Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

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.

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