Walkabout with Montrose: Kinko Houses

This is the first in a series of articles showcasing the different kinds of multiple unit housing developed to accommodate the growing number of people moving into Brooklyn between 1880 and 1930.

The turn of the 20th century saw great population growth in all corners of Brooklyn, which was now a part of greater New York City. The single family house no longer met everyone’s housing needs.

Luxury apartment buildings and buildings with the new French Flats had been springing up in the better parts of town since the 1880’s, and better, more spacious tenement flats were being built for lower income renters by such social visionaries as Alfred Tredway White, and other flats, in general, were improving.

Some enterprising builders were constructing two family houses that from the street looked exactly like their one family row house neighbors, and in 1907, a radical new type of house hit the market: the Kinko Duplex House.

Kinko houses were developed by the Kings and Westchester Land Company, and designed by the NY firm of Mann & MacNeille. Horace B. Mann and Perry R. MacNeille practiced between 1902 and 1931, were brothers-in-law, and very successful designers of upper class suburban houses, including several fine Tudor and Arts and Crafts homes in the landmarked Fieldston section of the Bronx.

They are also known for schools and civic buildings, as well as being specialists in industrial housing. They designed several important company towns, such as Goodyear Heights in Ohio, and worked with Thomas Edison in engineering some of the first concrete houses for residential use.

The Kinko houses were built in Crown Heights North, on St. Johns and Brooklyn Avenues, Sterling and Hampton Places, all in the area around St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, between 1907 and 1912. Their most radical departure from tradition was to give each duplex unit its own front door and house number, stairway, porch and cellar.

Both units consisted of a living room, dining room and kitchen on the first floor, and a private stair leading to the second floor with four bedrooms, a hallway, and a bathroom. The lower unit had access to the back garden, the upper unit, which was reached by a private stairway to the third floor, had stairs leading from the 4th floor to a private roof garden.

Originally, deliveries to the top unit were made by way of a dumb waiter installed in the cellar. The interior of these houses was the new Arts and Crafts style, featuring simple brick fireplaces with plain oak mantles, dining rooms with tall, wall to wall oak wainscoting with a plate rail and cabinets, A&C style sconces and other fixtures, oak flooring, and a new, efficiency kitchen and pantry for a servant-less household.

Rather than replicating the same design on all of the houses, Mann and MacNeille designed several different styles, with variations on each. Each grouping is a row of 6 houses. The earliest style (1907) can be described as English Terrace, with Tudor and Arts and Crafts inspired detail, highly reminiscent of late 19th century English row houses.

The most formal group was called the Florentine, and is characterized by gold brick, with Tuscan style cornices and arched window groupings and balustrade balconies. Other groupings are Colonial Revival, some with wrought iron porch roofs, others with white wooden door surrounds and pediments with swagged floral wreaths. Detailed period photographs, as well as current pix are found on my Flickr page.

Most of the groups are amazingly intact, the greatest changes were made to the Florentine group, which lost its cornice, tile roof, and some of the balconies. The New York Times reports on February 27, 1910, that

When the company showed the plans to builders and prospective tenants the verdict of the majority was against them.

They did erect six of the houses, and before they were completed had rented every one, and before the families could move in there was a waiting list for the next group. The tenants willingly paid rates greater than other two-family houses could command, and were a class of people highly desirable as tenants.

The houses proved so popular that other architects built similar homes in the area, on Sterling Place, Prospect Place, Hampton Place and Bergen St. The firm of Mann and MacNeille went on to build a large group in an upscale section of Park Slope, on 3rd St, near the entrance to the park, just off PPW.

These houses are a mixture of the Florentine, as well as the English Terrace styles, with a bit of Gothic tossed in, built of light brown brick, with darker brick and wood trim, and are, according to the Park Slope Historic District Report, a reflection of the best of English (brick) work of the period.

I could not find any mention of this style of 2 family duplex house in other parts of brownstone Brooklyn, from this turn of the century period, but the style proved to be very popular in southern Brooklyn, and variations can be found from Canarsie to Bensonhurst, most of those homes being built in the 20’s and 30’s.

Today, these houses are highly prized, as the opportunity to live in a complete unit, and rent out another complete unit, with its own separate entrance and address, without compromising the original design of the house, is as desirable as it was when they were first built. If there are more of these houses in Brownstone Brooklyn, please leave a comment so they can be added to the list.

[Photo by Suzanne Spellen]

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