Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Monday, March 30, 2009

Yet More Cevedra Blake Sheldon

Today we turn our attention once again to prolific Park Slope builder Cevedra Blake Sheldon, whose work we have examined here in the past and who seems to have exerted a particularly strong influence on 7th Avenue.

Sheldon constructed every building standing today on the west side of 7th Avenue between Garfield Place and 1st Street. In addition, he built about half of the buildings on the west side of 7th Avenue between Garfield Place and Carroll Street.

Sheldon seems particularly to have excelled at those wonderful mixed-use, commercial/residential buildings occupying corner lots. His corner buildings often feature a 3-sided bay projecting above the corner entrance to the first-floor commercial space, as in the row below:

7th Avenue and Garfield Place, northwest corner - unprotected

According to the Brooklyn Eagle, Sheldon built these buildings in 1888:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 24, 1888, p. 6 ("Various Improvements")

The article indicates that the buildings were "single flats", with the kitchens positioned at the rear of each floor's apartment.

The article cites a row of five buildings that was constructed together, but there are seven nearly identical buildings in the row today. It is likely that the original was expanded shortly after construction, or that the row cited here added to already existing buildings.

Continuing south across Garfield Place, we encounter another row by Sheldon, built at the same time in 1888 and also featuring another of his signature projecting corner bays:

7th Avenue and Garfield Place, southwest corner - unprotected

The same Eagle article attributes these buildings, and in fact the entire row to 1st Street, to Sheldon:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 24, 1888, p. 6 ("Various Improvements")

The blockfront culminates in yet another mixed-use building with a projecting corner bay:

7th Avenue and 1st Street, northwest corner - unprotected

These corner buildings are wonderfully complex. Besides the corner bay, each corner building also has a three-sided bay on the side elevation. The entrance to the flats above is via a door at the far end of the side. But, one also notes traces of other doorways along the side wall... one of the articles indicates that the first-floor commercial space could have been subdivided into several small specialty shops. Finally, a now-blocked archway above the cellar hatch in each corner building probably once held a door or partition that could swing open to facilitate deliveries.

It should be noted that builders frequently used identical cornice brackets when constructing rows of multiple buildings. Sheldon seems to have used the same cornice bracket everywhere he worked. We have grown so used to seeing it in 7th Avenue that we now call it the "Sheldon bracket":

"Sheldon" Cornice Brackets

These mixed-use, commercial/residential buildings in 7th Avenue were constructed differently from all-residential "flat houses". In order to create a first-floor facade that could accommodate large glass shop windows, the buildings frequently incorporated vertical cast-iron beams supporting a shallow iron arch into which bricks are set. The arch is usually covered with signage, but some businesses prefer to leave it exposed as in the example below from the South Slope:

7th Avenue & 14th Street, northwest corner - unprotected

The attentive flaneur, strolling Park Slope's commercial avenues, occasionally encounters these cast-iron beams crafted to look like pillars or pilasters on the old commercial bases of the mixed-use buildings. In our perhaps biased opinion, the more minimal the signage, and the more a shop highlights the original building construction, the better we like it.

If one looks carefully at the base of these exposed cast-iron "pillars," one can occasionally make out original foundry marks as in the following example from "Howell & Saxtan" of 353 Adams St., Brooklyn:

Foundry Mark:

HOWELL
&
SAXTAN
353
ADAMS. ST
BKLYN

These foundry marks recall a much more localized economy, when nearly everything from cast-iron to beer was made right here in Brooklyn. One wonders if we may yet revert (or is it advance?) to such an economy once again.

James Howell of "Howell & Saxtan" may not be much remembered now. But he was Mayor of the independent City of Brooklyn from 1878 to 1881.

Finally, it should be noted that these corner buildings often sported wonderful peaked "hats" that accented the projecting corner bays. A historic photograph from the Brooklyn Public Library's wonderful Brooklyn Collection shows yet another of Sheldon's buildings, now lost, at the corner of 7th Avenue and President Street, when it still retained its peaked corner. Old First Church is on the left in the picture below and the view is to the north in 7th Avenue, toward Flatbush Avenue:

Brooklyn Public Library - Brooklyn Collection

The building, which unfortunately was outside the current Park Slope Historic District, was replaced fairly recently with the Astoria Savings Bank building that currently occupies the site. We have nothing against Astoria Savings; in fact they are our personal banker; but we keenly regret the loss of the older building at the corner of President Street. With each of these losses, Park Slope loses a bit more of its unique "sense of place", becomes a little less interesting, a little more like everywhere else. Plus one hardly need add that we lost three units of housing when the old building was demolished to make way for the current "single-use" bank building:


7th Avenue & President Street, northwest corner - contemporary view

"Incredible CD Rates", indeed...

We would be extremely saddened - we hesitate to say "heartbroken", but the word very nearly applies - if we lost any more of the wonderful original buildings by Cevedra Blake Sheldon and others that provide so much of the interest, character, and "sense of place" to Park Slope's commercial corridors. And we daresay most Park Slope residents, at least the ones who care at all about the community in which they live, would feel the same way.

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