Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Louis Bonert: "Quiet Dignity" in President Street, 1900

Normally we ignore buildings within the current Park Slope Historic District, both because they are already protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and also because anybody who wants to read about them can do so by consulting the current district's Designation Report.

We make an exception today to visit some apartment houses built by Louis Bonert in President Street between 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West:

945-953 President Street - Park Slope Historic District

Below is the description for these buildings, copied in its entirety from the Park Slope Historic District Designation Report:

"Nos. 945-953. Begun in 1900, these five apartment houses of limestone have paired entrances and stoops except at No. 945. They are four stories high and have full-height, bow-fronted bays. Designed with a simplified neo-Classical detail, they lend a quiet dignity in this block of one-family residences." (pp.87-88)

"Quiet dignity" is a great way to describe Bonert's small apartment houses. But what's exceptional about this entry is that Louis Bonert's name appears nowhere within it. Somehow the fact that he built these apartment houses escaped the notice of the Park Slope Historic District's original researchers.

Bonert sold the President Street houses to "a Manhattan capitalist" in one of the largest Brooklyn real estate deals of 1901. A Brooklyn Eagle article describes the deal, noting that the buildings are "among the finest" of their class and that the apartments are "handsomely decorated" and "constructed of the best materials throughout":

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 26, 1901, p. 20 ("$207,000 Realty Deal")

The deal was notable not only for its size, but also for the fact that Brooklyn real estate was beginning to attract the interest of Manhattan-based capitalists. It was a kind of "break-through" deal for Louis Bonert, who would later put together even larger real estate deals, as we shall soon see.

The Eagle followed up a few days later with another article whose headline ("Manhattan Capital in Brooklyn Apartment Houses") stretched across seven columns, the entire page:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 30, 1901, p. 17 ("Manhattan Capital in Brooklyn Apartment Houses")

The article reviewed the deal for Bonert's President Street apartments and featured them in an illustration:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 30, 1901, p. 17 ("Manhattan Capital in Brooklyn Apartment Houses")

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 30, 1901, p. 17 ("Manhattan Capital in Brooklyn Apartment Houses")
951-953 President Street - Park Slope Historic District

615-617 6th Avenue - unprotected

The classical detailing around the doorways is identical:

953 President Street - detail

615-617 6th Avenue - detail

All of which begs the question: if the President Street apartments, with their "quiet dignity", are worthy of inclusion in a Historic District, are not the identical 6th Avenue buildings, by the same builder, equally worthy? Why are the President Street buildings included, but the 6th Avenue buildings excluded? And what about all the other Louis Bonert buildings we have been so laboriously documenting on this blog? They seem to exude as much "quiet dignity" as these President Street buildings.

Alone amongst all of Bonert's apartment houses, the President Street buildings are in the current historic district. Like much else about the current district's boundaries, it makes no sense to us.

At any rate, at least we now know who is the builder of the President Street apartments. If you are the kind of person who has a hardcopy of the Park Slope Historic District Designation Report lying about (and, if you are reading this, we suspect you are), then fetch it down off the shelf, turn to page 87, and write "Louis Bonert: Brooklyn Eagle, November 26, 1901" in the margin, and your copy will be ever so slightly more complete.

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