Building of the Day: 675-679 St. Marks Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row Houses
Address: 675-679 St. Marks Avenue, between Nostrand and Rogers Avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1888
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: C.P.H. Gilbert
Other buildings by architect: In Park Slope The Adams mansion, corner of 8th and Carroll. Most of Montgomery Pl, between 8th and PPW, Daniel Chauncey House, Joralemon St. Bklyn Hts.
Landmarked: Not yet.

The story: The great architect Charles Pierrepont Henry Gilbert, or C.P.H. Gilbert, as he is always called, was one of the starchitects of the Gilded Age. Scion to extremely blue blood, and a product of the elite L’ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, Gilbert would produce some of the best residential architecture of his day, most for very rich people. He seemed to have two separate design lives. Those who know his work in Manhattan see his huge, ornate limestone and marble Robber Baron mansions that are dotted around in the best addresses on the Upper East Side. Among the most memorable are the French chateaux that now house the Ukrainian Institute and the Jewish Museum. But for fans of Brooklyn architecture, CPH Gilbert is the man who designed some of Park Slope’s best row house architecture, especially on Montgomery and Carroll Streets, between 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West. Gilbert designed so few buildings outside of Park Slope that finding out these are his houses, here in CHN, is akin to finding out that sketch you had hanging in the bathroom is a DaVinci. There have always been the clues that this group of houses was the product of someone really good; the choice of the warm golden orange brick, surely more rare and expensive than regular brick. The details in the rooflines, now obscured and muddled by modern roofing tile, instead of the original slate or Mediterranean tile, but still a flowing whole across the three buildings. The generous, deep portico and doorway, and the way all three buildings become one very large unit. These are gorgeous, and take command of a street that has some other impressive architecture on it. Gilbert designed these in 1888, which would be in the midst of his designs for Park Slope, but before his mansion on Joralemon St. in the Heights for Daniel Chauncey, and years before his Manhattan palaces. The three 17′ houses were built for Mrs. Emma A. Macy, as spec houses, and cost her $27K. Over the years, the houses have taken a beating, but in the last five years, work has been done, the house on the right, which was practically collapsing, has undergone a complete gut renovation. Perhaps someday, the owners of all three will pool their resources and get the roofline restored. 675 St. Marks, on the left, in its early days, was home to a doctor, who practiced at this address, and later, a retired judge.

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