A look at Brooklyn, then and now.
The years between the 1880s and the 1920s were a boom time for the neighborhood we now call Crown Heights North. Much of the neighborhood was called Bedford then, but one block and its surrounding area took on added cachet, due to the wealthy people living there, giving the neighborhood a new name: the Saint Marks District. St. Marks Avenue itself was taken up by large private homes, mostly freestanding mansions on large lots. Clinton Avenue in Clinton Hill would probably be the most analogous streetscape to imagine what St. Marks between Nostrand and Brooklyn Avenue looked like.
But not everyone who wanted this lifestyle could live on St. Marks itself, so the surrounding blocks were also studded with large detached houses on generous lots. There are still a few left on Park Place, Dean Street, Bergen Street, Prospect Place, New York Avenue and Pacific Street. Today they add to the charm and architectural diversity of the neighborhood, but there used to be more of them — many more.
Pacific Street between Nostrand and New York Avenue is a case in point. Today, the block still has two freestanding mansions, next door to each other, at 1284 and 1290, but there were at least two more on the block. We don’t have a photograph of the house that once stood on the north side of the block, where the new condos now stand, but we do have a photo of another house, at 1296 Pacific, which was located next door to the large foursquare house that still stands in the middle of the block.
The house at 1296 Pacific Street once belonged to Raymond H. Fiero. It was a very eclectic Arts and Crafts style house, made of rough cut ashlar stone. The house sat in the middle of a generous lot, with the new row houses of Dean Street lined up behind it. The house had a rounded side bay, with a peaked roof, a generous dormer on the top floor, and a cozy deep porch, covered with a deep overhanging slate roof. It blended in nicely with the J.C. Cady-designed house next door, which also has a side bay, and the same general proportions. The Cady house was built in 1890, and I think it’s a safe bet that the Fiero house is from the same period.
Raymond H. Fiero was a successful banker, financier and broker. He was a trustee for many years of the Greater New York Savings Bank, and was a director of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. He was also well known for his charity work, and was the president of the Faith Home Foundation, an organization which helped people with incurable diseases. He was married, and he and his wife Katherine had a son, and later in life, two granddaughters.
Mr. Fiero did not live here on Pacific Street for all that long. That was consistent with most of the wealthy people who populated the St. Marks District. As nice, and as expensive as most of the homes were, they were always moving on to the next “in” place. Census records, as well as newspaper accounts tell us that most of the District’s wealthy people moved to either Park Avenue or the vicinity in Manhattan, or out to the newly developing wealthy suburbs of Westchester and Long Island.
The Fieros were different. He was very much ensconced in the life and affairs of Brooklyn, and he never left. He can be seen in a photograph with President Calvin Coolidge and members of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in 1929. But the Fieros did move from Pacific Street to a home at 35 Prospect Park West. They would live there until at least the late 1960s. Raymond Fiero died at the age of ninety, in 1967.
In 1927, the Fiero house was torn down, replaced by a large Mediterranean-style apartment building, which takes up the entire 100-foot-lot. It has 76 units. This six-story building is typical of the new apartment buildings that replaced almost all of the St. Marks District’s mansions, mostly between 1924 and 1934. They were generous, large apartments, built for the sons and daughters of immigrants who had crowded into tenements on the Lower East Side. Where one estate might house a family and some servants, one of these apartment buildings could house hundreds. This was the future. GMAP