Most people are aware that most of the row house blocks we now treasure throughout Brownstone Brooklyn were built as speculative housing. Then, as now, only the very wealthy were able to commission a home to be built specifically and specially for them.
Most people let one of the hundreds of builders working in the borough build the homes, and then they bought. The building boom of the late 19th and early 20th century gave us row upon row of houses in all of the rapidly growing neighborhoods of Brooklyn.
This is also true of homes in the more suburban neighborhoods, as well, the only difference being the style of home. Because of all the competition, builders and developers competed to produce the best house for the dollar, and because of that, over 100 years later, we now enjoy a pretty high degree of excellence, in terms of overall design, materials used, and original features. The more upscale the development, the better the interior and exterior craftsmanship, and the more innovations and amenities.
A list of names shows that the Irish dominated the building in our borough at the turn of the 20th century. Some men developed a relatively few parcels of land, some created neighborhoods. William Reynolds, featured last week, was one of the largest.
There were also some women whose names are credited as developers. This prompts further investigation, as some were fronting for husbands, while some were powerful in their own right.
Some developers built homes in many different neighborhoods, without preference, while others seemed to gravitate to one specific neighborhood, usually the one they called home. Some of these men were also architects, and they designed and built their own projects, while others hired architects to design.
Often, that architect’s name is lost to history, but sometimes an architect with a proven name or track record was touted in the advertising or announcement accompanying the project. I’ve featured many of them here, men like Axel Hedman, Parfitt Brothers, George Chappell, Magnus Dahlander and many, many others who made a good living designing for the builders of Brooklyn.
There were also architects who developed the properties they themselves designed. Montrose Morris did this repeatedly, as did Amzi and Henry Hill. The Hills also designed for other builders, as well.
What I find fascinating is to look at the advertising in issues of the Brooklyn Eagle, and see the housing when it was brand new, and up for sale. The building boom in Park Slope, Bedford, St. Marks, Prospect Heights, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens, produced a wealth of real estate ads, all touting the virtues of the new houses.
As development grew in the suburban neighborhoods of Bay Ridge, Flatbush, and Bensonhurst, the ads for these properties followed suit, as well. Unlike the real estate ads of today, bursting with color pictures, the ads of yesterday had to rely more on description. But the features being described haven’t changed much in their desirability: bathrooms, kitchens, woodwork, central heating, built-in, and floors. Today’s photo collection is a sampling of ads from the Eagle
A partial list of the bigger developers, by neighborhood.
Bedford (Bedford Stuyvesant and Stuyvesant Heights) William H. Burhans, John Fraser, William H. Reynolds, Charles W. Betts, Walter Clayton, Eli Bishop, John F. Ryan, Charles Tritschler
Bedford/St. Mark’s District (Crown Heights North) William H. Burhans, John Fraser, John J. Magilligan, John A. Bliss, DH Fowler, Charles G. Reynolds, William R. Pierce
Prospect Heights: William Flanagan, Jeremiah Gilligan, William H. Reynolds, Thomas Butler,
Park Slope John J. Magilligan, William Flanagan, Jeremiah Gilligan, John Gordon, Thomas Fagan, William Gubbins, J. Doherty, John Monas.
Prospect Lefferts Gardens William A. A. Brown, Fenimore Building Co, Frederick P. Norris, Eli H. Bishop.
[Images via the Brooklyn Eagle]