Building of the Day: 77 Prospect Place

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Private house
Address: 77 Prospect Place
Cross Streets: Sixth and Flatbush Avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: original building – late 1880s, current building – 2004.
Architectural Style: Post Modern?
Architect: Original – Unknown, Transformation – Baumann Architects
Landmarked: No

The story: There is a huge hunk of undiscovered information about this building out there, and hopefully this will be one of those times where the Brownstoner community can fill in the blanks. I’ll tell you what we’ve got, though, and it’s pretty interesting, in terms of tracing the development of a building, as well as the development of a neighborhood.

77 Prospect Place shows up in a 1907-08 map of Brooklyn, as a brick structure; the first in a small group of similar structures on this very short street, in between Sixth Avenue and Flatbush. From the outline of the building on the map, they look like small one or two story houses, or more than likely, carriage houses. A photo from 1972 bears that out. A check in the Brooklyn Eagle is no help, no entries there, in the digitized editions up to 1902.

There is really no information on this building until 1972. That’s when Brooklyn Union Gas bought this, and the two adjoining buildings, for use in an experiment for alternative energy. Brooklyn Union Gas instituted its Cinderella Project in the 1960’s to rehab row houses in brownstone Brooklyn, starting in Park Slope. They would buy up vacant and dilapidated brownstones, and rehab them, (with everything gas powered, of course) and sell them. It was a defining moment in the history of brownstone renewal, and it helped bring back neighborhoods. There’s much more to be said on this topic.

By the 1970’s, the project had also started to explore alternative energy projects in their rehabs. They bought these three buildings, and installed experimental fuel cells on the roofs. 77 Prospect was the show house of this particular project. Inspired by the Apollo space craft, the cells were large blue units that looked like roof air conditioner units. They connected to inverters in the basement that changed the fuel cell’s direct current into alternating current. The cells converted gas into electricity by means of an electro-chemical process, with no moving parts. The fuel cells were supposed to be clean, with only water vapor and CO2 as by-products.

The experiment must not have been cost efficient, or something else didn’t work right, or I would expect we all would be living with units like this, and Brooklyn Union Gas would have cornered the market on the units. BUG sold 77 Prospect in 1972. Sometime between then and now In 2004, another story was added to the house, with a raised and open looking roof with clerestory windows, and exposed beams. The work was done by Phillipe Baumann of Baumann Architecture. Although totally different from the brownstones around it, the house is quite attractive, aided by a beautiful garden, and lots of natural materials, used well. I like this place a lot. Modern and historic can co-exist when great care and imagination is at work. I wonder if the fuel cells are still active. GMAP

Photo: June 28, 1972, New York Times

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