Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Tenement buildings
Address: 442-472 40th Street
Cross Streets: 4th and 5th avenues
Neighborhood: Sunset Park
Year Built: 1912-1913
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Eisenla & Carlson
Other Work by Architect: Row houses, tenements and flats buildings in Park Slope, row house blocks such as the 600 block of 76th Street, also Senator Street in Bay Ridge.
Landmarked: No, but on National Register of Historic Places (1988)
The story: Sunset Park was one of the last of Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods to develop, and most of this large neighborhood’s building stock dates to the beginning of the 20th century. Several factors contributed to the neighborhood’s rise, chief among them the building of the 4th Avenue subway line, and the jobs available at the huge Sunset Park industrial park of Bush Terminal, its adjacent industries and, later, the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
In 1906, a reporter for the Brooklyn Eagle noted that the Sunset Park area had gone from farm land to urban city in the space of only a few years. The 4th Avenue subway line was announced in 1905. It was designed to connect South Brooklyn with Downtown Brooklyn, and on to Manhattan, via the new Manhattan Bridge. By 1908, the blocks between the avenues in Sunset Park were a hive of building activity, with foundations being dug and buildings going up on every block.
Most of that housing was one- and two-family row houses, but there were also blocks with flats and tenement buildings. Many were near the park itself, but one block, 40th Street between 4th and 5th avenues, is almost exclusively three-story, multi-family tenement buildings, all designed by the same architects, Eisenla & Carlson. Today, we’re featuring the houses on the western side of the street, the even numbered buildings, or 442-472 40th Street.
Frederick William Eisenla and his partner were local Brooklyn architects. I found no records as to Carlson’s first name, although there was an Arthur Carlson who was a Brooklyn architect who mostly designed theaters around the same time. I don’t know if that was the same man. We know a bit more about Frederick Eisenla, as his name appears more often. He was a decent designer, and worked in the Park Slope, Sunset Park and Bay Ridge neighborhoods. The firm designed attractive upscale row houses on 2nd Street, in Park Slope, so nice that developer Louis Bonert, responsible for much of 3rd Street’s development, lived in one of them.
They also designed fine rows of row houses in Bay Ridge, with the entire 600 block of 68th Street to their credit, as well as 38 of the 40 buildings on Senator Street, a row also on the National Register, and up for landmarking. Here in Sunset Park, they designed both this street of tenement buildings, as well as row houses.
Tenement buildings, by definition, were not slum dwellings; the name refers to the kind of multiple unit building it was, as defined by the Tenement Laws, with regard to windows, ventilation and sanitary facilities. Higher end tenements were also called flats buildings. These were nice, middle class flats, with six families, two per floor, on three floors. The center windows gave additional light to the hallways, and the apartments were railroad flats with side windows in the air shafts between buildings.
Eisenla & Carlson made their flats quite beautiful, with elegant details on the facades, including limestone trim and prominent cornices. Their buildings take advantage of the topography, and elegantly stair step up the hill, giving the street a wonderful streetscape. These apartments have long been home to the neighborhood’s working class population, and are still an important part of this neighborhood’s housing stock. GMAP