Building of the Day: 461-467 15th Street

461-467 15th St. CDB, LPC

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Two-family row houses
Address: 461-467 15th Street
Cross Streets: 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1909
Architectural Style: French Renaissance Revival
Architect: Benjamin F. Hudson
Other work by architect: Two houses in Fiske Terrace
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD Extension (2012)

The story: We didn’t have much when I was growing up, but I never knew that, and neither did too many other people. I grew up in an upstate small town with a New England-like frugality, where people just didn’t throw their money around in ostentatious shows of wealth. We mowed our lawn, tended the landscaping that had been in place for a century, and had a beautiful old house that looked quite nice from the road. No one could tell the place leaked like a sieve, and we didn’t have the money to do more than patch. Many years later, subsequent owners of the property cut the trees down, plowed up the peony bushes and stored junk cars on the property, making it look like something out of “Deliverance.” These people actually had money, so I heard. They replaced the roof, at least.

Point being, you can’t look at the outside of a building and know anything definite about what’s going on inside. Real estate developers and home owners alike took that to heart when brownstone Brooklyn began running out of room for single-family row houses at the end of the 19th century. Flats buildings and larger apartment buildings were starting to be quite popular, but they were still a hard sell to people who had qualms about living in multiple-unit dwellings, no matter how nice they were purported to be.

Newer developments, like much of Sunset Park, were being built with rows of two-family houses. These row houses looked just like the one-family houses throughout the brownstone belt, but were built with economy in mind. One could live in a nice space made for a family, and rent out the upstairs apartment without sacrificing bedrooms, or having to install a new full bathroom, or kitchen. The houses were built for two families, with two apartments.

In advertising these homes, developers went for the snob appeal. In 1901, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote about them, saying they were ”particularly attractive to people who desire comparatively small apartments, but who object to living in flats, and they appeal to this class on account of their being more quiet and, possibly, more exclusive.” Two-family houses appear often in all of the later row-house neighborhoods: in Sunset Park, Crown Heights North and South, Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights, Park Slope, Bay Ridge, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens and other Flatbush neighborhoods.

The styles of houses vary by neighborhood, date, architect and developer, but they were all quite nice. They were three-story houses, mostly in the Renaissance Revival style of architecture, with simplified versions of the more expensive and ornate single family houses going up at the same time, often designed by the same architects. Axel Hedman, especially, was master of both kinds of houses.

This group of four two-family houses was designed by Benjamin Hudson in 1909. They are actually the last row houses to be built in this part of Park Slope, part of the Park Slope Historic District Expansion. They are in the French Renaissance Revival style, and the buildings have elegant rounded bays, stained glass transom windows, and fine stone entryways with carved pediments. This is the only group of houses in the district to be designed by Hudson, who left very little information about himself or his career behind.

Hudson angles the bays outward on the two end houses, while the two center ones face straight out. It’s an attractive feature that encloses and unites the group. Also uniting the group are the ornate matching pressed metal cornices and deep overhanging bracketed rooflines. Hudson may have gotten the idea from Axel Hedman’s rows of expensive upper-middle-class four-story single-family houses on Sterling and Park places in Prospect Heights. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. GMAP

(Photograph: Christopher D. Brazee for Landmarks Preservation Commission)

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

Photograph: Kate Leonova for Property Shark

Photograph: Kate Leonova for Property Shark

8 Comment

  • so what was typical floorplan and size of each apt?

  • Some of these houses in this photo are now three families, with an apartment on each floor. But they were designed as two, with the owner’s duplex and a floor through rental above. General layout was parlor, dining room, bathroom, one or two bedrooms, and a kitchen, in the upper apartment The lower duplex, depending on the size of the house and whether or not it had an extension, would generally have a formal parlor, bedrooms and full bath on the parlor level, and dining room, kitchen with pantry and pass-through, and perhaps another bedroom on the ground floor if there was extension. Also another toilet closet. If the house was big, there was often a double parlor. Of course, depending on how many people had to live there, the configuration would change. I’ve seen houses where the lower dining room became the living room, the pantry pass through was removed to make room for a dining nook and another full bathroom, and the parlor floor was made into three or four bedrooms, plus the bathroom. The parents, of course, got the big parlor.

    • When the houses were built, was the interior, windowless room intended to be a bedroom?
      In the top floor apartment, if the kitchen was a galley in the back, was the room next to it usually used as a bedroom or as a dining/living room?

      • My first apartment was on the ground floor of a somewhat similar house on the park block of 13th Street. The bedroom was an interior windowless room, probably not legal. It wasn’t at all bad though. It was separated from the front (living room) and the back (kitchen) by french doors. When they were open there was plenty of ventilation.

      • Chemosphere, the layout you describe is very common in turn of the century yellow brick bow front two family houses in Bushwick, Ridgewood, and east Crown Heights. There would be a double parlor with a screen, one bedroom with a built-in closet and a skylight (and sometimes a stained glass window looking onto the next room), a large dining room in the rear and a kitchen running along the side. Of course the dining room could be used as a bedroom and probably often was. These houses consisted of identical apartments on each floor, not an owner’s duplex plus a rental. (In Park Slope I have also seen the same layout with two bedrooms in the center but these are in multifamily buildings, not two-families.) In most cases, in Bushwick at least, they have been remodeled so the “living” area is in the center, and the bedrooms are opposite sides of the house. But not every two-family was configured this way. I live in an original two-family in Bed Stuy that, like Montrose describes, is set up as an owner’s duplex with an apartment above. In the owner’s duplex there are two proper bedrooms and a bathroom at the back of the parlor floor. There is also a double parlor in the front. Interestingly (I think) the scale of the doors is massive in the front hall and parlor rooms, but more petite in the rear hall and bedrooms where you want to feel more cozy.

  • I like the mix of materials in these buildings: brick, limestone, and brownstone with stoop & cornice. They are up and down Kensington and Windsor Terrace and most are still in great condition (ironic that the brick holds up much better than the limestone/browstone even though I’m guessing those are much more expensive materials). Some are orange brick, some cream, some red, but all nice.