Building of the Day: 47 Plaza Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Apartment Building
Address: 47 Plaza Street West
Cross Streets: Union St. and Berkeley Place
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1928
Architectural Style: Italian Renaissance with hints of Deco
Architect: Rosario Candela
Other buildings by architect: Manhattan-740 Park, 834 5th Ave, Brooklyn- Berkeley Plaza Building, 39 Plaza Street West.
Landmarked: No, believe it or not.

The story: Rosario Candela was born in Sicily, and came to the United States permanently in 1909. The son of a plasterer, he graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture in 1915. He was exceedingly talented, so much so that he was said to have put up a velvet rope around his drafting table, so other students couldn’t copy his work. After graduation, and work in a couple of established architects’ offices, he put out his own shingle, and began to design apartment buildings.

This is a story of a man being in the right place at the right time, with the talent to match the need. The ‘teens and early 1920’s saw unprecedented growth in luxury apartment buildings in Manhattan, and Candela soon found himself designing large buildings on Park and Fifth Avenue, Sutton Place, West End Avenue, Broadway and Riverside Drive. Many of his buildings are rather understated, but Candela mastered the art of the terraced setback as well as being a master of his interiors. He loved puzzles and cyphers, and his apartments could be a wonderful jigsaw of shapes, interlocked and intersecting in novel ways. Many were duplexes, with dramatic entry hallways, with swooping staircases, the apartments containing the most modern of conveniences and features. The rich loved him, and living in a Candela building, then and now, gives one bragging rights.

The Great Depression put an end to the rush of luxury buildings, causing Candela to have to lay off a lot of his staff of 50, but he stayed in business, designing smaller, and what some may consider more mundane commercial and residential buildings. In the late 1930’s, he took up cryptography, and broke the code of a famous French cryptologist working in the 19th century. He taught the only class of cryptology in the US at Hunter College, in 1941, and wrote two books on the subject. With at least 60 buildings to his credit, he worked up until his death in 1953.

This building is a gem. Known as Brooklyn’s Flatiron Building, the co-op apartment building hugs the circle approaching Grand Army Plaza, with the point of the building ending in a single window. Candela designed this at the peak of his popularity and it shows what great architecture should show: a building making an aesthetic statement of its own, while being perfectly placed in its environment. The brick and terra-cotta trim is extremely attractive, and also echoes the buildings surrounding it, and I think, gives a nod to the nearby Montauk Club. The apartment building’s shape itself, leads the eye towards the park, and gently curves around the oval. The AIA Guide praises it as homage to the great Circus (a ring of buildings enclosing a central space) at Bath, designed by John Wood in Bath, England, in 1754. This is fine apartment building at its best. GMAP

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