Building of the Day: 244-254 Gates Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 244-254 Gates Avenue
Cross Streets: Franklin and Classon Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1885
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other Buildings by Architect: Montague, Berkeley, Grosvenor Apts-Bklyn Hts; St. Augustine Catholic and Grace Methodist Churches-Park Slope; Truslow House-Crown Hts North; many other row houses and buildings throughout Bklyn.
Landmarked: No, but this block should be.

The story: John Gibb was a very rich and successful merchant, engaged in the lace importing business. By 1887, his company; Mills & Gibb owned a huge warehouse on Broadway, in what is now SoHo, and was one of the city’s largest lace and fine goods importers and distributors. He had a huge mansion built for himself and his large family on Gates Avenue, near Classon Avenue, on the border of Bedford and Clinton Hill. Early on in his rise to wealth, he had the foresight to put his money in real estate, and bought up most of the undeveloped land surrounding his home, owning land on Gates, Classon, and Franklin, among other places. As Bedford and Clinton Hill both began to grow as upscale communities, he began developing his property, filling it with high end speculative housing.

It makes perfect sense that Gibb would want the other buildings on his block, especially, to be a compliment to his own; therefore on Gates Avenue he employed Brooklyn’s finest architectural firms to design groups of row houses. The Parfitt Brothers were chosen for this especially fine group.

Perhaps the Scottish-born Gibb, who had spent some of his youth working in London, related well to the three English-born Parfitt boys, or perhaps he just picked them because they were good. The Parfitts, by this time were making a fine reputation for themselves as quality architects of a growing Brooklyn, with mansions in Clinton Hill, important apartment buildings going up at the same time as these houses in Brooklyn Heights, and commissions for fine row houses in Park Slope, Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights, with much more in their future.

The youngest Parfitt brother, Albert, brought a particularly English sense of style and order to his Queen Anne designs, his ideas greatly influenced by William Morris’ Arts & Crafts ideals. Here in this group, good English-style brick is used, mixed with brownstone, a rich contrasting material, which is further highlighted by the use of terra-cotta ornament. The group is in an ABCCBA configuration, with the A houses being the strongest, all tied together by a continuous sloped slate roofline.

The bays, dormers, and unusual shaped windows all highlighting the different features of the houses that make them part of the group, yet very individual. The entryways of these houses are also really well done, with wide, double doors flanked by thick brick columns ornamented by terra-cotta colonetttes and beautiful terra-cotta capitals, which wrap around the doorway. One house, number 252, has an exceptional pair of doors, festooned with ornamental ironwork that just dances.

John Gibb was very successful with these and other houses he developed. After years of work in with his lace business, he and his two eldest sons went into partnership with Frederick Loeser in 1887, creating Frederick Loeser & Company, competing very well with Abraham & Straus to be the largest, most exclusive, and finest department store in Brooklyn. Read more about John Gibb in these Walkabout pieces, Parts One and Two. All in all, Mr. Gibb left quite an architectural legacy in this part of Brooklyn. GMAP

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