144 Covert St. CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former convent, now part of Pilgrim Baptist Church complex
Address: 144 Covert Street
Cross Streets: Evergreen and Central Avenues
Neighborhood: Bushwick
Year Built: probably 1890s, early 20th century
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival with Arts and Crafts details
Architect: probably Schickel & Ditmars
Other Buildings by Architect: German Catholic churches, convents and schools throughout Brooklyn and NYC. Also much of Lenox Hill Hospital’s original buildings.
Landmarked: No

The story: Germans began immigrating to the United States after 1848, when civil war among the German city-states caused thousands to flee their homeland. They settled in many different parts of the United States, and a great many came to Manhattan and to Brooklyn. A very large and increasingly successful community settled in the Eastern District, which included Bushwick, parts of Williamsburg and eastern Bedford.

Many of the new Brooklynites were Lutheran, and established many Lutheran churches, but equally large amounts were Catholic. They petitioned the Irish Catholic Church hierarchy to establish parishes in their communities, and the first Bishop of Brooklyn, John McLaughlin, was more than happy to do so. With large Irish, German and Polish communities springing up in Brooklyn in the mid-19th century and later, Catholics were the fastest growing denomination in the city. (more…)

578-584 Wash Ave,CB, PS 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 578-584 Washington Avenue
Cross Streets: Fulton Street and Atlantic Avenue
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1868
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: William Rushmore (builder)
Landmarked: No, but in Clinton Hill South historic district on the National Register

The story: These four lovely houses are unique in Brooklyn. They are the only known, or remaining elliptical arched window and doorway Italianate row houses in the borough. The only other elliptical grouping like this in the entire city is at 208-216 East 78th Street in Manhattan. Those houses are brick, not brownstone.

The houses were built in 1868, during the post-Civil War building boom that grew the neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. Their rapid growth was part of the expansion of the city outwards, as public transportation improved, allowing more people to live farther from downtown and the Manhattan ferries. The builder was a man named William Rushmore. (more…)

153 Hancock Street, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 155 Hancock Street
Cross Streets: Nostrand and Marcy Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1882, with alteration in 1890
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec, with Queen Anne additions
Architect: Parfitt Brothers, with alterations by Withers & Dickson
Other Buildings by Architect: Parfitts- row houses in this group, plus apartment buildings, flats, churches, freestanding mansions, commercial buildings, factories, and row houses throughout Brooklyn. Withers & Dickson- Streckler Memorial Laboratory, Roosevelt Island, Jefferson Market Courthouse (Withers) Albany Post Office and Albany Prison (Dickson)
Landmarked: No, but calendared as the Bedford Historic District.

The story: The problem with buying speculative housing, both in the past, and today, is that you often can’t get exactly what you want. The house may be otherwise great, with features you really like, but after being in it for a while, you realize that you don’t have enough bedrooms, or bathrooms, or perhaps, you really need a ballroom so you can properly entertain your guests.

In the late 19th century, 155 Hancock Street belonged to George W. and Ida F. Greene. George was the owner of G.W. Greene’s, a successful purveyor of ladies’ undergarments, ladies’ and children’s clothing. He had a fine store at 229 Fulton Street, in downtown Brooklyn, near Clark Street. They also manufactured their own goods in their Brooklyn factory. There are many advertisements in the Eagle for his store, showing that he sold all the latest fashionable unmentionables, including one item called “Her Majesty’s Corset – will never change its form.” (more…)

239 Nevins St. Scranton and Lehigh, SSPellen 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Scranton & Lehigh Coal Company Garage
Address: 239 Nevins Street
Cross Streets: Corner Douglass Street
Neighborhood: Gowanus
Year Built: Somewhere between 1924 and 1930, research has conflicting dates
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, but part of proposed Gowanus Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places

The story: The Scranton & Lehigh Coal Company was one of Pennsylvania’s large coal companies, supplying the Northeast with anthracite and other coal products. The engines that powered Brooklyn ran on coal; everything from heating homes and apartments, to heating the offices, schools, and churches of the borough, to the huge boilers that powered the many factories in the city. Coal was the fuel that kept it all going until well after World War II. Even today, a coal furnace still turns up here and there; they were long lasting, powerful, but simple heat producers. (more…)

1-19 Jardine Place, CB, PS 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Two-family row houses
Address: 1-19 Jardine Place
Cross Streets: Herkimer Street and Atlantic Avenue
Neighborhood: Ocean Hill
Year Built: 1890s
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival, some with Romanesque Revival details
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: The more you get to know Brooklyn, the more you realize it would probably take a lifetime to really get to know this enormous borough. Of course, we all know it was an independent city up until 1898. Only a few years earlier, in 1894, Flatlands became part of Brooklyn, completing the land mass of the borough we know today. Brooklyn was and is geographically huge, and its neighborhoods are as varied as the different original towns, time periods, and kinds of architecture allow. All of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods have interesting stories.

Ocean Hill, the neighborhood between East New York, Brownsville, Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights has some great residential architecture, as well as a vibrant history. Ocean Hill started to develop in the 1890s, and its boundaries cross Atlantic Avenue, creating a long neighborhood that abuts both Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant. Because of school zones, poverty and demographics, Ocean Hill and neighboring Brownsville have been linked together since the 1960s and ’70s. But architecturally, the neighborhood is more aligned with its neighbors to the west, and less to Brownsville. (more…)

2 Miller Ave, SSPellen

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Private house
Address: 2 Miller Avenue, aka 67 Sunnyside Avenue
Cross Streets: Highland Blvd and Sunnyside Avenue
Neighborhood: Cypress Hills
Year Built: sometime between 1904 and 1908
Architectural Style: Colonial Revival
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Many years ago, when I still lived in Bed Stuy, I was in the company of a friend who was always house hunting for investment properties. He generally bought foreclosures, and pre-foreclosures, and flipped them. He was interested in several houses in Cypress Hills. At the time, I had never been to Cypress Hills, and since I’m never one to turn down looking at houses, no matter where they are, I joined him. We drove all around the neighborhood, and I thought Cypress Hills was really interesting, a combination of Victorian-era houses and blocks of houses dating from the teens and 20s. One of the houses he was interested in was this one.

At the time, it was empty and semi-boarded up. The grass was tall, but the gate was unlocked, so we wandered around the property and tried to look in the windows. It was an interesting property for several reasons. First of all, the house sat on top of a hill, with the property sloping down from Highland Blvd down to Sunnyside Avenue below, a pretty steep grade. The lawns, which were pretty large, extended on both Sunnyside and Highland, and the house was smack in the middle of the lot.

The main entrance to the house was on the Miller Street side, accessible from the street by a steep set of stone stairs. You could get to the house from Highland, after walking across the large lawn, but you still had to walk around to Miller in order to get in. The entrance was a fine looking Colonial Revival portico. I remember looking in the sidelight windows and seeing beautifully patterned Lincrusta wallpaper in excellent condition in the hallway. Ok, hooked, he should buy it. (more…)

446-510,445-507 Willoughby Ave, NS, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 446-510, and 445-507 Willoughby Avenue
Cross Streets: Nostrand and Marcy Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Between 1879 and 1886
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No, but should be

The story: Between around 1875 and 1885, developers descended on the once quiet village of Bedford, and began a building frenzy of amazing proportions. They built thousands of speculative brownstone row houses on most of the residential blocks between Herkimer Street and Park Avenue, roughly between Bedford and Throop Avenues. Almost all of the houses they built during that ten year time period were in the many variations on the Neo-Grec style of architecture.

Of course, there were thousands of houses built before and after that, in many other different styles, but if you take a walk around Bedford, it’s easy to see how the Neo-Grec houses dominate the greater landscape. Bedford Stuyvesant has the largest collection of these Neo-Grec houses in the entire city. They were the ideal speculative house style. They could be easily adapted into the purchased lots, and made wider or narrower, taller or shorter as needed, without sacrificing the desired pleasing aesthetics of the house. (more…)

21 Devoe Street, SSpellen 3

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Detached wood framed row house
Address: 21 Devoe Street
Cross Streets: Lorimer Street and Union Avenue
Neighborhood: East Williamsburg
Year Built: Before 1880
Architectural Style: Probably Italianate under the siding
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: With all of the hype around the Williamsburg being the epicenter of hip and happening Brooklyn, it’s often easy to forget that the neighborhood is much more than the modern towers and converted factories along the shoreline, or the homes and shuls of a huge Ultra-Orthodox Jewish population. There’s also a large portion, technically in East Williamsburg, on the Greenpoint border, with blocks of streets made up mostly of wood framed houses in various states of authenticity and condition. Devoe Street, between Union and Lorimer is one of them. Like many neighborhood streets, its building stock is a combination of older wood framed houses and newer infill construction.

I never spent a lot of time in Williamsburg, so wandering around there is always interesting. I stumbled across this street this last summer, in my quest for a parking space. And there was this little house, made up to be a pink castle. It’s hard to tell what it looked like under the siding, but I’m going to go with Italianate. (more…)

236 Carroll Street, SSpellen 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 236 Carroll Street
Cross Streets: Corner Court Street
Neighborhood: Carroll Gardens
Year Built: Before 1871
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: The name Carroll Gardens is not an old one. It was adapted in the 1960s to give the neighborhood a separate identity from its two large surrounding industrial areas, Red Hook and Gowanus. Up until that time, and for some old-timers still, it was called South Brooklyn or Red Hook. Developers began building houses here after the street grid was laid down in 1835, so this is one of Brooklyn’s oldest developed neighborhoods.

The expansion of the Red Hook docks and the businesses that accompanied that helped spur interest in the neighborhood as a residential area. As the 19th century progressed, the growth of the Gowanus area also made this central residential neighborhood attractive to the owners of the nearby businesses. In the 1840s, Carroll Park was purchased as a private garden for the wealthy homeowners surrounding it.

The park didn’t get real development in that department until the 1870s, when many of the houses around it were built. However, knowing that the park would one day be there encouraged developers to build large townhouses on wide lots around the park, similar to those in Brooklyn Heights. This house was built at that time, sometime in the late 1860s, and finished before 1871, when an ad for its sale appears in the Brooklyn Daily Union. (more…)

199 17th Street, SSPellen 3

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Semi-detached row house
Address: 199 17th Street
Cross Streets: 4th and 5th Avenues
Neighborhood: South Slope
Year Built: Before 1880
Architectural Style: Simplified Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: When Brooklyn developed, it wasn’t always in solid waves, with housing spreading out like Lego blocks across the map. Some areas were farms that were slowly subdivided into lots. Some neighborhoods grew as towns, like Bedford; a crossroads that slowly grew to be much more down the road. Other towns grew totally off the standard rectangular street grid, like Weeksville.The streets that make up the South Slope had an interesting path to development. Houses here were built in fits and starts. Some of the land was farmland, although not particularly good farmland, it was hilly and rocky, the legacy of glacial activity.

The street grid was established well before the Civil War, but insurance maps don’t show a whole lot going on here until after the war. Some parts of the neighborhood had a reputation as a dumping ground, where one could conveniently get rid of all kinds of things, including an occasional body. For many years these blocks were just scruffy fields. Then as Green-Wood Cemetery grew in size and popularity as a tourist destination, and Park Slope began to flourish, this area began to be developed, as well. (more…)

1117 Eastern Parkway, ENYSB, MMunsey 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally East New York Savings Bank, now Popular Community Bank
Address: 1117 Eastern Parkway
Cross Streets: Corner Utica Avenue
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1928-29
Architectural Style: Art Deco
Architect: Holmes & Winslow
Other Buildings by Architect: Banks, including the Bank of Coney Island, Homestead Bank in ENY, Independence Savings Bank on Court Street, Brooklyn (Trader Joe’s). Also banks and schools in New Jersey.
Landmarked: Proposed, but not designated in 2011.

The story: Some of the best bank buildings in New York City were built in the first third of the 20th century. The “aughts” and the teens saw Beaux Arts style temples of money go up everywhere. Many of those followed the great design lead of that 19th century visionary, George Post, whose Williamsburgh Savings Bank building is still the one to beat in that category. Brooklyn has an impressive collection of Beaux Arts and Neo-Classical banks, all designed by some great architects. But I really love the ones that came next – the Art Deco banks.

The other Williamsburgh Savings Bank, at 1 Hanson Place, designed by Halsey, McCormack & Helmer in 1927 takes the lead, followed by their other great Brooklyn banks, including my favorite, the same team’s Kings County Savings Bank, on Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue. Those Deco banks share many common design themes, including their use of flat-planed space and angular, stylized ornament on the facades. The ornament on those buildings was sculpted by one of the great Art Deco architectural sculptors in America, Paul Chambellan. (more…)

170 Madison St. NS, PS 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Detached wood framed house
Address: 170 Madison Street
Cross Streets: Bedford and Nostrand Avenue
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Before 1880
Architectural Style: Italianate
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: Most buildings, like most people, live quiet unnoticed lives, special to only the few who are well acquainted. This house is one of them. As development began in Bedford, the first houses were wood framed row houses and detached and semi-detached dwellings. From the 1880 map of the block, you can see that at that time, Madison Street was typical of that trend. Most of the houses on this block, between Bedford and Nostrand, are wood-framed.

As time passed, many blocks saw their wooden houses replaced by masonry. On this block, many of the houses were covered over with siding or stucco. More were torn down, lost in the urban mess that was much of Brooklyn in the mid-20th century. Over the last 40 years, infill housing of dubious quality and style replaced what must have been tidy rows of houses, similar to the wood framed rows of Wallabout, the South Slope and elsewhere. The result is a block of eclectic and sometimes awful architecture, upon which this house now stands out as a gem. (more…)