Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

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


Rebecca Rice said...

I love all the "grammatical" details! Also, I'm impressed that clerks lived in such elegance back then, though perhaps their flats
were quite small.

MOMentous said...

I fully support expanding the current boundaries of the Park Slope Historic District to include all the wonderful properties you so carefully present here in the Save the Slope blog. BUT, I think you should highlight WHY we should more than you do. I found somewhere in your description of the Astoria Bank (President & 7th Ave.) this reason: "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. " Somehow you should emphasize this MORE so it doesn't get lost in all the architectural history. Maybe pull some bullet points from your FAQ and highlight them on the top of your blog? You have to convince the non-architectural historian too!