In 1890, the office for the architectural firm of Amzi Hill and Son was located at 1161 Fulton Street, near Franklin Avenue. Their phone number was 298 Bedford. If one were to call upon them, Amzi Hill and his son Henry were prepared to build you a very nice house.
Father and son had talent, and between the two of them, they designed a large swath of homes in Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights North, Clinton Hill and Park Slope during the second half of the 19th century.
Amzi Hill was born in 1833, in Putnam County, and by 1849 was registered as an architect in Manhattan. In 1860, he moved to Brooklyn, and practiced through 1892. Son Henry was born in Brooklyn and studied and apprenticed under his father. A business directory from the 1890’s calls Henry one of the ablest and most proficient members of his professions in this city, he went into partnership with his father in 1889, and practiced through at least 1902.
Besides that, little is known about either one of them. We know Henry lived in Stuyvesant Heights, at 202 MacDonough Avenue, in a very modest apartment in a building of his design.
The family home, where Amzi lived with his family, and died, in 1893, was a small three story house at 460 MacDonough St. Amzi appears in local 9th Ward politics in the Brooklyn Eagle supporting a candidate for local office, but that is it. Where their names show up over and over is in the records for the large number of row houses and apartment buildings they designed.
Amzi Hill is best remembered for his mastery of the Neo-Grec style, but his first houses in Crown Heights North, on Pacific St, are classic Italianate brownstones. Like any good architect, he, and later Henry, expanded on the limits of that style, and also went on to design in the Queen Anne style, as well as Romanesque Revival.
Amzi also had a successful career in real estate and insurance, as well. They were well known for their care in designing the interiors of their homes and flats, and today, Amzi Hill and Son homes are treasured for their fine woodwork, parquet floors and other interior features.
Much of Hill’s early Italianate and Neo-Grec work is in Clinton Hill and Bed Stuy, with a few brownstone rows in Crown Heights North and Park Slope. His largest group in the latter neighborhood is 184-202 Berkeley Place, between 7th and 8th Aves, built in 1882-3. These are classic Amzi Hill Neo-Grecs, with V-front bays and subtle Neo-Grec detailing, very much like the group he did several years later on MacDonough Street, between Tompkins and Throop in Bed Stuy, and groups on Washington Ave and Cambridge Place in Clinton Hill.
He is also responsible for the row houses currently in danger at 327-33 MacDonough, the fact that they are still standing a testament to good design and construction. He was superb in his execution of early apartment buildings, where his use of brick as decorative ornament, along with terra-cotta, stained glass and ironwork, are signatures. His finest may be the apartment building on the corner of Throop and MacDonough, built in 1889, where he designs the brick apartment building, as well as the Neo-Grec brownstone rowhouses that run on the adjacent block, intersecting with the side of the apt building.
Where some architects may make no connection between two, Amzi builds the side faÃ§ade of the apartment building to match the brownstone facades. It is a masterful and very subtle touch. He also designed the apartment building housing Peaches Restaurant on Lewis Ave, and several others in the area, and in nearby Crown Heights North. His brickwork on exterior chimney flues is unmistakable, and is a signature clue that Amzi was here.
We suspect that the addition of Henry Hill, and perhaps another nameless brother to the firm, is responsible for the complete change of direction in design for Amzi Hill and Son. Amzi had removed himself from most of the business concerns and died in 1893. By the 1990’s the popular style of architecture was now Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival.
In the next fifteen years, Henry and the firm designed and built many of the homes in Bed Stuy on Macon St, in the Stuyvesant Heights historical district on MacDonough, and what is now called Stuyvesant Heights East, those blocks between Halsey and Decatur, between Stuyvesant and Patchen. Most of them are groups of either three or four story homes, often with the same design groups repeating down one or both sides of a block.
According to our own modern architect posting asAmzi Hill, MacDonough St, from beginning to end should be re-named Hill St, because either Amzi or Henry designed most of the blocks, some in their entirety. Henry’s style becomes easy to spot: two arched parlor floor windows separated by a wooden or stone half column, often with a carved stone exotic human or animal face, a signature checkerboard pattern somewhere on the faÃ§ade, made by alternating the rough faces of the stone blocks, and often, a signature pressed metal or wooden dormer pediments with carved sunburst and swirl detail.
He also uses this motif on a semi-detached mansionette on the corner of Brooklyn Ave and Bergen St, in Crown Heights North, the last house on a block that his father helped create by designing some of the areas first brownstones, twenty years before. Henry was also very fond of matching carved Byzantine leaf motifs on rough cut lintels, which create a very appealing unfinished, bursting from the stone look. He was also good enough so that one does not get tired of this look, and he was definitely not a one trick pony.
He goes in many different directions, creating an eclectic array of Queen Anne styles, throughout the Stuyvesant Heights area, creating some of the most memorable houses in the area. Both Amzi and Henry should be in the pantheon of Brooklyn’s best, along with Montrose Morris, Frank Freeman, et al. Their buildings are a major contribution to the visual array that makes Brooklyn an interesting and architecturally rich city. My Flickr page has many examples.
Many thanks to “Amzi Hill” for walking around BS, showing me all of the Hill houses NOT yet landmarked, and therefore undocumented. There are hundreds! He was an invaluable source of biographic information, as well. His work documenting these blocks will help the LPC move faster towards landmarking these important neighborhoods.
[Photos by Suzanne Spellen]