Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue and 3rd Street, southwest corner, 1894

Okay, we concede our last Bonert post was purely speculative in that we could cite no contemporary documentation associating him with those buildings in 6th Avenue between 4th & 5th Streets. Today all speculation is cast aside as we enter what surely must be the Bonert epicenter of Park Slope, the corner of 6th Avenue and 3rd Street.

We turn first to the southwest corner, where we find yet another Bonert ensemble comprising a brownstone-faced mixed-use building adjoining a row of four "single-flat" apartment houses:

6th Avenue & 3rd Street, southwest corner - unprotected

An 1894 New York Times article notes that John Pullman, who seems to have been one of Bonert's favored brokers, had sold off the four flat houses for Bonert:

New York Times, July 24, 1894, p. 12 ("Brooklyn Realty Matters")

Once again in this row we recognize classic Bonert characteristics including:

o Four-story brick "flat houses" adjoining brownstone-faced corner mixed-use building
o Apartments feature three "fancy brick" stories over a brownstone first floor
o Clustered inset Romanesque columns flanking the doorway
o Brick-arched windows at the top story
o Terra cotta panels (including our friend the "Green Man") below the windows
o Continous cornice detail across the entire row

The corner mixed-use building, originally three flats over a commercial first floor, has now sadly been converted to all-residential use. However the building retains scalloped shingles on the circular window bay, below a magnificent conical hat:

6th Avenue & 3rd Street, southwest corner - detail

Old photographs reveal that many of these projecting corner window bays in Park Slope once boasted similar superstructures, now nearly all gone. The one at 6th Avenue and 3rd Street is a rare survivor.

The New York Times in 1894 reported that Bonert traded the corner building to Mrs. Catherine Connor for another, smaller house and for "other considerations".

New York Times, July 26, 1894, p. 3 ("Brooklyn Realty Matters")

Access to the upper stories of the mixed-use building is via a doorway facing 6th Avenue, at the back of the building. Bonert here employs precisely the same classical doorway that he used previously in nearby 6th Avenue, except here executed in brownstone:

6th Avenue & 3rd Street, southwest corner - unprotected

6th Avenue & 3rd Street - detail

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yet More Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue between 4th & 5th Streets

Our last few posts have followed Park Slope builder Louis Bonert at work in 6th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets. We examined a row he built in 1892 at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street, and also a row he built in 1893 at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and 4th Street.

These rows nearly meet in the middle of the block. But close inspection reveals a mysterious building, #355 6th Avenue, between the two Bonert rows on either side:

353-355-357 6th Avenue - unprotected

Is 355 6th Avenue a Bonert?

We have confirmed in previous posts that Bonert was responsible for the entire rest of the block facing 6th Avenue. It seems unlikely that only this one mid-block lot would have escaped his control.

The building is a four-story, four-family "single flat" house executed in "fancy brick" with brownstone trim, a characteristic building style for Bonert. The cornice detailing on this building is identical to that on the rest of the block, as is the detailing on the top-floor windows:

353-355-357 6th Avenue - detail

Although we cannot provide a photograph at this time, the original wooden details set into the doorway are identical between 355 6th Avenue and the rest of the buildings on the block.

Finally, 355 6th Avenue was listed has having been sold at the same time and by the same broker, John Pullman, as three buildings in the Bonert row to the north.

For all these reasons, we feel confident in attributing this building to Louis Bonert. It's true that the building is slightly different from its neighbors to either side. It lacks decorative terra cotta panels below the windows. It lacks the classical doorway of its neighbors to either side. It remains a mystery why this building is distinct from its Bonert neighbors.

At any rate, if we conclude that 355 6th Avenue is a Bonert, as we believe we must, then further conclusions follow as well.

Directly across the street, on the west side of 6th Avenue, running from 4th to 5th Street, stands a complete row of buildings executed as a unit:

6th Avenue and 4th Street, southwest corner - unprotected

6th Avenue and 5th Street, northwest corner - unprotected

It is a row of eight four-story, four-family, brick-faced "single flat" apartment houses. A brownstone-faced mixed-use building stands at each end, and these buildings match the Bonert building at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street, across the street. The cornice detailing, the top-floor arched window detailing, the geometric terra cotta panels beneath the windows... all these details match those on the Bonert buildings we have been examining.

340 6th Avenue - detail

346 6th Avenue - detail

Finally, the rusticated stone door and window arches on the first floor of these flat houses, and the wooden detailing of the door frames, precisely match those on the first floor at #355 6th Avenue across the street:

346 6th Avenue - detail

The conclusion is inescapable: all of these buildings, on both sides of 6th Avenue from 4th to 5th Streets, were built by Louis Bonert. We have not yet found any Brooklyn Eagle or New York Times citations for the buildings on the west side of the street, nor for #355 on the east side, so we cannot yet offer the usual documentary evidence. But the stylistic evidence overwhelmingly points to Bonert's hand here.

The west side of the block forms an extremely handsome row. The two center buildings meet to form a mirror image, surmounted by a high cornice at the middle of the block:

348-346 6th Avenue - unprotected

It is not possible to see in the photo above, but the very top of this cornice features two hands clasped in a handshake... whatever could have been meant by this image?

One of our favorite details in all of Park Slope is the group of three half-figures holding up the cornice at each end of the row:

356 6th Avenue - detail

Updated: the attribution for the west side of 6th Avenue between 4th & 5th Streets has been confirmed.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue and 4th Street, 1893

The next chapter in the story of Louis Bonert, Park Slope builder, is culled from an early 1894 New York Times report concerning Brooklyn real estate sales:

New York Times, January 21, 1894, p. 15 ("Brooklyn Realty Matters")

#351, on the east side of 6th Avenue between 4th and 5th Streets, is the fourth building from the left in the photograph below:

345-353 6th Avenue - unprotected

Now that we have become more familiar with the kind of development Bonert was doing around this time, we can immediately recognize several characteristics of his buildings: a row of several four-family flats, in light-toned brick, with a brownstone-faced mixed-use building on the corner lot, with arched windows on the top story, continuous cornice detailing, and decorative panels below the windows.

The corner mixed-use, brownstone-faced building is virtually identical to the one at the corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street. The one at 4th Street features handsome scalloped shingles on the round bay facing the corner, but its original first floor commercial space has been converted to residential use.

6th Avenue and 4th Street, southeast corner - detail

6th Avenue and 5th Street, southeast corner - unprotected

The classical doorway surrounds on the apartment houses are identical to the ones Bonert employed on his row just to the south:

347 6th Avenue - detail

359 6th Avenue - detail

Bonert here again employs a full-height bay with decorative geometric terra cotta panels set below each window, a device he used earlier in his St. Johns Place rows:

353 6th Avenue - detail

21-23 St. Johns Place - detail

Some of the decorative terra cotta panels feature Bonert's first use of the fascinating archetype known as the "Green Man", a human face surrounded by leaves and vegetation:

353 6th Avenue - "Green Man" detail

A New York Times article from a few weeks later records the sale of several more buildings from this row (347, 349, 353). Apparently Bonert was doing a brisk business, building these small apartment houses, filling them with tenants, and then selling them off to local investors seeking a reliable return on their money:

New York Times, February 14, 1894, p. 12 ("Brooklyn Realty Matters")

Of course we tracked down the addresses listed in this article, and sure enough, it lead us to yet another Bonert, lying just around the corner at #380 Fourth Street. The article refers to the material of its construction as "fancy brick". It is identical to the four-family buildings in 6th Avenue and was most likely built and marketed at the same time; it is pictured on the right below:

4th Street, looking east from 6th Avenue - unprotected

With this group we are drawing quite near the "Bonert epicenter" of Park Slope, where we will find many more "fancy brick" apartment houses.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue & 5th Street, 1892

Next up in our continuing series of posts about Park Slope builder Louis Bonert is the row at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and 5th Street:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 21, 1892, p. 2 ("New Buildings and Real Estate")

6th Avenue & 5th Street, southeast corner - unprotected

The corner building is mixed-use, with three flats over the first floor commercial space, a configuration it retains to this day. The corner commercial entrance retains the original wooden doors and cast-iron pilasters. A round window bay above the commercial entrance faces the intersection. Pressed tin detailing, familiar from many period ceilings, is here employed in panels set into the round bay:

6th Avenue & 5th Street, southeast corner - detail

The brownstone facing on the corner building contrasts with the yellow brick used in the adjoining four-family "single flats", but the identical cornice detailing serves to unify the row:

6th Avenue & 5th Street, southeast corner - detail

Bonert here employs an unusual two-story projecting window bay on the second and third floors of the apartment buildings:

367-369 6th Avenue - unprotected

This delightful corner of Park Slope, like many others in the neighborhood, retains its original emergency call box:

Later that same year, Bonert erected a matching row of buildings across 5th Street:

6th Avenue & 5th Street, northeast corner - unprotected

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, August 29, 1892, p. 5 ("New Buildings and Real Estate")

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle article incorrectly specifies the number of buildings as five; the row actually comprises four buildings, one less than the matching row to the south. But the article correctly identifies the number of dwelling units (four buildings times four units per building less one unit of commercial space equals fifteen dwelling units).

The corner building, whose brownstone facing again contrasts with the adjacent apartment houses, lacks the rounded window bay of its companion across 5th Street. But as in the neighboring ensemble, the cornice detailing helps to unify the otherwise disparate elements of the row:

6th Avenue & 5th Street, northeast corner - detail

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Louis Bonert, 7th Avenue & 12th Street, 1890

Next up in our continuing series of articles about Louis Bonert, prolific Park Slope builder in the 19th c., are these very handsome buildings at the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and 12th Street:

7th Avenue and 12 Street, southwest corner - unprotected

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle took note of these buildings in February, 1890. Note the slight misspelling of the builder's last name:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 22, 1890, p. 2 ("New Buildings")

In short the ensemble comprises the southwest corner building at 7th Avenue and 12th Street; three adjacent buildings in 12th Street; and one adjacent building in Seventh Avenue. The corner building holds six flats, two per floor, over stores. In 12th Street, two of the buildings are "double flats" (two families per floor), while the third building is a "single flat" (one family per floor). The final building, in 7th Avenue, has three flats over a store. The buildings standing today are exactly as described in the Eagle article.

Again we see some of the characteristic elements of Bonert's buildings in this group: the arched windows on the top floor, here surmounted by brickwork laid in three courses; the faux pediment atop the window bays. We find even the outlines of panels below the top-floor windows:

7th Avenue & 12th Street, southwest corner - detail

The mixed-use (residential over commercial) building on the corner has an angled bay projecting into the intersection, and blocked-up doorways into the commercial space facing 7th Avenue. Most likely the original commercial space was designed to be subdivided into several smaller shops, each with its own entrance. The main, corner entrance retains the original cast-iron pillars flanking the doorway:

7th Avenue & 12th Street, southwest corner - unprotected

7th Avenue & 12th Street, southwest corner - detail

The projecting window bays are distinctive in that they run only from the second floor to the top. Most of the rest of Bonert's buildings feature full-height projecting window bays.

We need to pick up the pace here because we have a lot more Bonert coming your way...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Louis Bonert: St. Johns Place, 1889

Our last post introduced Louis Bonert, a prolific Park Slope builder. Skipping past a few earlier Brooklyn Eagle citations for which we have yet to find the corresponding buildings, we turn now to our next confirmed Bonerts, from 1889:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 21, 1889, p.13 ("The Work of Building")

Two sets of four-story, four-family "single flats" in St. Johns Place, near Fifth Avenue, with four buildings in one set and five in the other, should be fairly easy to find if the buildings still exist. And indeed, upon consulting our comprehensive Park Slope photo archive, it is possible to identify the group of four as 20-26 St. Johns Place, between 5th & 6th Avenues on the south side of the street:

26-24 St. Johns Place - unprotected
21-23 St. Johns Place - unprotected

With these buildings certain distinctive characteristics of Bonert's apartment houses begin to come into view. The buildings are all four stories, with three stories of brownstone-trimmed brick over a brownstone-faced first story, and with full-height bays. The windows are arched only at the top floor. Small terra cotta panels appear below each window.

25 St. Johns Place - detail

Clustered inset columns, a Romanesque element, flank the doorways.

24 St. Johns Place - detail

We will find these basic grammatical elements repeated again and again in Bonert's flat houses.

However, these St. Johns Place buildings are distinctive in some ways. Bonert employs red brick here, but switched to a lighter hue for nearly all his subsequent work. The brickwork creates a kind of horizontal banding that he seems to have dropped after these buildings. Finally, the group on the north side of the street alternates between buildings with a 3-sided, 3-window "octagonal bay" and a simpler, 2-window flat projecting bay. Bonert used the 3-window bay almost exclusively after these buildings. Otherwise, all of the basic grammatical elements for many of his subsequent buildings are in place here.

The 1897 Lain's Brooklyn Directory provides insight into the occupations of the residents of these flat houses. The most common occupation is clerk:

BRADFORD Harry W. salesman h 19 St John's pl
BRAISTED Abraham pilot h 25 St John's pl
COCKSHAW Albert journalist h 26 St John's pl
ELLSWORTH Jos W. clk. h 19 St John's pl
GARRAHAN Peter realestate 100 B'way NY h 21 St. John's pl
GERMANN Louis tinsmith h 25 St John's pl
LANE John O. clk. h 21 St John's pl
MARQUAND Fred'k F. broker 8 Broad N.Y. h 22 St John's pl
MILLS H'y M. clk h 24 St. John's pl
MILLS Randall insp. h 24 St John's pl
PARSONS Wm G. clk. h 17 St John's pl
POWERS John livery 117 Sterling pl h 23 St John's pl
POWERS Patrick H livery 117 Sterling pl h 23 St John's pl
POWERS Thos. clk h 23 St John's pl
RODRIGUEZ Louis bookkpr h 20 St John's pl
ROUSE Geo. D. T. stationer 33 Nassau h 23 St. John's Pl
SANFORD Fred'k. com trav h 25 St John's pl
SHERMAN Geo. B. mgr 204 Montague h 26 St John's pl
THOMSON Geo. G. physician 20 St John's pl
THOMSON H'y clk h 17 St John's pl
WHIPPLE Geo. clk. h 22 St John's pl
WHIPPLE Sam'l P. clk. h 22 St John's pl

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Introducing Louis Bonert, Park Slope Builder

Today we're launching a series of articles about a builder quite central to the history of Park Slope. His first name is usually Louis, sometimes just L., and occasionally Lewis; his last name ranges through variations including Bonert, Bonnert, Bonnet, Bonirt, Bonard. He is most frequently called Louis Bonert, and he built an enormous quantity of structures within Park Slope, so it will take a while to work through all our material on him.

Bonert ultimately developed what are now considered some of the finest residential "park" blocks in Park Slope, including most of the south side of First Street and the north side of Second Street. He also built a delightful small row of neo-Georgian homes on the north side of First Street. This row always brings to our mind the side streets of Knightsbridge or Belgravia:

1st Street, Park Block, Park Slope Historic District

At any rate, First Street is the end of the Bonert story. We want to go way back to the beginning, to our earliest sighting of him in Park Slope, when he was probably just getting off the ground as a builder. The story begins in the 1879 Brooklyn Eagle:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 19, 1879, p. 3 ("The Building Business")

When we find a reference such as this one, we next check our online photo database of Park Slope to see if we can find anything that looks like the building mentioned in the article. The first step is to figure out what block it is on. The article cites "south side of Eleventh street, west of Eighth Street[sic]", so we presume "west of Eighth Avenue" is meant. The photo album for that block is here. Conveniently, there is only one brownstone-faced building on the block, specifically #546, shown below; the rest of the block consists of early apartment houses or brick-faced buildings:

546 11th Street - unprotected

The general appearance of the building matches the Brooklyn Eagle description. But can we make a more definitive attribution? Note that the Eagle article indicates the distance west of 8th Avenue. How far west of 8th Avenue is #546?

We can check the distance from 8th Avenue by consulting the interactive NYC block-lot map. Punch in the building's address and one is presented with the screen below (partial screen-shot):

The subject property, 546 11th Street, is highlighted in red. Click the "Lot Info" tag and a pop-up box, including the lot width, appears. Use the "Select" tool to select adjacent properties. If one adds up the lot width of all lots between our subject property and 8th Avenue, one gets 189.92 feet, which is very close to the 182' mentioned by the Brooklyn Eagle article. The difference is certainly less than the width of a house.

The match between the Eagle description and the current appearance, plus the match between the Eagle description and the distance from 8th Avenue, together create a strong case for attribution of this house as an early work of Louis Bonert, builder. The owner cited in the article, "C. Nirknig", has become known to us under a variation, Charles Nickenig, whose work we will explore later on this blog.

We should admit at this point that #546 11th Street is somewhat known to us already, since it was on the Civic Council House Tour in recent years. It is a remarkable house, having been joined to the adjacent brick structure (with the garage door) to create a very wide house with private garage, an exceptional rarity in Park Slope. There is also a complex of outbuildings connected to it in the rear yard. 11th Street house numbers can be tricky because the street was renumbered in the early 1890s. But according to the 1897 Lain's Brooklyn Directory, the resident of this house, Ira Hunter, operated a dairy in 7th Avenue:

HUNTER Ira C. dairy 180 7th av h 546 11th

It is possible that the owner of 546 11th Street operated the wholesale end of his business in the outbuildings behind his home, and also operated a retail outlet at 180 7th Avenue. 180 7th Avenue no longer exists, having been replaced by P.S. 321 in the 1960s.

We will be seeing a great deal more from Mr. Louis Bonert!

Before we leave 11th Street, we should note another of the many correspondences we've come to appreciate since starting to pay closer attention to the buildings we pass every day. Look closely at the flat house to the left of the brownstone in the photograph above, noting particularly the door hood and the unusual panels between the first and second floor bay windows:

548 11th Street - unprotected - detail

Compare these details to some very similar buildings elsewhere in Park Slope:

These apartments are not by Bonert and we will return someday, we hope, to these 8-family flat houses elsewhere in Park Slope. But for now the nature of these "correspondences", the location of these "mystery" buildings, is left as an exercise to the reader.