Building of the Day: 321 Sterling Place

Photo: Sterling Place, by Christoper Brazee, for the LPC

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row house
Address: 321 Sterling Place
Cross Streets: Vanderbilt and Underhill Avenues
Neighborhood: Prospect Place Heights
Year Built: 1897
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Attributed to developer William H. Reynolds
Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Heights HD (2009)

The story: William H. Reynolds was one of the great characters of Brooklyn. He started out in the development business in the Bedford section, selling real estate, and then developing homes, all at the tender age of 18. In 1893, by the time he was 24, he was New York’s youngest state senator, a job that gave him street cred, but must have gotten in the way of his money making, because he didn’t last out his term. Around the same time, he started buying up land in the Prospect Heights part of town, picking up choice parcels at fire sale prices from the city of Brooklyn, which had bought up most of the area years before, for use as Prospect Park, which originally was supposed to encompass land east of Flatbush Avenue. This land was soon divided into over 200 lots, and the building began.

The Brooklyn Eagle has hundreds of ads for these properties, mostly on the square formed by Sterling, Underhill, Park Place and Vanderbilt. He built the Park Place houses first, they were a huge success, and then he developed Sterling. He liked to use certain architects, specifically Axel Hedman by himself, or in partnership with fellow Swede ,Magus Dahlander. They are both architects of record on Park Place. This particular group of twenty-two houses is attributed to Reynolds, but most likely were designed by the same pair, or just Magnus Dahlander by himself, or perhaps with Frederick Langston, his frequent partner. There are row of extremely similar houses, also by Dahlander, built by Reynolds, in Stuyvesant Heights and in Bedford Stuyvesant, specifically on Halsey Street, between Nostrand and Arlington Place.

A row of twenty-two houses is a lot of buildings, and in the eclectic styles of the Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne, melding into Renaissance Revival style, it’s customary to have as much variety as possible, and Dahlander/Reynolds does so, with a dizzying combination of brownstone and limestone, bays, bows and flat fronted building, with an endless variety of ornament and architectural detail. This particular house is resplendent in florid Byzantine leaf in terra-cotta, with bands of it ornamenting the curved bay, topped off by a cast metal cornice. All of these houses are different; there are no repeats in the group, although they are repeated, some identically, a block away.

By the end of the 1890’s, most of this group had been sold, and Reynolds had moved on to his grandest project of all – Dreamland Amusement Park, in Coney Island. Today, these houses are among the most beautiful and desirable homes in Brooklyn. William Reynolds was one of Brooklyn’s greatest row house developers. GMAP

Photo: Sterling Place, by Christoper Brazee, for the LPC

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