20-22 Lexington Ave, SSpellen 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former James Parson & Co. factory, now loft apartments and the Callidus Guild
Address: 20-22 Lexington Avenue
Cross Streets: Classon and Grand Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: perhaps 1887, with later alterations.
Architectural Style: 19th century brick factory
Architect: Maybe DeMeuron & Smith
Landmarked: No

The story: Manhattan has, or should I more correctly say, HAD, different areas of midtown that became synonymous for different industries. The 20’s west of 6th Avenue used to be the Flower District, between 35th and 40th Street west of 7th Ave. was the Garment District, and east of there, between the same blocks, was the Millinery and Trims District. There was the Meat Packing District, Tin Pan Alley, where the composers and musical publishers were concentrated, and of course, the Theater District. Brooklyn wasn’t quite as compact, especially after it became a part of New York City, but even here, we had certain areas that had a concentration of certain industries. Wallabout was a food and candy manufacturing district, for example. This part of Clinton Hill was our own shoe manufacturing district. (more…)

50-66 Nevins St. Harriet Judson, NE, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Harriet Judson Residence, now an adult care residence
Address: 50-66 Nevins Street
Cross Streets: Between State and Schermerhorn streets
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: 1912-1913
Architectural Style: Transitional Renaissance Revival/Colonial Revival
Architect: Frank Freeman
Other Buildings by Architect: Eagle Warehouse, Brooklyn Fire HQ, Behr mansion, Crescent Athletic Club, Brooklyn Union Gas HQ, Germania Club (demolished), Thomas Jefferson Building (demolished), Brooklyn Savings Bank (demolished)
Landmarked: No, but should be

The story: The Young Woman’s Christian Association in Brooklyn was founded in February of 1888. It immediately elected officers, all prominent Brooklyn society women, and secured a meeting and office space in a building on Fulton Street, near Flatbush. The goal of the organization at its inception was to provide a meeting place for young women who were employed in retail stores, as office workers and other occupations throughout Brooklyn. These young ladies could listen to lectures, concerts, enjoy the reading room, and receive Christian instruction, if so desired. It was the first major organization of its kind in Brooklyn to be entirely run by women. (more…)

291 Cumberland St. NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 291 Cumberland Street
Cross Streets: Lafayette and Greene Avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1892
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other Buildings by Architect: St. Augustine RC Church, Grace Methodist and row houses in Park Slope, apartment buildings, office buildings, row houses, churches in Bedford Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights North and Brooklyn Heights.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene HD (1978)

The story: This house is the architectural equivalent of “pimp my ride,” or I suppose a better word might be “McMansioning.” Only this time, our 19th century poseur hired one of the best firms in Brooklyn to do the deed. Is it grossly inappropriate to celebrate a house that is clearly out of context, or does the resume of the architect make this just hunky-dory? How come it’s perfectly great to celebrate this, and then turn around and damn those who do it today? What’s the difference of a hundred years? Well, taste and talent, for one thing.

Ok, if I were around back then, and this was going to happen, I probably wouldn’t be a champion. The row of vernacular wood framed houses on this block is great. There are several different styles here, by several different builders, and to the right and the left of 291 Cumberland, these are very nice clapboard houses. What’s not to like? Wide generous porches, Classical style columns and capitals, the once-high stoops on 293 and its neighbors, and gracious proportions. 291 Cumberland was also one of these; an 1850s clapboard vernacular house. (more…)

267-269 Jefferson Ave, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Private house
Address: 267-269 Jefferson Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Marcy Avenue
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1890
Architectural Style: Queen Anne, with later additions
Architect: Frederick D. Vrooman
Other Buildings by Architect: row houses in Bedford, Stuyvesant Heights, Crown Heights and other brownstone neighborhoods.
Landmarked: Not yet, part of calendared Bedford Historic District (calendared 2013)

The story: I used to live on Jefferson, between Marcy and Tompkins, and walked past this house just about every day for more than 17 years. I remember the first time I saw it, on my first trip to my soon-to-be-home, and thought, even then, “What happened to this poor house?” Underneath the added brick porch and parapet, behind the strange top floor dormer window, and the yellow paint job, it was pretty easy to see that there was a nice brick and stone Queen Anne under here, what was once a showpiece of a house, here on one of the nicest streets in the Bedford neighborhood. (more…)

123-133 Prospect Place, NS, PS 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 123-133 Prospect Place
Cross Streets: Flatbush and Carlton avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1873
Architectural Style: Second Empire
Architect: John V. Porter (builder)
Other Buildings by Architect: Various houses in Prospect Heights, such as 117-127 St. Marks Avenue
Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Heights HD (2009)

The story: My old neighborhood of Crown Heights North was built primarily in the 1880s and ‘90s, so we don’t have very many of these types of houses. In fact, I think we only have one remaining example. Which is too bad, because Second Empire houses are really beautiful and grand, and a great visual treat when walking down the street. This group of six houses is one of the best preserved in Prospect Heights, which has several groups of Second Empires close to Flatbush Avenue.

Development in Prospect Heights spread out from Flatbush Avenue, one of the busiest and most vital of Brooklyn’s thoroughfares. The original Flatbush Road had a slightly different route through the neighborhood, and was a tolled turnpike, but then, as now, was an important route between Flatbush and the shores of the river. The current avenue was laid down in 1852, and development on both sides of the street began, albeit quite slowly. (more…)

291-293 Stuyvesant Avenue, CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats buildings
Address: 291-293 Stuyvesant Avenue
Cross Streets: Halsey and Hancock Streets
Neighborhood: Stuyvesant Heights
Year Built: 1898
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Axel Hedman
Other Buildings by Architect: in Stuy Hts – row houses on Stuyvesant Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Immanuel Baptist Church, now Union Baptist, on Decatur St. Also row houses, flats buildings and apartment buildings all over brownstone Brooklyn.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Stuyvesant Heights Expansion Historic District (2013)

The story: When most people think of the housing stock in Brooklyn, they probably think of row houses. The second most popular kinds of buildings in those same row house neighborhoods would have to be flats buildings, especially in the later brownstone neighborhoods of Crown Heights, Park Slope, Bedford and Bedford Stuyvesant, Prospect Heights and parts of Clinton Hill. In my old neighborhood of Crown Heights North, you couldn’t walk down very many blocks that didn’t have one or two flats buildings, and my block in particular, on Pacific Street, there were twelve. Ironically enough, most of the twelve were designed by this guy – Axel Hedman.

Axel was the king of late 19th century flats buildings. Other architects designed them as well, but Axel probably did more of them, and arguably did them better. This duo was built in 1898. Hedman really came into his own after the 1893 Chicago Worlds Exhibition which brought us the White Cities Movement. Most of his row houses and flats were designed in the Renaissance Revival style, as were these, with classical motifs in limestone and light colored brick. He had a signature style, and although others may have copied him, I can generally spot a Hedman flat in a minute. (more…)

257 Macon St. Throop Ave Pres. CB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Formerly Throop Avenue Presbyterian Church, now Newman Memorial Methodist Church
Address: 257 Macon Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Throop Avenue
Neighborhood: Stuyvesant Heights
Year Built: 1911-1912
Architectural Style: Modernized English Gothic Revival
Architect: Jackson & Rosencrans
Other Work by Architect: John Jackson designed Bedford and Prospect Park YMCAs, as well as others across the country. Also Downtown Community House, Manhattan, churches and suburban homes in N.J.
Landmarked: No

The story: As told early in today’s Walkabout, the Throop Avenue Presbyterian Church, which stood on the corner of Throop and Willoughby, burned down in 1910. The church was eager to rebuild, and under the leadership of their relatively new pastor, Dr. Allan Douglas Carlile, they purchased this plot, and began raising money to build themselves a new church. When the old church was destroyed, the congregation was aided by neighborhood churches which provided worship space for services, but after a while, they wanted to relocate to someplace where they wouldn’t be in the way. They found that space right down the street from the new location. For the year it took to build the new church, the congregation worshipped and headquartered itself in a meeting space at the Telephone Company Building complex at Throop Avenue and MacDougal Street. (more…)

554 Atlantic Ave, NS, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Gross Building, now Islamic Center
Address: 552-554 Atlantic Avenue
Cross Streets: 3rd and 4th avenues
Neighborhood: Downtown Brooklyn
Year Built: 1928
Architectural Style: Art Deco, with neo-Classical ornamentation
Architect: Henry I. Oser
Other Work by Architect: Trinity Court Building, lower Manhattan, loft and showroom buildings in the Garment District, Madison Avenue, and other midtown Manhattan locations
Landmarked: No

The story: I’ve always wondered what the story was on this building. Its glazed terra cotta façade rises up over the neighboring buildings, immediately dating it as an Art Deco-era building, although it has very neo-Classical ornamentation. Its wide arched windows and polychrome décor are a nice piece of detailing in a neighborhood that already has some Art Deco masterpieces. My friend Joe Svehlak, who leads walking tours all over the city, and often conducts walking tours of Atlantic Avenue, asked me to find out the building’s history.

I found out the building was commissioned in 1928 by the 554 Atlantic Avenue Corporation, with offices in Jamaica, Queens. The building was designed by Henry I. Oser, and is six stories tall, with stores and offices. The building cost $160,000 to build. By 1929, the building was called the Gross Building, for realtor Joseph M. Gross, who had offices there, and may have been the name behind the developers. The buildings first tenants were real estate companies, trade union offices and lawyers. (more…)

49-65 Meserole St. CB, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Verizon Communications Center
Address: 49-65 Meserole Street
Cross Streets: Corner Lorimer and Leonard streets
Neighborhood: Williamsburg
Year Built: 1975
Architectural Style: Brutalist
Architect: John Carl Warnecke & Associates
Other Work by Architect: In Manhattan – AT&T Long Lines Building. Elsewhere – JFK Eternal Flame Gravesite, Arlington Cemetery; Hawaii State Capitol, Honolulu; US Naval Academy, Annapolis; Hart Senate Office Bldg, Wash. DC.
Landmarked: No

The story: When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, I’d want to be here. What a bunker this is! Ironically, this fortress was designed by an architect who gained great international acclaim for his advancing of the practice of contextual architecture. More on that in a minute.

Long before the Borg ship landed on this corner, this was home to houses and businesses in a very busy part of Williamsburg. At the turn of the 20th century, there was a brewery just across the street, working class tenement buildings all around, and storefront businesses with apartments above. 49 Meserole had a wholesale leather business operating here. The DeLong family lived here in 1901. George DeLong was a stone and marble cutter, working for one of the monument companies near the cemeteries at the end of Bushwick. This was a vibrant and productive neighborhood. (more…)

701-711 President Street, KL, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Tenement/flats buildings
Address: 701-711 President Street
Cross Streets: 5th and 6th avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1876
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec, with British Arts & Crafts details
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other Work by Architect: In Park Slope – St. Augustine RC Church, Grace Methodist Church, many row houses, flats buildings. Also Montague, Berkeley and Grosvenor Apts in Brooklyn Heights, Truslow House, Crown Heights North.
Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed expanded Park Slope Historic District.

The story: No one likes the word “tenement.” It draws up visions of dire poverty and the horrible living conditions endured by the poor; not only in this city, but in just about any city, especially in the 19th century. But the American use of the word was originally a legal description of a building that had more than three tenants independent of one another, more than two tenants per floor, with common rights in the halls, etc. By definition, for many years, that included any level of luxury, so legally speaking, and in the matter of building code, the Dakota Apartment building was technically a tenement. That was one reason why getting wealthy people to live in apartment buildings was such a hard sell.

But eventually, supply and demand won out. Multiple unit dwellings for income levels far above the poorest became a familiar sight on our neighborhood streets. The developers of these buildings were often building on the same sized lots that the developers of one family row houses were building on, so that many blocks, like this one, have a mixture of single family homes as well as tenements or flats buildings on the same block. They work well because the flats buildings were meant to look like their single family neighbors, and often were designed by the same architects. (more…)

185 E. 19th St. NS, PS. 2

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Fourth Unitarian Church, now Unity East Church Center
Address: 185 East 19th Street
Cross Streets: Corner of Beverley Road
Neighborhood: Ditmas Park
Year Built: 1906
Architectural Style: English Arts and Crafts
Architect: W. Leslie Walker
Other Work by Architect: Unitarian Church, Montclair Women’s Club and suburban mansions in Montclair, N.J.
Landmarked: No

The story: Grosvenor Atterbury an important early 20th century architect, with projects in the city and the wealthy surrounding suburbs. His career stretched from the mid 1890s until the early 1950s. During his most prolific period during the first two decades of the century, his firm was fielding over 1300 projects at a time. They designed entire neighborhoods, such as the Forest Hills Gardens development for philanthropist Mrs. Russell Sage. Atterbury and his firm were also known for their large, lavish suburban homes which were designed for the tony new suburbs becoming popular for the banker and CEO set. They designed homes in Westchester County, Long Island and towns like Montclair, N.J. One of the associates in the firm at this busy time was W. Leslie Walker.

Walker and Atterbury designed several projects together during their association, most of which were in Montclair. Both men also shared an interest in affordable housing, and considered themselves city planners, as well as architects. They worked together on several model towns for the workers in several industries and planned affordable homes that could be built anywhere. Walker lived in Montclair and was asked to design private homes, as well as public buildings. He designed the Montclair Women’s Club, several beautiful suburban mansions, and the Unity Chapel for Montclair’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation. And that’s how this ties into Ditmas Park. (more…)

62-66 Pierrepont St. SB, PS

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: The Woodhull
Address: 62-66 Pierrepont Street
Cross Streets: Hicks and Henry Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1911
Architectural Style: Renaissance/Colonial Revivals
Architect: George Fred Pelham
Other Work by Architect: Upscale apartment buildings, row houses and hotels, all over Manhattan.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights HD (1965)

The story: In 1841, John Phillip Thurston purchased a small home in Brooklyn as a place from which to conduct business, and for his family. He was from Portland, Maine, one of the many New Englanders who came to Brooklyn to trade in commodities. Sugar was his business, and he ran a successful commissions business trading with plantation owners and sugar brokers in Cuba. The small house on Pierrepont Street was surrounded by fields still, and the garden gate to the Thurston home opened up onto Montague Street, giving the property the full width of a city block. Thurston didn’t live here long, he died soon after moving here, and his business was continued by his son, Frederick. Frederick enlarged the house, and it was a comfortable home for himself and his two unmarried sisters. (more…)