Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Wood-framed row houses
Address: 322-354 43rd Street
Cross Streets: 3rd and 4th avenues
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: Before 1885
Architectural Style: Vernacular Victorian
The story: Sometimes, when wandering around our fair city, you come upon a street that’s just a mystery to people like me who want to know the what, when and why of the architecture of the neighborhood. When were these houses built? Who were they built for, and who built them? Sometimes, after much digging, the truth is revealed. Sometimes, it’s not, but you get a bit more than you had before. Fourth Avenue has become a dividing line between the very late 19th and early 20th century development of the rest of Sunset Park, and What Came Before. Crossing the street is entering an architecturally different world, where the area’s industrial and residential paths cross.
Sunset Park, the park itself, sits on one of the highest ridges of Brooklyn, and affords an incredible view down to the harbor and piers of the old Bush Terminal, and beyond. The hill rolls down from the park to the shore, and the houses on Sunset Park’s streets stair step down the hills, one of that neighborhood’s most charming and picturesque features. When you look at the houses on 43rd Street, between 3rd and 4th Avenue, it’s easy to see some of the changes in Brooklyn’s topography.
These houses are early, in terms of this neighborhood’s growth. The 1888 map of the area shows that this group of wood framed houses is the largest singular block of development in the area. Groups of speculative wood framed row houses are bunched here and there on the surrounding blocks, but none are as large as this; a group of fifteen buildings. They are all set much farther back from the street than other houses on the block, and are all similar in size and design.
It’s interesting to see that 43rd Street must have originally been graded a good five to seven feet higher than it is today. Back then, the gates to the property would have been at street level. Today, tall retaining walls hold back the yard, and steps lead up to the gates. The houses themselves are built with extra high, steep stoops, which beg the question as to the possible flooding that may have taken place at some point in the area’s history. The parlor level of these houses is really high, and the brick clad ground floor levels are also quite tall.
These are attractive houses, especially the ones with the peaked roofs and the Vernacular Gothic-style attic dormer window. Although today, all of them have been recovered with vinyl or aluminum siding, some still have their original windows and could be restored someday, if they are not all replaced by the Fedders boxes that have already destroyed part of the row.
A look at the occupants of these houses in days gone by when the numbering system was 176-204 43rd Street, shows a cross section of working class Brooklyn. Many of the houses never appeared in the papers, but once in a while, unfortunately, usually because of a death or tragedy, one of these addresses was mentioned. There were police officers, long shoremen, widows, fires, shoplifters, petty crooks, and more. The earliest listing is for a property transfer in 1885.
The worst story involved a seven year old boy who picked up a live electric wire in front of his house, and couldn’t let go of it. Horrified onlookers saw the boy’s clothing catch fire. At policeman, responding to the screams of the child, knocked him over and smothered the flames. The boy was rushed to the hospital, but his outlook wasn’t good. That happened in 1899.
Today, these houses are still off the grid, forgotten, at least for now, by those house hunting on the other side of 4th Avenue. They are a reminder that Brooklyn is built in layers, and there is still so much we don’t know about her history. GMAP