Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row houses
Address: 317-347 Senator Street, also 318-370 Senator Street
Cross Streets: 3rd and 4th avenues
Neighborhood: Bay Ridge
Year Built: 1906-1912
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Fred Eisenla
Other buildings by architect: Row houses in Park Slope, specifically on 3rd St, between 7th and PPW. Also many similar houses in Sunset Park.
Landmarked: No, but on the National Register of Historic Places (2002)
The story: Bay Ridge’s Senator Street is named after Henry C. Murphy, one of Brooklyn’s larger than life characters. During his lifetime he was the Mayor of Brooklyn, Ambassador to the Netherlands, a U.S. Congressman, the owner of the Brooklyn Eagle, and a New York State Senator. His home in Bay Ridge was called Owl’s Head, site of today’s Owl’s Head Park, and overlooked the bay in baronial Victorian splendor. This was when Bay Ridge was a quiet and beautiful suburb, popular with the wealthy who built fabulous summer homes along the Shore Road overlooking the Narrows.
As Bay Ridge was developed as a residential neighborhood for people of more modest means, the housing stock became a mixture of freestanding suburban houses of various styles and apartment buildings. For some reason, brownstone row houses never caught on with developers here. There are very few blocks with row houses. This particular block of Senator Street represents the only block in Bay Ridge with brownstone row houses on both sides of the street, all 38 of them designed and built by one company.
The houses were designed by Fred Eisenla of Eisenla & Carlson, which had their offices nearby on 5th Avenue. The firm designed row houses in other neighborhoods, most notably in Park Slope, where their houses on 3rd Street, between 7th Avenue and Prospect Park West are quite nice, and help make this block shine. They also built similar houses to these in Sunset Park, which was developed during the same time period. The firm was described as “workaday builders and architects, not caring to be original, but skillful in exploiting the superb taste of today.” (Brooklyn Eagle) They were just that.
Like their Park Slope and Sunset Park work, these houses were speculative building, aimed at the new people coming into Bay Ridge from elsewhere in Brooklyn. Their targeted buyers were the middle class, the managers, salespeople, teachers, printers and small business owners who were looking for two family houses that could allow them to live comfortably and elegantly, while bringing in some money. The houses generally had the owner’s apartment on the ground and parlor floor, with a rental apartment above. Generally, the parlor floor held the dining room, parlor and kitchen, and the lower floor, the bedrooms and bathroom. Upstairs was a one-bedroom apartment.
Although all 38 of these houses look the same, a closer look reveals that they are not. Fred Eisenla put different details on each, and they are, in fact, all slightly different. He designed them in the Renaissance Revival Style, using brownstone, an unusual choice. By this time, and in this style, limestone was the material de jour, but Eisenla’s brownstones bring a new look to the Renaissance Revival.
He used the same materials further downtown in Sunset Park. Each of the houses has the usual Renaissance style ornament, with garlands, heraldic emblems, swags and other ornament, mostly located in panels underneath the parlor floor windows, and above the second floor window, beneath the door. The doors are also ornamented with columns flanking the doors, some with more decorative work than others in the frieze above the door.
The National Register Historic District consists of 318-370 and 317-347 Senator Street, and includes two garages built towards the end of the block’s development in 1920, behind two of the end houses. Most of the houses have retained their original appearance, with some painted facades, white vinyl windows and replacement doors. By and large, however, the row is pretty much intact, and is a great surprise to come upon when travelling through Bay Ridge. GMAP
Photograph above: Rlaro66 for Wikipedia)