Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Through the Block from Union to President

When we found a Brooklyn Daily Eagle citation for three four-story, four-family flats in Union Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, south side, we figured the buildings would be easy to locate in our comprehensive photo database of Park Slope:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 2, 1894, p. 4 ("Real Estate Market")

Sure enough, the photographs confirm that three buildings matching the Eagle description are standing in Union Street today. They are very handsome buildings, of brick with brownstone trim, over a first floor of rusticated brownstone, with all cornices and ironwork intact:

762-766 Union Street - unprotected

Just below in the same Eagle article, there is a description of three identical buildings, attributed to the same builder, Thomas J. Smith, in the north side of President Street, at the same distance east of 6th Avenue:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 2, 1894, p. 4 ("Real Estate Market")

Consulting the photographs once again, we found three more of these same buildings in President Street, matching their counterparts through the block in Union Street:

749-753 President Street - unprotected

The President Street buildings match the ones in Union Street in every detail, except that one in President Street has lost the original ironwork.

Since the Eagle descriptions match the existing structures, we feel we can safely attribute all six buildings to Thomas J. Smith, owner/builder, 1894. Smith undoubtedly purchased all six lots at once and then erected the buildings simultaneously. Most such building groups are erected in linear rows, but occasionally one finds this kind of discontinuous "through-the-block" configuration.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Three President Street Rows

In May, 1888, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle cited a new building permit issued to Martin & Lee for five two and a half story, single family residences, in President Street near 7th Avenue:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 5, 1888, p. 2 ("Houses - Lots")

The row of five can be seen today on the north side of President Street, just west of 7th Avenue. All remain, in original condition; the photograph below shows two of them and the others may be seen in our photo album for this side of the block:

805-813 President Street - unprotected

A later Eagle article, from March 24, 1889, notes the completion of this row, and two other nearby rows of houses:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 24, 1889, p. 12 ("Flats and Other Houses")

The second row, next to the row above, and also completed in 1889 by Martin & Lee, originally comprised six "swell front" houses. Only three remain; the others were apparently demolished and replaced by the 1926 addition to St. Francis Xavier's original 1914 school building, further down the block:

799-803 President Street - unprotected

Two of the remaining three have unfortunately lost their stoops and cornices, most likely when they were merged into an apartment house.

Across the street, all four of an original row of "sharp front" houses remain. The Eagle article indicates that they were completed in 1889 by Henry S. Lansdell:

800-806 President Street - unprotected

Three of these classic brownstone-front Neo-Grec houses are in perfect condition, including original stoop ironwork.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Early C. B. Sheldon in 9th Street - 1870

Those who frequent the Prospect Park YMCA in 9th Street will no doubt be very familiar with a row of five brick-front Italianate houses on the south side of the street between 5th and 6th Avenues... the houses stand just opposite the cardio room and there is not much else to look at while running on the treadmill!

Fortunately they are very handsome houses, despite having lost their original stoops. We love the rounded door- and window-hoods, and the tall parlor windows that drop all the way to the floor, so characteristic of Italianate style:

364 9th Street - unprotected

It turns out these are some of the earliest houses standing in Park Slope. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of December 1, 1870, they were built by Mr. C. B. Sheldon, who as we have seen later became very active in 7th Avenue:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 1, 1870, p. 2 ("Improvements in Gowanus")

We suspect the decorative window and door hoods may be made of cast iron; Professor Andrew Dolkart has called our attention to similar cast iron elements of contemporary buildings in Clinton Hill. It would be interesting to hold up a magnet and see if it sticks. If any of our readers could test this theory, please let us know!:

All five of the buildings in this row still stand; the others can be seen in our photo album for the block.

How confident are we about this attribution? Well, their late Italianate style is appropriate for the year of the Eagle article (1870); the buildings are two story over basement, as cited in the article; and they are the only group of five brick-front houses on the block. The article could not refer to any other buildings on the block. The attribution seems firm to us.

Friday, February 20, 2009

George Keller, Builder

One often finds new building permits listed separately in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, for buildings that were constructed at the same time as part of a group.

Consider the following pair of listings, from April 29, 1892, for two buildings at the northwest corner of 8th Avenue and 11th Street in Park Slope, just outside the current historic district boundaries:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 29, 1892, p. 2 ("New Buildings and Real Estate")

One expects to find two buildings occupying this corner today. But when one consults the Park Slope Civic Council's comprehensive neighborhood photo database, one finds what appears to be only a single building occupying the site:

569 11th Street - unprotected

Appearances can be deceiving, however. From the perspective of the Department of Buildings, these are two structures. As described in the building permits, this is actually a 17'-wide building containing four "flats", on the left (with a separate entrance under the fire escape), and a 20'-wide mixed-use building (three flats over ground-floor shop) on the corner. The corner building has one entrance to the ground-floor shop, and another entrance, on the 8th Avenue side, to the flats above, a typical configuration for a mixed-use building of this vintage.

The buildings, erected by George Keller in 1892, appear to be in original condition, including the cast-iron pilasters surrounding the store entrance, and the decorative brackets below the wonderful projecting bay above:

The date of construction, 1892, can be seen peeking from the cornice on the 8th Avenue side:

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

7th Avenue & 15th Street, northwest corner

The interesting cluster of buildings at the northwest corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street certainly looks as if it might have been built as a unit:

438-432 7th Avenue - unprotected

In addition to the corner building, there are four additional buildings that appear to be part of the group. A kind of banding runs continually across the five facades, at the top and bottom of the windows. The banding holds bricks set at 45-degree angles, and a rectangle of similarly-laid brick appears between floors (what is the technical term for this kind of masonry?):

Another indicator that buildings might be related is seen in the cornice, which runs continously across the complete row:

Thus it is not surprising to discover in the November 23, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle a notice of plans to erect a group of five four-story, mixed use buildings (flats over stores) on this very corner:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 23, 1889, p. 1 ([title obscured])

This notice is admittedly just a new building permit. One sometimes finds a corresponding notice of completion in the Eagle, some months after the initial notice of building plans, which would strengthen the case for attribution. We may yet find such a notice. But a case like this, where the existing buildings perfectly match the original permit, seems sufficiently strong; consequently we are attributing this interesting ensemble to D. Atkins, owner/builder, 1889-90. Disagree with us if you want! But show us a more compelling case for another builder.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Introducing Sampson B. Oulton

A lovely row of small brownstone houses stands in 11th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues, on the south side of the street:

306-304 11th Street - unprotected

The row was nearly finished in October, 1885, when it was featured in a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article containing a fascinating and extensive interior description. They sound like charming houses indeed:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 19, 1885, p. 2 ("Busy Builders")

What a relief to know that the parlor was equipped with an arch for "drapery if required"! But what on earth is a "Boynton heater"?

The article attributes the row to "S. B. Fulton", but we suspect the Eagle reporter meant Oulton, not Fulton. Sampson B. Oulton was a prolific Brooklyn builder who unfortunately came to a rather sad end, as we shall one day see.

Remarkably, all twelve houses still stand today. Every cornice is intact. Not a single stoop as been removed. Oulton's "neatest row of small houses in the world" is yet another example of the many original rows of historic houses standing in Park Slope today, unprotected by historic district designation.

316 11th Street - unprotected

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Question of Character

The Park Slope Civic Council's upcoming forum will be devoted to the project to expand the Park Slope Historic District.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cevedra Blake Sheldon, pt. 2

Once again we turn our attention to prolific Park Slope builder Cevedra Blake Sheldon, who built a row of five buildings on the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and Garfield Place in 1888-89:

151-159 7th Avenue - unprotected

The corner building, at Garfield Place, was originally built for mixed-use, with the first floor flush with the sidewalk, accomodating a store, and three flats above; it retains this same configuration today. Park Slope is filled with these early mixed-use buildings, often located on prime corner locations. C. B. Sheldon himself built three identical buildings on this same intersection of 7th Avenue and Garfield Place. 6th Avenue has many
buildings of this configuration, even though in many cases the first floor has been converted from commercial to residential use.

What's interesting about this row in 7th Avenue is that the four buildings adjacent to the corner store were originally entirely residential in use. They were "flat houses", each built to house four families, one per floor. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Feb. 2, 1889 notes that each of the first floor apartments contained a 3-bedroom apartment:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 2, 1889 ("New Flats")

These buildings reflect the original pattern of development along 7th Avenue: in those days, it was not exclusively commercial, as it is now. Hard as it may be to imagine today, some of the buildings in 7th Avenue's commercial core were originally exclusively residential.

The entire row was probably converted to mixed-use, with first floor commercial, not long after the buildings were constructed. Surprisingly, one of the "flat houses" retains its original low stoop, door, and original neo-Grec cast-iron balusters:

Detail, 155 7th Ave. - unprotected

In a subsequent post we will examine remnants of single-family residences in 7th Avenue.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brooklyn, "City of Homes"

The "lower Slope" holds a wealth of treasures for the casual explorer. One turns a corner off present-day Sixth or Fifth avenues, and finds oneself transported into the last decades of the Nineteenth Century. Indeed, most blocks have changed very little, or not at all, in the decades since they were first built up.

These blocks may not hold the tall, wide mansions of the "upper Slope". These blocks hold rows upon rows of dwellings built to house the working man and woman, the clerks and tradespeople of the late 19th c. A casual reading of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle proves that such housing was enormously popular; builders could hardly erect these houses quickly enough to meet demand.

Such is the case for the fine row of fifteen houses built in 1885-86 by Thomas Butler in Fifth Street, south side, west of Sixth Avenue:

Fifth Street - west toward Fifth Avenue - unprotected

The row is of brick, two stories over high basement, one family, richly ornamented with terra cotta:

390 Fifth Street - unprotected

The year of completion, "1886", is stamped in the terra cotta panel between the two parlor windows:

The Brooklyn Eagle of January 12, 1886 observes that "the multiplication of such houses is the best guarantee that Brooklyn is to be in the future, as it has been in the past, a city of homes."

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 12, 1886, p. 1 ("Brisk Building")

Remarkably, every one of this entire row of fifteen houses still stands, unchanged since original construction! Generations come and go, but this "fine row" of houses continues to shelter Park Slope families today, just as it has done since 1886.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Introducing Cevedra Blake Sheldon

Today we introduce Cevedra Blake ("C. B.") Sheldon, a major developer in Park Slope history. It was Sheldon who erected the magnificent apartment house at the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and President Street, just outside the boundary of the current Park Slope Historic District. The building was erected in 1888-89; the architect was J. G. Glover:

820 President Street - unprotected

The building is now known as "The Verona"; the name is carved on a stone panel beside the main entrance in President Street.

However, according to an early description of this elegant building in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the building was originally called "The Sheldon", after its owner:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 2, 1889, p. 4 ("New Flats")

Sheldon was a prolific builder in Park Slope and we will be seeing much more from him shortly. A few of his buildings are protected in the current Park Slope Historic District, but a great deal of his work lies outside the current boundaries.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

"Something quite different" in First Street

We've always loved First Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, one of Park Slope's amazingly beautiful blocks. Long ranks of brownstones shoulder together on either side of the street. This entire block has been unaccountably overlooked by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

On the south side of the eastern end of the block, a long block of ten houses was constructed in 1885 by developers Conway & Mowbray; three of these are shown here:

358-356-354 First Street - unprotected

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of October 8, 1885, contains an extensive interior description of these fine houses:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 8, 1885, p. 2 ("Houses")

The entire row of ten houses still stands in First Street, unchanged since they were first constructed over 120 years ago.