Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Midwood Trust Company, now Chase Bank
Address: 1984 Flatbush Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Flatlands Avenue
Year Built: 1926
Architectural Style: Flemish Renaissance Revival
Architect: Slee & Bryson
Other Buildings by Architect: Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival homes and apartment buildings in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights North and South, Park Slope and various parts of Flatbush, including Prospect Park South, Albemarle and Kenmore Terraces, and Ditmas Park.
Landmarked: No, but should be
The story: Our city’s Dutch ancestry is most often represented by the streets and neighborhoods now bearing the surnames of the many Dutch families who settled throughout Brooklyn. Now and again, we also see buildings that draw on the famous Dutch gabled farmhouses that managed to survive over the centuries. And then we have these wonderful examples of Flemish-inspired architecture that are so quintessentially Brooklyn and Dutch. They come from Flanders, that part of the Low Countries that was part of France, and is now part of Belgium, yet culturally still part of the Netherlands.
Lots of late 19th century architects were inspired by the distinctive ziggurat shaped stepped gables of the Flemish Renaissance period. These simple but elegant facades graced the townhouses, guild halls and commercial buildings of the Netherlands for centuries. When the Dutch came to New Netherlands, they brought their architecture with them, and these shapes turn up throughout the Hudson Valley and in and around New York City, Long Island and New Jersey.
William Tubby used this iconic façade to its best advantage in his late lamented Wallabout Market. Other late 19th century Brooklyn architects like the Parfitt Brothers and George Chappell have used it for homes, fire houses and other civic and commercial buildings. So when the Midwood Trust Company wanted to build a new branch office on Flatbush Avenue in the Flatlands, what could say “Brooklyn” better to this Flatbush-based bank than the Brooklynized Flemish Renaissance Revival?
The Midwood Trust was founded in 1920. Its first branch was on Flatbush Avenue at Dorchester Road in Flatbush. The bank grew fast, and was involved with the development of Flatbush and beyond, and soon grew to include new branches. By 1929, they had five: three in Flatbush, one downtown on Willoughby Street, and one in the Wallabout neighborhood. They were planning on opening another new branch on Kings Highway.
This branch, the fourth, was built in 1926. It was designed by Slee & Bryson, one of the busiest firms around at the time. They had started out designing upscale Colonial Revival and Tudor houses for Dean Alvord in Prospect Park South, and had gone into partnership with each other as a result of working together there. They would go on to design many brick Colonial Revival row houses and free standing suburban type homes in the communities of Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights and Park Slope. They also designed apartment buildings in those neighborhoods, as well as the great Colonial Revival enclaves of Albemarle and Kenmore Terrace in Flatbush.
Slee & Bryson were very good at utilizing historic influences in modern buildings. For the Midwood Trust, they very nicely referenced the guild halls of Flanders, creating a modern building that definitely reminded the viewer of Flatland’s Dutch ancestry. The Brooklyn Eagle described it as “Holland Dutch style with the characteristic stepped gables and mullioned windows.”
A few weeks after the branch officially opened, they held a private reception for some of Flatland’s most distinguished citizens. A lot of the descendants of Brooklyn’s Dutch names were invited and showed up: Vanderveer, Ditmas, Voorhees, Van Brunt, Bergen and Van Wicklen, among others. How fitting.
The Midwood Trust Company was acquired in a merger with the Manufacturer’s Trust in 1931. They kept all of the branches open. Manufacturer’s Trust became Manufacturers Hanover Trust, in the 1980s, which in turn was merged with Chase Manhattan, which became J. P. Morgan Chase. The handsome branch bank
was up until recentlyis still a Chase bank. GMAP
(Photo: Bridge and Tunnel Club)