Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mary Patten's Douglass Street Mural

Murals are the people's blackboard.

-Pablo Neruda

So begins On the Wall: Four Decades of Community Murals in New York City, by Janet Braun-Reinitz and Jane Weissman.

Last week we were privileged to attend a fascinating illustrated talk by Ms. Weissman about the history of community murals in New York. We have written previously about the Park Slope murals of Mary Patten, member of the circa-1970s Madame Binh Graphics Collective, and brought home a copy of On the Wall so that we could learn more about community murals in general, and Park Slope's murals in particular.

The authors define community murals as

collaborations among artists, neighborhood groups, and mural organizations... A singular art form, these large-scale and site-specific works reflect the social, cultural, and political climate of their times and the neighborhoods in which they are located. Community murals beautify, educate, protest, celebrate, affirm, organize, and motivate residents to action.

Park Slope has had a somewhat complicated history with community murals.

Our first community mural was apparently Mary Patten's "Douglass Street Mural" of 1976:

Mary Patten, Douglass Street Mural, 1976

Concerning the Douglass Street Mural, the authors of On the Wall write:

[Patten] lead a team of twenty teens and adults through a five-month process to develop the themes and imagery... Seeking community input and consensus... the team posted bilingual flyers, canvassed local residents, and organized community meetings. The Douglass Street Mural takes great advantage of the architecture of two adjacent building walls that suggest the facing pages of an open book. In her bold design, Patten powerfully transforms images that in a lesser hand would be overused cliches. At the mural's dedication, two of the young artists directed viewer attention to the right wall, with its angry bolt of lightening and imperialist eagle clasping a puppetlike figure in its talons. Under them are images representing redlining, racism, and the firebombing that had recently destroyed the homes of several Black families just blocks away. The artists then pointed to the shining rainbow on the left wall, showing "what is possible when people work and fight together to [create] what we need: a community school that provides quality education; people sharing skills and tools; dancing together; making music and painting a mural...

In the late 1980s, new housing obscured the mural, and its loss elicited widespread expressions of sadness in the neighborhood.

By comparing building details in the mural photograph with present-day photographs in our comprehensive photo survey of Park Slope, we have identified the mural's location as the west wall of 389 Douglass Street, the older building on the left in the photo below. The newer housing that obscured the mural is visible to the left of #389:

389-391-393 Douglass Street - unprotected

On the Wall's authors cite Patten's Douglass Street Mural as a highly successful example of a community mural, one that was welcomed and valued by the community. Unfortunately, Patten's next effort, the First Street Mural of 1977, which we will examine in a subsequent post, did not work out nearly so well.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Postscript: Charles Long, Park Slope Builder

One of the benefits of our Documentary History of the Park Slope Historic District Expansion Study Area is that it is searchable. One can call up the page, search it for a particular architect or builder's name, compile a list of buildings associated with that name, and order them chronologically to see the history of that individual's impact on Park Slope. That is how we develop the history that we present on this blog.

We found it odd that Charles Long suddenly vanished after his 8th Street project, and wondered if we could find out what happened to him. After a bit of digging, we found the following notice:

Brooklyn Eagle, June 27, 1886, p. 4 ("About Brooklyn People")

Of course we can't be sure it was the same fellow. But, how many prominent Brooklyn builders of the mid-1880s could have been named Charles Long? And the timing of the death matches the cessation of listings in the Brooklyn Eagle and the American Architect and Building News.

Careful readers may recall that one of our earliest notices of Charles Long characterized him as "one of the most enterprising builders in the city". This seems to imply that he built other buildings before the 5th Street row with which we commenced our series on him. Could some of them be standing in Park Slope?

We have no documentary evidence for any other buildings by Charles Long and J. F. Wood at this time. And, we try to resist indulging in "interpretation" or "speculation" on this blog. But as one walks the streets of Park Slope, observing the passing facades, it is hard to resist the temptation to look out for a familiar door hood and brackets...

For example, have we seen this somewhere before?:

408 10th Street - detail

It looks just like all the other door hoods from Long and Wood, right? Here is the rest of the house, a "singleton" (individual house, not a part of a row) in 10th Street between 5th & 6th Avenues:

408 10th Street - unprotected

Now, we're not saying, because we don't interpret or speculate, but the Neo-grec detailing of this house appears identical to that of Long and Wood's many houses in Park Slope. With one big difference, of course: the doorway here features a rounded portal, in an echo of the fading Italianate style. Thus if we were to hazard a guess for the date of this house (which we're not), we would say it predates 1882, at which time the lingering Italianate vestige had been abandoned, and the doorways that Long and Wood were building in 5th Street were squared off in full conformance with Neo-grec style.

Another example, from nearby 9th Street. Who might have designed this door hood?:

346A 9th Street - detail

Here's the full row of four, from the south side of 9th Street between 5th & 6th Avenues:

348A-348-346A-346 9th Street - unprotected

We have no documentary evidence for these houses, and of course we're not speculating, but they do look uncannily like Long & Wood's documented work. This 9th Street row again features the rounded doorway, in a nod to the lingering Italianate style. Circa 1881, one might speculate, but of course we're not going to do that!

These are a few possible candidates for the early work of "one of the most enterprising builders in the city", Charles Long. There may well be others standing elsewhere in Park Slope.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Complete Blockfront: Charles Long & J. F. Wood, 8th Street

At the same time that owner Charles Long and builder J. F. Wood built the second half of their 9th Street row, in 1884, they commenced what would be their last and greatest collaboration in Park Slope: the entire north side of 8th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. It was a project that would take several years to complete.

8th Street, 7th to 8th Avenues - unprotected

The row is unique in several ways. All of the building lots, including those adjacent to the avenues, are oriented toward 8th Street; more frequently, the lots at a similar row's ends would face the avenues. The entire row comprises 40 houses and is, we believe, the longest continuous row of houses in Park Slope. And they were all built by Charles Long and J. F. Wood in the mid-1880s.

8th Street, 7th to 8th Avenues - unprotected

The houses look largely the same now, but the block was built up in several phases between 1884 and 1886. The complete series of relevant listings from the American Architect and Building News, presented in chronological order, appears below. It should be noted that the listings describe a total of 58 houses, whereas the entire block today holds only 40 houses. Apparently plans were submitted, changed, and then resubmitted, and we have not attempted to map specific listings to specific houses. It is nonetheless clear, both from these listings and from a visual inspection of the houses, that they were all built by the same developers.

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 15, no. 437 (May 10, 1884): p. 227.
– "Eighth St., n s, 87' 10" e Seventh Ave., 15 two-st’y brown-stone dwells., tin roofs; cost, each, $5,500; owner, Chas. Long, 367 Seventh St.; builder, J. F. Wood."

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 16, no. 464 (Nov. 15, 1884): p. 239.
– "Seventh Ave., n e cor. Eighth St., 4 two-st’y and basement brown-stone dwells., and one three-st’y brown-stone dwell, tin and wood roofs; cost, four, $5,000 each and one $6,000; owner, Charles Long, 450 Ninth St.; builder, J. F. Wood."

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 17, no. 483 (Mar. 28, 1885): p. 155.
– "Eighth St., n s, 350' e Seventh Ave., 8 two-st’y brown-stone dwells., tin and wooden roofs; cost, each, $5,000; owner, Chas. Long, 450 Ninth St.; builder, J. F. Wood."

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 18, no. 511 (Oct. 10, 1885): p. 179.
– "Eighth St., n s, 200' w Eighth Ave., 6 two-st’y and basement brick dwells., tin roofs, tin and wooden cornices; cost, each, $5,000; owner, Chas. Long, 299 Seventh Ave; builder, J. F. Wood."

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 19, no. 535 (Mar. 27, 1886): p. xiii. – "Eighth St., n w, cor. Eighth Ave., 6 two and three-st’y brick dwells., tin roofs; cost, each, $5,500 f or four; $11,000 and $12,000 for others; owner, Chas. Long, 299 Seventh Ave.; builder, J. F. Wood."

“Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.,” AABN vol. 19, no. 537 (Apr. 10, 1886): p. xv.
– “Eighth St., n s, 97' 10" w Eighth Ave., 18 three-st’y brown-stone dwells., tin roofs; cost, each, $6,000; owner, Chas. Long, 299 Seventh Ave.; builder, J. F. Wood.”

Most of the row consists of two story over basement, brownstone faced, single family homes, with a few three story over basement dwellings at either end of the row. The Neo-grec detailing, including the characteristic Long-and-Wood door hood and brackets, is uniform throughout, and is similarly identical to the previous brownstone rows constructed by the prolific pair of developers:

Individual house

Detail - door hood

Detail - stoop

8th Avenue end of row

A Brooklyn Eagle listing for the 1886 row of 18 houses describes the interiors in greater detail. Curiously, this Eagle listing cites the owner as "Mr. Charles Levy", although the Eagle elsewhere correctly identifies him as Long:

Brooklyn Eagle, April 07, 1886, p. 1 ("April Work")

References to other Eagle citations for this row can be found in our Documentary History of the Park Slope Historic District Expansion.

The Brooklyn Public Library's online image collections feature a photograph of this block from 1949. While the houses themselves look very much as they do today, the once-empty street has now become a vast, permanent parking lot for automobiles:

8th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues, 1949 - Brooklyn Public Library

8th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues, 2008 - PSCC photo archive

For reasons unknown, this amazingly intact block of 40 houses from 1884-86 was omitted from the current Park Slope Historic District, designated in 1973. The current Historic District ends just across 8th Avenue. The Park Slope Civic Council is advocating for the expansion of the current Historic District, and this 8th Street block is in the highest-priority "Phase 1-A". It is hoped that the omission will be soon corrected.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Charles Long and J. F. Wood Build in 9th Street

About six months after extending his initial row in 5th Street, Charles Long filed plans (Oct. 1883) to construct six three story over basement brownstone-front single-family houses on the southeast corner of 9th Street and 7th Avenue. Additional plans were filed in 1884 for an adjoining row of five more houses:

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 14, no. 408 (Oct. 20, 1883): p. 191.
– "Ninth St., s e cor. Seventh Ave., 6 three-st’y and basement brownstone dwells., tin roofs; cost, each, $8,000; owner, Charles Long, 367 Seventh St.; builders, J. F. Wood."

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 15, no. 437 (May 10, 1884): p. 227.
– "Ninth St., s s, 110' e Seventh Ave., 5 three-st’y brown-stone dwells., tin roofs; cost, each, $7,500; owner, Chas. Long, 367 Seventh St.; builder, J. F. Wood."

The resulting row of eleven houses is very similar to those constructed by Long and Wood in 5th Street, except here the facade projects in a full-height, two-sided bay. The detailing is otherwise identical to the 5th Street houses:

460-458-456 9th Street - unprotected

The row is largely intact except for the three houses closest to 7th Avenue:

450-448-446 9th Street - unprotected

We have noted another subtle difference between the two parts of this row. The distinction can be seen in the fan-like incised ornament in the middle of the door hood. In the earlier (1883) row of six houses, the fan ornament contains 9 "ribs", similar to the 5th Street houses, whereas the same ornament in the later (1884) houses contains 11 "ribs". The incised ornament in the later houses also features an extra curlicue at the ends, lacking in the earlier houses. The eleven houses are otherwise highly similar to each other, and with the exception of the projecting bay, they are similar to Long's 5th Street houses as well:

454 9th Street - 1883 - detail

458 9th Street - 1884 - detail

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Charles Long Extends his 5th Street Row

Charles Long's next project, in Park Slope at any rate, apparently extends his initial row of 10 single-family houses in 5th Street. Plans are filed, about six months later, in early 1883, for six more houses uphill from the initial row, and for a row of 12 extending downhill from the initial row. We have recovered listings from both the Brooklyn Eagle and the American Architect and Building News:

Brooklyn Eagle, March 30, 1883, p. 4 ("Municipal")

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 13, no. 380 (Apr. 7, 1883): p. 167.
– "Fifth St., n s, 299' w Seventh Ave., 12 two-st’y brick dwells., tin roofs, frame and tin cornice; cost, each, $3,500; owner and mason, Charles Long, 383 Eleventh St.; carpenter, J. F. Wood."

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 13, no. 380 (Apr. 7, 1883): p. 167.
– "Fifth St., n s, 24' w Seventh Ave., 6 three-st’y brownstone front dwells., tin roofs, frame and tin cornice; cost, each, $4,500; owner and mason, Charles Long, 383 Eleventh St.; carpenter, J. F. Wood."

All of these houses are still extant, in nearly original condition.

The row of six brownstone-front houses (#461-471 5th Street) are identical in appearance to the initial row of 10, immediately downhill. The door hood and brackets are identical to the original row:

461-471 5th Street - unprotected

469 5th Street - unprotected

469 5th Street - detail.

However the later houses are 45' in length, in contrast to the original houses, which are only 40' in length. The difference can be seen in the city's Dept. of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DOITT) website; the slightly longer houses are circled below:

Screen cap - 461-471 5th Street - DOITT website

The original row was apparently also extended in the downhill direction with a row of twelve two story over basement, brick-faced single family houses (#423-443 5th Street). All twelve still stand, in essentially original condition:

423-443 5th Street - unprotected

435-439 5th Street - unprotected

One might not initially think that such different houses were built by the same person at the same time. One suspects some "market segmentation" on the part of the developer: whether you want brick-faced, brownstone-faced, three-story or two-story, Charles Long has a house for you!

With the original ten house row, the uphill extension of six houses, and the downhill extension of twelve more houses, Charles Long and his partner J. F. Wood have erected a total of twenty-eight houses on the north side of 5th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues in Park Slope. This is one of the longest continuous rows of houses from a single developer in Park Slope, but we shall soon see Charles Long outdo himself with an even longer row in our neighborhood.

Amazingly, the entire row of twenty-eight original houses remains standing, intact, unchanged since since original construction in 1882-83, but sadly lacking historic district protection from the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Introducing Charles Long, Park Slope Builder

Charles Long was a local owner/developer who built several substantial rows of Park Slope houses in the 1880s.

He first appears in connection with some new houses in 5th Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues, in a Brooklyn Eagle advertisement from 1882. Unfortunately the ad is somewhat vague regarding location. It seems possible, from the text of the advertisement, that Charles Long had a business relationship with the Litchfield family at this time.

Brooklyn Eagle, June 12, 1882, p. 3.

The first project with which we can associate Charles Long working as an independent developer is a row of ten brownstone-faced three story over basement single-family houses on the north side of 5th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues (#445 - 459 5th Street). This row was erected 1882-83 and seems to mark the beginning of a lengthy collaboration between Charles Long, owner/architect, and builder J. F. Wood:

Brooklyn Eagle, August 17, 1882, p. 3 ("Brisk")

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 12, no. 345 (Aug. 5, 1882): p. 67.
–"Fifth St., n s, 129' e [sic - w] Seventh Ave., 10 three-st’y dwells.; cost, each, $4,000; owner, Chas. Long, 383 Eleventh St.; builder, J. F. Wood."

The houses are flat-faced Neo-grec with distinctive door hood and brackets that we will see repeated identically in subsequent developments from Long and Wood:

445-459 5th Street - unprotected

457 5th Street - detail

Later that same year, the Brooklyn Eagle again checks in with Charles Long regarding this row of houses, and seems to hint that Long has been a prolific builder in Brooklyn, although we have not positively associated him with earlier buildings in Park Slope. Long provides an amusing answer in response to an Eagle query regarding why he chose to build houses for sale, rather than flats for rent:

Brooklyn Eagle, November 07, 1882, p. 1 ("Homes")

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Complete Blockfront: Butler & Wirth in 6th Avenue

The west side of Sixth Avenue between 5th & 6th Streets in Park Slope appears to be entirely the work of two men: owner Thomas Butler, and architect William H. Wirth. Once again we find the common motif of a central row of matching buildings, bracketed by differing buildings on the ends:

6th Avenue, 5th to 6th Streets, west side - unprotected

The central buildings compose a row of narrow (16'), brick-faced, 2 1/2 story-over-basement single-family houses built in 1888. The American Architect and Building News documents the row as follows:

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 21, no. 575 (Jan. 1, 1887): p. xi.
– "Sixth Ave., s w cor. Fifth St., three-st’y brick store and dwell., tin roof; cost, $8,000; owner and builder, Thomas Butler, 389 Sixth St.; architect, W. H. Wirth."

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 22, no. 627 (Dec. 31, 1887): p. xiv.
– "Sixth Ave., w s, 20' s Fifth St., 10 two-st’y front, three-st’y on rear, brick dwells., tin roofs, wooden cornices; cost, each, $3,000; owner and builder, Thomas Butler, 389 Sixth St.; architect, W. H. Wirth."

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 23, no. 628 (Jan. 7, 1888): p. xvi.
– "Sixth Ave., n w cor. Sixth St., two-st’y and basement brown-stone dwell., tin roof, wooden and iron cornice; cost, $4,000; owner, Thomas Butler, 389 Sixth St.; architect, W. H. Wirth; builders, Buchanan & Riley."

The row is slightly unusual in that the end buildings, though differing from the central row, do not match each other. A 3-story, mixed-use (flats over store), brick building, which predates the rest of the row by about one year, stands at the 5th St. end, while the 6th St. end holds a two-story-over-basement, brownstone-faced single family house:

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

6th Avenue & 6th Street, northwest corner - unprotected

All were however apparently built in 1887-1888 by owner Thomas Butler to designs by architect W. H. Wirth.

The original, narrow brick houses in the central row are quite charming and are mostly in original condition.

370 6th Avenue - unprotected

Unfortunately one of the central row was "remuddled" at some point and had its cornice line raised to full height, breaking the row's symmetry:

364-362A 6th Avenue - unprotected

We have encountered Thomas Butler before; he it was who built the long row around the corner in 5th St.

Wirth seems to have been an architect in highly localized practice. The 1897 Lain's Brooklyn Directory lists a Wm. H. Wirth in 17th St.:

WIRTH Wm. realestate 358 17th
WIRTH Wm. H. realestate 358 17th

Our documentary history of the Park Slope expansion study area lists many other buildings by W. H. Wirth, mostly smaller buildings toward the lower or southerly parts of Park Slope. A Brooklyn Eagle search confirms that he was not above designing the occasional "frame tenement".

Wirth was also a great promoter of development in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood. We suspect he may have held property there. The Brooklyn Eagle published several letters from W. H. Wirth advocating street improvements south of Prospect Park and the extension of Prospect Avenue (June 06, 1898, p. 8; September 03, 1897, p. 7).

Finally it should be noted that W. H. Wirth apparently chaired several subcommittees of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, the 19th c. predecessor of the Park Slope Civic Council, the leading advocate for the current push to extend the Park Slope Historic District. The Brooklyn Eagle recounts the minutes of several meetings of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade in Acme Hall, still standing on the northwest corner of 7th Avenue and 9th Street, with committee reports from one W. H. Wirth. In his capacity on the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, he seems to have been an indefatigable advocate of development in the South Slope.