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.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Louis Bonert: First 8-Family Apartments, President Street, 1899

Our unfolding story of Louis Bonert, Park Slope builder, next shifts a few blocks away from Park Slope's Bonert epicenter to President Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues. We here find the first 8-family apartment houses positively associated with Louis Bonert; up until now, from what we have been able to discover, he has built 4-family apartments exclusively. 8-family apartments are of course more efficient in that the overhead of the stairwell, hallway, and landings are shared by eight apartments, rather than just four.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 11, 1899, p. 14 ("New Buildings")

798-796-794 President Street - unprotected

Note the Brooklyn Eagle's description of these articles as "tenements". These buildings are 30' wide, or 15' per apartment. Bonert's early "Green Man" apartments, by contrast, were usually 19-20' wide, and his newer limestone-faced apartments in 6th Avenue were a spacious 23.5' wide. And those earlier buildings held only a single apartment per floor. Thus the 15'-wide apartments necessitated by an 8-family configuration on a 30' lot might seem rather narrow by comparison.

The Brooklyn Eagle once again mangles Bonert's name, citing him as "Bonnert" or "Donnert". Any suspicion that these apartments might have been built by someone else is resolved by an article about a year later, which recounts how Louis Bonert trades two of the finished buildings to a "syndicate of capitalists" for a block-front of lots in Bedford Avenue, on the other side of Prospect Park:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 16, 1900, p. 22 ("A Big Real Estate Deal")

We now recognize the President Street buildings as classic Park Slope 8-family apartment houses. Certain stylistic details echo some of Bonert's earlier buildings: three stories of brick, trimmed with stone, over a limestone-faced first story, over a brownstone basement, with full-height, rounded window bays:

792 President Street - unprotected

The buildings exhibit graceful notes perhaps not often associated with "tenements", including small stained-glass windows (not all of which survive). Note also the use of narrow, elongated "Roman" brick:

790 President Street - detail

Bonert's signature florid capitals and pediment embellish the doorway and windows:

792 President Street - detail

Look closely to see winged figures peering out from some of the buildings.

792 President Street - detail

Is Bonert revealed here as an angelologist?

Below, from Google's "street view", the buildings in Bedford Avenue, across Prospect Park, most likely another Bonert row of 8-family flats.

Bedford Avenue, Lincoln Place to St. Johns Place

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue & 3rd Street, southeast corner, 1898

For the next chapter in our ever-unfolding tale of prolific Park Slope builder Louis Bonert, we return once more to the corner of 6th Avenue and 3rd Street. Two Brooklyn Eagle notices, published one day apart in 1898, announced Bonert's plans for a row of five four-story, four-family flats extending up 3rd Street from the southeast corner of 6th Avenue:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 14, 1898, p. 14 ("Real Estate Market")

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 15, 1898, p. 14 ("Real Estate Market")

The reference to the corner building as a "frame" structure is clearly erroneous. By 1898, this corner was well within the "fire limits", the boundaries within which wood-frame construction was forbidden; only a stone structure could have been built here in 1898.

These are some of the more austere, yet elegant, apartment buildings constructed by Louis Bonert. He once again sets aside "fancy brick" in favor of smooth stone for the facade. He retains a protruding rounded window bay, but the bay is now extremely shallow and understated. The upper-story windows lack any kind of framing:

446-444-442-440 3rd Street - unprotected

What little ornamental flourish Bonert allows himself is confined to the first floor. His doorways are surrounded by a minimally decorative framing, with dentils above. Smooth-faced voussoirs contrast with rusticated stone at the basements.

But the framing around the first-floor bay windows is truly distinctive. We're not even sure how to describe the look... it appears somewhat as if every other stone has been removed from around the window!

446 3rd Street - detail

The corner building is much the same in the upper stories, although Bonert reverts here to a somewhat retrograde brownstone facing. The basement is consistent with the adjacent row, but the classical doorway with columns and entablature hearken back to Bonert's earlier work.

442-440-438 3rd Street - unprotected

With the completion of this row, Bonert could view his own buildings on all four corners of this intersection. He started building on the southwest corner in 1894; continued construction on the northwest corner in 1895 and on the northeast corner in 1896; and concluded here on the southeast corner in 1898. Truly the intersection of 6th Avenue and 3rd Street must be considered the "Louis Bonert epicenter" of Park Slope!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Louis Bonert, 6th Avenue & 4th Street, northeast corner

We have been following the evolution of Louis Bonert's four-story, four-family apartment houses in Park Slope. His earlier style often features three stories of "fancy brick" over a brownstone first story and basement, with a full-height, three-sided projecting window bay, and terra cotta spandrel panels (often featuring a "Green Man"). The top-floor windows are arched, and Romanesque clustered columns flank the doorway.

299 6th Avenue - unprotected

Around 1896, Bonert begins building a new style of apartment house. They are still four stories in height. The full-height projecting window bay is now gracefully rounded. The spandrel panels are gone, as are the Romanesque columns flanking the doorway; instead, the doorway features classical columns and entablature. More importantly, the "fancy brick" facade is dressed up even more, becoming fully faced with limestone. And most distinctively, Bonert employs some highly unusual window hoods:

317 6th Avenue - unprotected

In 1897, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports yet another cluster of new Bonert apartment houses, at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and 4th Street. The Eagle mistakenly attributes the buildings to "L. Bossert". Louis Bossert was a contemporary lumber magnate, who also built the Hotel Bossert on Montague Street, but our buildings are obviously the work of Louis Bonert, not Bossert. It is not the only time the two men were confused: a New York Times article from 1910 reports the sale of an unfinished house on the south side of First Street in the park block "for Louis Bossert", even though Louis Bonert is known to have built that entire block.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, April 13, 1897, p. 12 ("New Buildings")

In this row, Bonert seems to retain the form and detailing of his more recent style of apartments, while reverting to the use of "fancy brick" instead of cladding the buildings entirely in stone.

389-391-393 4th Street - unprotected

The corner building has a wonderfully varied 6th Avenue facade: projecting window bays, both angled and gently rounded, alternate along the facade, interspersed with chimney stacks. Twinned granite columns support an elegant entrance portico. The top-story windows, consistent with Bonert's later apartment style, are not arched.

343 6th Avenue - unprotected

The second and third story windows on the 4th Street facades employ the highly distinctive window hoods that Bonert first used in his nearby 6th Avenue row.

343 6th Avenue - detail

The row employs "fancy brick" of slightly varying shades, with either limestone or brownstone trim, over a brownstone base, with rounded window bays, and classical doorways. The row hybridizes the form and detailing of Bonert's emerging apartment house style, with the materials (brick with stone trim) of his earlier buildings.

391 4th Street - unprotected

391 4th Street - detail

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue & 2nd Street, 1896

In 1896, Park Slope builder Louis Bonert is issued a building permit for a row of four four-story, four-family buildings on the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and 2nd Street:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 1, 1896, p. 13 ("Real Estate Market")

After building, as we have seen, a great many brick-faced apartment houses in previous years, Bonert here develops a handsome group of limestone-faced, bow-front apartment houses, in a new building style pioneered the previous year at the northwest corner of 6th Avenue and 3rd Street. But whereas previously he tested the market with only a single new building in this style, he here employs the new style to create an entire block of apartments:

6th Avenue & 2nd Street, southeast corner - unprotected

Note how his older style persists on the side elevation: as we have seen so many times previously, it is characterized by "fancy brick" with brownstone trim, arched windows at the top floor, and terra cotta spandrel panels beneath the windows.

The front facade, fully clad in stone with almost no ornament, is more austere, and more formal at the same time. Bonert here introduces the unusual window hoods that will become almost a kind of "signature" in his later buildings:

307-309 6th Avenue - detail

The row continues in the next two buildings:

611-613 6th Avenue - unprotected

The original permit was for the four buildings shown above. However, continuing down the block, it is clear that the entire block all the way to 3rd Street was developed by Bonert in the same style. The building facades are nearly identical with those above, with slight differences in the detailing of the windows and doorways:

615-617 6th Avenue - unprotected

319 6th Avenue - unprotected

With this new style of apartment house, Bonert dispenses with the inset Romanesque clustered columns employed beside the doorway in his earlier apartments, striking instead a more purely classical note:

317 6th Avenue - detail

The Brooklyn Eagle records that Bonert sold one of these apartment houses in 1899:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 27, 1899, p. 14 ("Real Estate Market")

This more formal, stone-faced "flat house" will become Bonert's new standard housing style in the next few years in Park Slope.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Louis Bonert: 6th Avenue and 3rd Street, Northwest Corner, 1895

The unfolding story of Park Slope builder Louis Bonert next resumes in late 1894, when the following notice appeared in the New York Times, documenting the sale (by John Pullman, broker) of a large parcel of lots from Edward H. Litchfield to Louis Bonert at the northwest corner of 6th Avenue and 3rd Street. The article notes that the parcel was over 254 feet long. Since the combined distance from 3rd Street to 2nd Street is only 200 feet (a typical lot in brownstone Brooklyn is 100' deep), we can assume that the parcel ran westerly from the corner. And indeed, when we view the 3rd Street buildings in our comprehensive Park Slope photo archive, we can immediately detect the work of Louis Bonert.

New York Times, December 1, 1894, p. 15 ("Brooklyn Realty Matters")

Bonert's original plans for ten "detached" buildings seem not to have been realized. The buildings we see today form a continuous row of twelve apartment houses in several styles. We shall walk through the row from west to east.

The first two buildings are in his classic "Green Man"-style with which we have become quite familiar from recent posts, here executed in very light brick:

407-409 3rd Street - unprotected

A slight innovation here is the use of a rounded window bay at #409, instead of the more usual 3-sided or "octagonal" bay at #407. But otherwise these are classic Bonerts, similar to many others he erected in Park Slope around 1894. Next to these is a matching pair at #411-413, in darker brick and stone trim but otherwise identical to the first pair:

411-413-415 3rd Street - unprotected

Next come four buildings in a stylistic departure for Bonert. The first one, #415 (on the right in the picture above), is followed by three more shown below.

417-419-421 3rd Street - unprotected

The fully stone-faced facades would most likely have been considered more fashionable than a mixed brick and stone front. Bonert here retains the arched windows at the top floor, and decorative spandrel panels below the windows. There is no projecting window bay.

417-419 3rd Street - detail

Next come three more of the more traditional "Green Man"-style apartments, like so many that we have seen before:

423-425-427 3rd Street - unprotected

The final building in the row, at the corner of 6th Avenue and 3rd Street, represents a complete break from everything Bonert had done up to this time:

429 3rd Street, at 6th Avenue, northwest corner - unprotected

It is a very handsome apartment house, with a full-height, rounded window bay. The facade is clad entirely in limestone while the 6th Avenue side is in "fancy brick" with limestone detailing. It presents a striking contrast to its brick neighbors to the west, especially considering that they must have been built at the same time:

423-425-427-429 3rd Street - unprotected

Perhaps Bonert was testing the market for this new style of apartment house. The innovative style was apparently a success; the Brooklyn Eagle reports the sale (again with Pullman as broker) of 429 Third Street, the corner building, almost exactly one year later:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 4, 1895, p. 12 ("Real Estate Market")

The "fancy brick" side elevation retains the familiar arched top-floor Bonert windows and other highly pleasing architectural details:

429 3rd Street - detail

Don't forget to notice the original iron fence in the front, incorporating both cast- and wrought-iron elements:

429 3rd Street - detail

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Louis Bonert: Union Street, 1894

Today we present yet another row of classic four-story, four-family single flat houses by Louis Bonert, this time on the north side of Union Street east of 6th Avenue.

A New York Times article previously posted on this blog records Bonert's purchase of these lots in early 1894 ("a plot of lots on the north side of Union Street"):

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

A subsequent article in December 1894 records the sale, brokered by John Pullman, of the buildings that Bonert constructed on these lots:

New York Times, December 1, 1894, p. 15 ("Brooklyn Realty Matters")

A glance at our comprehensive Park Slope photograph database reveals that Bonert constructed precisely the kind of four-story, four-family flats that he was building all over Park Slope in 1894:

799-803 Union Street - unprotected

803-809 Union Street - unprotected

807 Union Street - detail

807 Union Street - detail

If the six lots cost $18,000, then each lot cost $3,000. The construction cost was $6,500 each, based on these nearly identical buildings in 6th Avenue. Thus the total unit cost was $9,500. As recorded above, Bonert sold each building for $12,000, for a profit of $2,500 each, for a return of about 26% in less than a year if our math is correct.