Building of the Day: 1361-1381 Union Street


Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 1361-1381 Union Street
Cross Streets: New York and Brooklyn avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights South
Year Built: 1912
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Axel Hedman
Other buildings by architect: Most of this block, as well as row houses and flats buildings in Park Slope, Prospect Lefferts  Gardens, Crown Heights North, South, Prospect Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant.
Landmarked: No

The story: In 1903, there was a great financial panic in the United States, the worst before the Great Depression. As we have seen in our own economy lately, home building and sales plummeted to new lows. Brooklyn was deeply affected by this panic, and the rush of homebuilding that had characterized the last decades of the 19th century stopped. It’s hard to imagine now, but large swaths of Brooklyn had yet to be developed, and awaited the end of the financial crisis before work began again. When it did, home building on the southern side of Eastern Parkway took off.

The fashion in which building commenced in Crown Heights South is quite interesting. Development definitely progressed south in a rather orderly manner, so that the buildings on Eastern Parkway and two or three blocks south are much earlier than the buildings further south going to Malbone Avenue, now Empire Boulevard. Eastern Parkway and environs: pre-World War I; further south: 1920s, ’30s, ’40s…

One of the go-to guys in the first fifteen years of the 20th century was Axel Hedman. The 1890s had already seen him become one of the most prolific architects in the area, with fine Renaissance Revival row houses and flats buildings in Crown Heights North, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Stuyvesant Heights. He was called upon to build so much that by the 20th century he definitely had a formula, which he tweaked at each development site.

Hedman had his very creative facades, such as the homes he designed on Park Place in Crown Heights North and his fine blocks in Prospect Heights and Stuyvesant Heights. He also had his very classic white limestone houses he did all over, but no matter how often you have seen his houses, he tweaked his familiar formula so that each group, in each neighborhood, is different, and all are really quite nice. The man designed a good product.

He designed most of this block of Union Street, between New York and Brooklyn Avenues in Crown Heights South. This particular group of eleven houses is sandwiched between other houses he designed, as well as the ones across the street. But these houses have extensions, and are larger, and were designed for single families. They also have unique and different facades, unlike his usual habit of alternating bays and rounded bay houses down a row.

Here he went with fanciful rooflines, alternating an ornate Mediterranean roof/shell shape with a half cartouche. They serve no structural purpose, but certainly make the block more interesting. The AIA Guide describes it thusly: “geometric parapets above their modillioned cornices: triangular, semicircular, rectilinear.”

Recently one of the houses on this block went on the market, and the interior photos show classic Hedman: a mixture of Arts & Crafts and Colonial Revival. These were standard speculative houses, but well done, and today look better than ever to people who prize elegant, but not over the top, detail. GMAP


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