Building of the Day: 1290, 1294 President Street

The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.

Address: 1290 and 1294 President Street, between New York and Brooklyn Avenues
Name: Private Houses
Neighborhood: Crown Heights South
Year Built: 1911
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: William Debus
Landmarked: No

Why chosen:
I am fascinated by these blocks known locally as Millionaire’s or Doctor’s Row, in Crown Heights South, only a couple of blocks south of Eastern Parkway. First of all, the architecture is superb. Clinton Avenue and St. Marks Avenue, at the turn of the century, looked like this, as does Prospect Park South, and other parts of Victorian Flatbush oversized lot after lot of extremely large homes, an enclave of the well-to-do. Unfortunately, there is very little information easily available on this area, how it developed, why there, who started it, etc. I mean to find out one of these days. In the meantime, some of the architects involved have been identified. This double house sits in the middle of the block, and is quite impressive. William Debus designed it to resemble a very large single mansion, what the AIA Guide calls an English Renaissance palace. The imposing portico shelters the doors, so close together that, had the facades been maintained in the same way, it would be very easy to think this really was one enormous house. As 20th century houses for the rich, both houses also have garages in the back. William Debus was a gifted architect, working from the turn of the 19th century through the 1950’s. He was best known in his time for his expertise in the design of flats buildings, but Brooklyn architectural buffs know him as a prolific architect in several Brooklyn neighborhoods, especially Bedford Stuyvesant, where he designed landmarked apartment buildings along MacDonough Street, as well as the highly regarded Beaux-Arts limestone townhouses on Stuyvesant Avenue at Chauncey St. Most of his work was in the White Cities mode, using light colored limestone and brick, and featuring a wealth of classical detailing and ornament. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t do much of that here, on a street where an ostentatious white mansion would probably have been accepted. However, these houses fit into the block perfectly, surrounded by similarly colored brick houses, albeit of very different styles. This may be one reason why Debus was awarded a gold medal of excellence in 1934, by the New York Society of Architects, a group he helped found in 1906. A great architect knows that good design doesn’t have to jump out and mug you in order to get attention. A well designed building will be noticed for what it is.

The neighbors to the west of the 1290 President, which is barely in the photo, at the left.

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