Building of the Day: 64-66 Eighth Avenue

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 64-66 Eighth Avenue
Cross Streets: Union Street and Berkeley Place
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1889
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other buildings by architect: Nearby St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Grace Methodist Church, as well as Truslow House, all in Crown Heights North; Berkeley, Grosvenor and Montague apartment houses on Montague Street
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD (1973)

The story: I’ve always admired these houses, long before I learned that they were designed by one of my favorite Brooklyn architectural firms, the Parfitt Brothers. Actually, finding out that the Parfitt boys designed this one was a bit of a surprise, as most of their buildings are in dark, heavy brownstone or brick. They rarely embraced light colored stone, but when they did, it resulted in two extremely fine row houses on a block chock full of architectural goodies. I was drawn by the ornament, which is quite fine and in abundance on both buildings. But a closer look at the pair shows a mastery of row house form, composition and texture that is classic Parfitt.

The houses were built for wealthy wholesale merchant Stephen Underhill. He lived at 66 8th Avenue from the time the houses were completed until his death in 1902 only thirteen years later. Underhill was a wholesale butter and eggs merchant, with offices in Manhattan. He was a member of the Produce Exchange, Mercantile Exchange, the Montauk Club and the First Reformed Church. He lived in the house with his wife, Cornelia, and their two sons.

The Parfitt Brothers were Henry, Walter and Albert Parfitt, all born and educated in England. Henry and Walter came to the United States around 1875, and the youngest brother, Albert, came here in 1882. Although they would eventually design all kinds of buildings, their bread and butter came from row houses and flats. Both of these building types were familiar to them from similar English traditions, and Albert especially was quite adept at translating the English Arts and Crafts Movement, started by William Morris and others, into the vocabulary of American architecture.

What resulted was a collection of buildings that are often subtly different from their stylistic neighbors. Here, the Parfitts took the commission to design two buildings, and made them compatible to each other but quite individual as well. The building at 66 8th Avenue was the Underhill pater’s home, so it’s actually larger than the other house at 23 feet wide, as opposed to 19 feet at number 64. But you certainly don’t notice it very much from the outside. Both houses have charming details that make either one a gem on their own.

The houses are faced with Euclid stone and granite, both expensive and unusual materials for a row house. Euclid stone is a very fine sandstone quarried in Euclid, Ohio. The rough-faced random ashlar stone on the upper stories is a nice backdrop for the delicate carvings nearby and the smooth-faced parlor floor. Here, it’s all about a mixture of texture. The Parfitts had the columns on the third and fourth floor windows done in granite, another material adding texture, subtle color, and massing of shape and forms. The use of oriels and windows, the beautiful carved ornament, the stoops, doorways and stairs, even the chimneys, all add up to truly beautiful houses. GMAP

Photo: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark, 2012

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