Have you ever wondered who designed that fascinating structure you walk by every day? We’ve rounded up profiles of 15 architects who contributed to the 19th and 20th century look of Brooklyn, from rows of brownstones to iconic institutional structures.
Brownstoner’s Suzanne Spellen has done deep dives into the lives and work of numerous architects and builders who worked in the borough. Many of them are well-known, such as Montrose Morris and the Parfitt Brothers. Others, including developer Susanna Edith Cosey Russell and Essex Roberts, possibly Brooklyn’s first named black architect, were not given recognition in their time.
Have we left your favorite Brooklyn architect out of this roundup? Chances are a building they designed is profiled somewhere in Spellen’s voluminous Brownstoner archives.
Benjamin Driesler was a busy man, designing hundreds of homes in Flatbush and Long Island. He also was quite active in Brooklyn’s architectural enclaves, leading architectural organizations, and contributing to the general public’s knowledge of just what it was an architect did.
In the Eastern District, comprising the communities of Bushwick, Williamsburg and parts of Greenpoint, the name Theobald Engelhardt is almost synonymous with architecture.
Some of the best of Brooklyn’s architects left behind great works, and next to no information about themselves. Frank Freeman, who the AIA Guide’s Norval White called Brooklyn’s finest architect, is one of those men.
As a fan of Brooklyn’s architecture, it never ceases to amaze me how many fine architects put their mark on our fair city. Frank Helmle, either on his own, or with several different partners, designed some of our most iconic buildings built between 1888 and 1930.
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.
This story is the stuff of novels and movies. A hometown boy, educated in Brooklyn schools, goes on to college and returns home, ready to perform Great Deeds in his chosen profession of architecture. Against all odds he wins a major competition, and his name is plastered all over the papers. But before he can proceed with his project, he is shot down by political machinations, his name is stepped on, and his star falls rather rudely to earth.
The late 19th century was a time of big money, big growth, and big ambitions in a big city. Enter a family man, society swell, bon vivant, good singer, canny businessman, and damn good architect. Stanford White? No Montrose W. Morris, of Bedford, Brooklyn, one of the finest architects to paint the canvas of our Brooklyn landscape.
James W. Naughton was an immigrant success story. Born in Ireland, his family immigrated to Brooklyn when he was 8. For almost 20 years, Naughton designed all of the schools built in Brooklyn, totaling more than 100 buildings.
You can’t walk around Brooklyn without running into the Parfitt Brothers. While the name may sound like a Country Rock band, they were, in fact, one of Brooklyn’s best and busiest architectural firms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and their work can be found in almost all of brownstone Brooklyn and beyond.
Between around 1890 and 1915, John J. Petit, with or without his partners, Henry Kirby and Walter Green, was a designing machine, creating an enormous amount of work; mostly free-standing suburban houses in Prospect Park South and Ditmas Park, but also important commercial buildings.
Isaac Delamater Reynolds began his career at a time when many of our row house blocks were not designed by architects as we know them now. They were designed and built by builders, carpenters and masons who used plan books and their own extensive experience to build this mostly speculative housing.
While many in the building trade had strong religious convictions, I have learned of only one man whose building skills encompassed both heaven and earth. That would be different enough, but the fact that he was also African American puts him in a category all his own in Brooklyn’s architectural pantheon. This is the story of Essex Roberts, perhaps Brooklyn’s first named black architect and builder.
There are probably several unknown women who engaged in building over the course of Brooklyn’s early history, but we have no names or information readily available. Brooklyn’s first known female developer was Susanna Edith Cosey Russell, appearing on the scene in 1870. She was often the architect and builder of her projects, too.
Snyder was the school architect at the busiest time in New York City’s history. His predecessor only had to worry about Manhattan and the Bronx, but Snyder now had five boroughs’ schools under his wing.
Tubby’s close association with Charles Pratt and Pratt Institute resulted in some of his best known Brooklyn buildings, but his work can be found in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Connecticut, and Long Island, as well.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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