Building of the Day: 673-697 Vanderbilt Avenue

Photograph: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark, 2012.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Flats buildings
Address: 673-697 Vanderbilt Avenue
Cross Streets: Sterling and Park Places
Neighborhood: Prospect Heights
Year Built: 1895
Architectural Style: Renaissance Revival
Architect: Dahlander & Hedman
Other works by architect: Row houses in Stuyvesant Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights North, Park Slope and Prospect Heights, including row houses around the corner on Sterling and Park Places.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Heights HD (2009)

The story: When Olmsted & Vaux changed the shape of the new, proposed Prospect Park, after the Civil War, a lot of land bought up by the City of Brooklyn for the original boundaries of the park was now superfluous. This included much of the neighborhood of Prospect Heights, including the area where the Brooklyn Museum, Botanical Gardens and Central Library now stand. The city decided to hold onto that portion, and sell the rest. This prime land, which would be right by the park, and close to the convenient public transportation on Flatbush and Washington Avenues, was snapped up by developers, and no one snapped louder or faster than former state senator William Reynolds.

Reynolds, who had made his fortune in real estate at the tender age of 23, had developed blocks of prime upper-middle class rowhouses already; on Stuyvesant Avenue in Stuyvesant Heights, Halsey and Hancock Streets in Bedford, among other places, and was now ready to set his sights on a new neighborhood. Prospect Heights was perfect. He bought up large plots of land on Sterling and Park Places, and Vanderbilt Avenue, all between Vanderbilt and Washington Avenues, and began to build houses. These flats buildings on Vanderbilt are exceptions, most of his development was in row houses.

Although the LPC lists William Reynolds as the architect on some of these houses in Prospect Heights, it was more likely that he was not. His favorite architects were Swedish architects Magnus Dahlander and Axel Hedman; architects he used on many of his projects in Central Brooklyn, and here as well. He did use other architects in Prospect Heights, too, incidentally. Magnus Dahlander would partner with Frederick Langston, on some of these projects, but he and Hedman were formal business partners for several years, and produced a vast amount of work for Senator Reynolds.

The houses the duo came up with are the most ornate and striking in Prospect Heights; three and four story brownstone and limestones of great beauty. When it came to these flats buildings, the men seemed to take a deep breath, and just concentrate on creating some majestic flats buildings that could stand tall next to the single family houses. After all, a flat was not as prestigious as a four story home, but it could certainly make a tenant proud to step out of one of these with one’s head as high as a brownstone dweller. These were classy buildings.

They are unique on Vanderbilt, in that they are just about the only multi-unit buildings from this period that don’t have ground floor retail stores, adding to the class, and taking away that onerous tenement quality. The designs are pure Dahlander and Hedman, with Dahlander’s love of corner towers and turrets, along with well-designed and appointed ornament. Number 673 is the most prominent, between its corner lot, and the fine tower, which is now missing its conical roof, followed by 677 and 679. Both had impressive pyramidal roofs at one point, but sadly, 677’s is also missing. And it’s too bad some of the ground floor limestone has been painted, if all was left clean, and all the roofs intact, the entire grouping would look like one very large, grand estate.

I am in this area frequently, and am always struck by the power of this group, especially when seen far enough away to also capture the PS 9 Annex, next door. What a powerful block this is; a fine gateway to Prospect Park. Senator Reynolds chose well. GMAP

Photograph: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark, 2012.

Photograph: Greg Snodgrass for Property Shark, 2006.

Photograph: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark, 2007.

What's Happening