefferts Manor. They had been designing houses here, mostly for the Frederick B. Norris Building Company, since 1908. These four houses would be among their last. They have many of the same features as the Kenmore Terrace houses, but look entirely different. Instead of very Colonial looking cottages, they went for a much more urban Neo-Georgian townhouse look. But then they tweaked the model.
The two end houses have one story, three sided bays with slate roofs which jut out onto the sidewalk, creating a vaguely Tudor style guardhouse effect, enclosing the group. The façade is broken up with four arched entryways that lead to garages in the back. The two pairs of houses are mirror images of each other, and they all have short stoops, a change from the tall row house stoops all around them, but keeping with the Georgian feel of the houses. The casement windows, carved ornament and stone frames above the driveway arches and door and window frames are very much in the Tudor style. The entire group is very different from the “old fashioned” Renaissance Revival limestones surrounding them, built only a generation ago, in 1899.
Slee & Bryson designed quite a few houses in this neighborhood, but these are among my very favorites. I like the clean lines, the way the fenestration is arranged, and the dual modernity and ancientness of those arched driveways cut within the row of houses. They even carried the Tudor theme to the drainpipes and downspouts. These are excellent houses. GMAP
(Photo: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark)