Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row Houses
Address: 342-352A Vernon Avenue
Cross Streets: Lewis and Stuyvesant Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1889
Architectural Style: Neo-Grec/Queen Anne
Architect: Theobald Engelhardt
Other buildings by architect: Arion Hall, Ulmer Mansion and Brewery, and countless homes, tenements and factories in Bushwick, Williamsburg, and this end of Bed Stuy. Also Peaks Mason Mints Building, Bklyn Hts.
The story: In certain parts of this borough, if you throw a rock, you’ll probably hit a Theobald Engelhardt designed building. He was an amazingly prolific architect who seems to have single-handedly designed the entire Eastern District, that part of Brooklyn loosely covering Bushwick, the far eastern part of Bedford Stuyvesant, and parts of Williamsburg. It comes as no surprise that these houses are his. And for several good reasons.
First of all, location. As I said, throw a rock… Secondly, they are very unusual and interesting. Engelhardt was designing spec houses in a modest middle class neighborhood, where he could have easily gotten away with a less interesting design, and it probably would have sold just as well. But he had some fun. He took the old Neo-Grec designs of ten years before and morphed them with the modern Queen Anne shapes. This made his new buildings seamlessly mesh with the rest of the surrounding neighborhood.
So, as in 252 Vernon, he gives us an almost straight forward Neo-Grec house, with a straight stairway, and Neo-Grec incised carved ornament on a flat brownstone front. The ornament is deeper, more complex and much fancier than the older; original designs of a decade ago, and is really good. This is what caught my eye walking down the street, and made me look at the entire group.
Ok, he did Neo-Grec. But then, next door, he goes Queen Anne, with a dog-leg stoop, arched doorway framed in rough-cut stone, and a decorative roof crest. And he adds the same Neo-Grec carved ornament to the building, tying it together with the very different one next door.
And so on down the line, each house a bit different than its neighbor, a triangular pointed bay, then a triple windowed bay, these more Neo-Grec than before, all with the same ornament. In the old days, one would design a whole row of pointed bays, or triple bays, or flat fronted Neo-Grecs. A good architect would not mix them, as the aesthetic of that time was the unbroken uniform row. But Engelhardt is a modern man, and the new Queen Anne aesthetic is a mixture of elements, shapes and masses. This becomes a Queen Anne row, and a good one, at that.
It’s doubtful anyone came along at the time and analyzed this phenomenon. They either liked them, or they didn’t. This little enclave of houses has remained relatively isolated until recently. That can be seen as a good or bad thing, a topic for another time, but I’m glad to bring more of Engelhardt’s superior work to light. No wonder the man built half of Brooklyn. He was good! GMAP