A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Division Avenue got its name because it was the dividing line between the city of Brooklyn and the city of Williamsburg. Williamsburg had been founded as a separate village, and then was part of Bushwick, then a separate town, before becoming the city of Williamsburg in 1852. Only three years later, Williamsburg and Bushwick became part of the greater city of Brooklyn, as Brooklyn grew in size and importance. Not much changed in the transition, including the street name.

The block of Division between Bedford and Driggs Avenues was residential, with brownstone row houses predominating. A unique building opportunity presented itself in the middle of the block, where a wide angle created by a bend in the street, was divided into three lots. Numbers 131 and 135 Division were the usual rectangular lots, but 133 became pie-shaped, creating the opportunity for a very interesting building.

The first map I have access to for this part of town is from 1887. It clearly shows the three buildings there. Our vintage photograph was taken in 1895, and shows 131 and 135 Division as two twin Greek Revival style brownstones with handsome cast iron fencing. Both have exterior shutters in all of the windows. The houses are at least 20 feet wide, if not a few more. From the style of the houses, they may date back to the late 1840s.

But sandwiched between them is what looks like the narrowest house ever. 133 Division looks only about ten feet wide. The architect made the most of the façade, deciding to skip the stoop and raised parlor floor and have the entrance at street level, with an interesting triangular bay on the parlor level, and four stories of living space and an attic level. There is also a cellar, the window of which can be seen between the two women.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: The Woodrow Wilson Apartments
Address: 255 Eastern Parkway
Cross Streets: Classon and Franklin Avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights/Crow Hill
Year Built: 1924
Architectural Style: Early Art Deco with Gothic details
Architect: Shampan & Shampan
Other buildings by architect: A great many six-story apartment buildings in most neighborhoods of Brooklyn, especially Flatbush, Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill.
Landmarked: No

The story: In a story highlighting new apartment buildings in the 1920s, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote, ”the highest standards of construction and architecture govern the apartment house enterprises today. To be successful they must be not only attractive in equipment and facilities, but beautiful in their exterior aspect.” The Woodrow Wilson was an example of the new apartment building, and a great example of the entire sociological phenomenon that was the middle class apartment building of the 1920s and 30s. In many ways, the Deco period was the Golden Age of the apartment building.

Photographs of Eastern Parkway in the first decades of the 20th century show a vast emptiness spreading eastward from Grand Army Plaza. The Brooklyn Museum stood proudly near the reservoir at Mount Prospect, but there wasn’t much going on around it yet. Across the parkway, empty lots stood, with just an occasional building here and there, an occasional mansion sitting by itself, or further out, near Nostrand Avenue, lines of limestone row houses. But by the mid to late 1920s, all that would radically change, as developers began building the grand apartment buildings that line Eastern Parkway.

The developers often gave the new apartment buildings names that evoked class and status, naming buildings after streets and buildings in England or France. They named buildings after famous Americans, the most popular being presidents, so it’s no wonder that a building built in 1924 would be named after Woodrow Wilson, the president who had just left office only three years before.