Building of the Day: 392 Clinton Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Apartment building
Address: 392 Clinton Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Greene Avenue
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1896
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: John L. Young
Other Buildings by Architect: a multitude of houses in Bed Stuy, Crown Heights North, Park Slope, Cobble Hill.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Clinton Hill HD (1981)

The story: This handsome apartment building is one of the first multiple unit dwellings on Clinton Avenue. It was built for James Burke, a local developer, who had John L. Young design a building worthy of Clinton Avenue, home to some of the wealthiest people in Brooklyn, at the time. It seems so hard to imagine now, in an age where a fine apartment is equal in status to a fine home, but back at the turn of the 20th century, it was an uphill battle to convince people of that. So what did developers do? They made sure their apartment buildings were as beautiful and luxurious as the houses around them. In choosing John L. Young to design it, James Burke chose well.

Like yesterday’s architect, Philemon Tillion, John L. Young was one of those architects whose name certainly isn’t all that well known, but among those who study Brooklyn’s architecture, he ranks as one of those solid deliverers of fine housing, not flashy, but handsome, and well done. We know very little about the man himself, but he left a rather large and varied body of work behind him.

Brooklyn city directories tell us that between 1892 and 1908, he maintained an architectural office at 1221 Fulton Street, near Bedford Avenue, in the up and coming community of Bedford. Before that, in 1887 through 1891, he is listed as a carpenter. He lived nearby at 179 Jefferson Avenue. We don’t know if he studied architecture somewhere, or if his carpentry experience gave him the confidence to hang out his shingle as an architect. Perhaps while running his carpentry business, he mentored with an established architect. Whatever he did, he had talent, and took to architecture like a natural.

Much of his work is in the Renaissance Revival style made popular following the 1893 Chicago World’s Exhibition. Limestone, light colored brick, and classical motifs abound. This building is a classic example of his work. He did numerous 8 family flats buildings, and an equal number of rowhouses, including my house, in Crown Heights North. It too, is a Renaissance Revival limestone, built in 1899.

What I really like about Young was his ability to make his architecture blend in. He was king of contextual. More on that in an upcoming BOTD. But back here on Clinton Avenue, he was also showing context. His large limestone building wraps around the corner nicely, with a rowhouse style turreted bay at the center, as fine as any in the neighborhood. The Clinton Avenue entrance to the building is a very fine Classical entryway in gleaming limestone, with Doric pilasters, Ionic columns, and cartouches, swags, garlands and fleur-de-lis a-plenty, enough swag to please any of the nearby robber barons. The Clinton façade presents as a large mansion. Perfect for the block.

The side of the building, on Greene, is a bit more subdued, with tan colored brick with limestone trim. Here too, is a wealth of ornament, handsome windows, and a fine cornice topping off the entire building. Today, the building has 16 units. I wouldn’t be surprised if it only had half that originally. Young designed a twin to this building at 292 Clinton Avenue, only 2 blocks away, on the corner of DeKalb. They were built at the same time, too. Take a look at both. GMAP

Photo: Sara Westcott for Property Shark, 2005

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