Building of the Day: 224 17th Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 224 17th Street
Cross Streets: 4th and 5th Avenues
Neighborhood: Greenwood Heights/South Slope
Year Built: 1884
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Unknown, slight chance it could be George P. Chappell
Landmarked: No

The story: It’s rather amazing how we know so much about some parts of Brooklyn, and so little about others, even though they were developed about the same time, with many of the same people often involved. Through a lot of careful research by residents, historical societies, professionals, and architecture junkies such as myself, we know quite a bit about Park Slope. We know who designed, built and owned a majority of the housing stock, and because many of them were prominent in 19th century Brooklyn, we know a fair amount about the earliest residents, as well. There were people who only appear when they marry, or when they die, and those whose lives were fodder for the 19th century equivalent of Page Six.

But over and up a few blocks, the story is different. The South Slope was much more low key. The housing there was, by and large, not built for the rich and important, but built for those who worked for them; in their offices, businesses and factories. These were mostly homes for the middle class, the mid-management people, the teachers and small business owners. Most of the row houses are smaller, only two stories plus a basement, and some were built as two family homes, while others housed extended families, and others offered rooms for rent. There are a lot of great blocks of houses here, enough to keep a BOTD going for a while.

One of my favorite blocks is this block of 17th Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues. There’s a lot of history here. The area started to be developed as early as the 1860s. The streets were laid out, and a scattering of wood framed houses were the first to be built here. As Brooklyn grew, the neighborhood grew with it, a working class neighborhood of immigrants and the second generation of people from the Scandinavian countries, the United Kingdom, Germany and Ireland.

Everyone bought their traditions and religious affiliations with them, and for many of the people from the UK, that meant the Anglican, or here in America, the Episcopal Church. By 1870, the Church of the Atonement, near the opposite corner of this block, had 125 families as members, and was growing even faster. They would raise money and build a much larger church next door to their present church, commissioning architect George Chappell in the late 1880s to design a new building which was completed in 1890.

The census for 1900 shows the people on this side of the block were predominantly from Scotland, England, the British West Indies (white) and Canada. Intermingled were Germans and Irish, although most of the Irish were the servants. They were dry goods men, teachers, salesmen, bookkeepers, insurance men, and one man worked in metal ceilings. Some of the women of the household were teachers, music teachers and a milliner. The owner of this home was of Scots ancestry, born in NY. He was in the insurance business, had a wife, three children, a mother-in-law and one servant all under his roof.

The parishioners of the Church of the Atonement had done well, and the fact that we have this large row of four story single family homes in a neighborhood of smaller one and two story homes shows this. Many of the church’s families lived right here on this block. This Queen Anne confection dates from the same period Chappell was working on the church, so it’s possible he may have designed this. Chappell designed many houses very, very similar to this one. I hope so, it’s a beauty, whoever did it. The brick, brownstone and terra cotta is just beautiful. Especially the terra cotta cornice, which I have never seen anywhere else.GMAP

224 17th St, S.Slope. 2

224 17th St, S.Slope. 3

224 17th St, S.Slope. 4

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