Building of the Day: 71 Brooklyn Avenue

Photograph: Carl Forster for Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2007

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats buildings
Address: 71 Brooklyn Avenue (also 1392 and 1402 Pacific Street)
Cross Streets: Brooklyn and Kingston avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1905
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other works by architect: Truslow house in Crown Heights North; Grosvenor, Berkeley and Montauk Apartments in Brooklyn Heights; many churches, row houses, office and other buildings throughout Brooklyn
Landmarked: Yes, part of Crown Heights North HD, Phase I (2007)

The story: When it soon became apparent that there were too many people wanting homes in our cities, and not enough land for one family houses, the obvious answer was to build up with multi-unit apartment buildings. It’s rather amazing that a middle-class and above that emulated much of Western Europe’s traditions totally rejected a style of living that had gone on in the major cities of Europe for centuries: that of the flat or apartment. Americans just didn’t want to live on top of each other in a building with strangers. Imagine – running into a stranger in the hallway! Unheard of, and uncivilized. That was for poor people in tenements. So developers turned to the architects who had built some of the area’s finest single family homes, and had them take a turn at designing flats buildings that were suitable to a population that couldn’t afford, or didn’t want, an entire house — or had arrived too late to get one.

When it came to good architects, there weren’t too many better than the Parfitt Brothers. They show up often in my BOTDs because they were prolific, versatile and really good. These three English born and educated architects not only brought their own European sensibility with them to a project, they were also able to grow and expand their repertoire of styles as the 19th century came to a close and the 20th began.

After the Colombian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago that introduced the White Cities Movement to the nation, buildings made of light colored brick and stone became the standard for turn of the century architects. With the new Renaissance Revival style also came a resurgence of Classical Greek and Roman detailing. The Parfitts referenced all of this in these three adjoined flats buildings that appear from first glance to be one very large chateau of a building. They are handsome, with classical columns, Palladian windows and prominent quoins.

The three were built at the same time for the Nostrand Realty Company, a large company which developed many of the early 20th century buildings in this area. Each building originally had eight walk-up flats, four on each side, and two per floor. If other Parfitt Brothers interiors are any indication, these flats were well appointed, with fine woodwork, fireplaces, floors, and all of the modern electric, gas and plumbing conveniences. They would have to be, in order to attract the kinds of renters who wanted the best of amenities and comforts if they were going to live “on top of other people.”

The president of the company, James Rose, liked the Parfitt’s buildings so much, he moved into one of the flats, at 1402-4 Pacific Street. He and his wife and daughter lived there from 1905 until at least his death in 1916. He was also a member of the Stock Exchange and Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Brevoort Savings Bank. He also belonged to the Union League Club, only walking distance away, as well as the Society of Old Brooklynites and the Sons of the American Revolution. He was certainly the best advertisement his buildings could give.

Today, all three of these buildings are still eight units each, and remain very much as the Parfitts originally designed them, at least on the exterior. They still command this corner of Pacific and Brooklyn, and add very much to the streetscape of Crown Heights North. I would be happy to have an apartment here. GMAP

Photograph: Carl Forster for Landmarks Preservation Commission, 2007

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