Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Friday, May 28, 2010

Civic Council: New Park Highway Will Relieve Congestion?

This story marks the beginning of "driving season" this Memorial Day weekend.

If the Park Slope Civic Council were to advocate a new highway through Prospect Park to relieve traffic congestion, the idea would probably be universally condemned today.

Thankfully, when the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, the Park Slope Civic Council's ancestor organization, proposed this very idea in 1930, it was roundly condemned at that time as well, and the Park remained "inviolate". This forgotten story will surely resonate for anyone familiar with contemporary issues such as bike lanes, cars in the parks, and one-way vs. two-way streets.

The sponsor of this idea was Dr. J. Francis Ward, president of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade in 1930. Ward was also the city's Regional Director for Prospect Park at the time.

Ward advanced the idea to build a new highway through Prospect Park as a continuation of 9th Street, to relieve the "traffic jam" that was induced when 9th street was widened during the construction of the F subway line. Many other neighborhood groups voiced immediate opposition to the proposal, but parks officials gamely agreed to survey the park with Dr. Ward to assess the proposed highway's impact:

New York Times, July 13, 1930

Dr. Ward was apparently an adherent of the idea that the way to relieve traffic congestion is to pour ever more concrete. Regarding his wish for a "direct route... to the Sunrise Trail," one also wonders whether Dr. Ward might have had a weekend cottage on Long Island to which he was seeking a quick getaway:

Nathan Straus, Jr., president of the city's Park Association, was decidedly unimpressed by the proposal, calling it two days later a "park encroachment of the grossest and most objectionable kind." Ward, meanwhile, citing the opinions of "experts," vowed to continue the fight:

New York Times, July 15, 1930

Interestingly, communities south of the park opposed the plan, in contrast to today, when it is sometimes assumed that some in those communities seek to maximize vehicular access through and around the park. The Borough Park Neighborhood Association in particular threatened to litigate if the plan for a new highway through Prospect Park advanced:

A Mr. Davy, however, employed in the capacity of City Engineer, voiced the seemingly counterintuitive idea that "any new roads through the park would only add to the traffic jam there now," an idea now known as induced demand or "Build it and they will come" (along with its corollary, "Take it away and they will go"). Mr. Ward concludes with an appeal to "the facts," and expresses the opinion that a highway could become a "decorative part of the park:"

Even the way Dr. Ward frames his argument ("I am as heartily for the sentiment of natural beauty as my opponents, but...") finds echo in today's opposition to bike lanes ("I'm all for bikes, generally speaking, but...").

Of course we all know the end of this story. Thankfully, the highway was never built. As for Dr. Ward, president of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, he was asked to resign from his post as director of Prospect Park, but he expressed no doubt that "time would show the wisdom of my plan:"

New York Times, July 24, 1930

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Calder & Calder in 8th Street

On the south side of 8th Street, just above 7th Avenue, stands a row of seven single-family residences. The row dates to 1889 and is the work of Alexander G. Calder, owner/builder, and his son William M. Calder, architect, a prolific pair of Park Slope builders whose 7th Avenue work we recently examined:

428-420 8th Street - unprotected
A. G. Calder & W. M. Calder, 1889

432-430 8th Street

On two of the houses (422 & 424), the original upper half-story was long ago raised in the front to provide a full third floor, at the expense of losing the beautiful original cornices that still grace the adjoining houses.

Our attribution is confirmed by both the Brooklyn Eagle and the American Architect & Building News:

Brooklyn Eagle, April 21, 1889, p.13 ("The Work of Building")

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 25, no. 699 (May 18, 1889): p. xvi.
– "Eighth St., s s, 90' e Seventh Ave., 7 two-st’y brownstone dwells., tin roofs; cost, each, $5,000; owner and builder, A. G. Calder, 312 Thirteenth St.; architect, W. M. Calder."

#420 8th Street, the end house in the row and the only one that appears to have been originally a full three stories over basement, was the residence of the developer, Alexander G. Calder, for much of his life. His 1927 New York Times obituary cites 420 8th Street as his residence at the time of his death at age 85, and notes that he developed hundreds of buildings in Park Slope and South Brooklyn. A. G. Calder was also the first president of the South Brooklyn Board of Trade, which later became the Park Slope Civic Council, sponsor of the current effort to expand the Park Slope Historic District:

New York Times, March 6, 1927, p. 20

Another curiosity regarding the 8th Street houses is that they are virtually identical to two other rows by other developers, in Garfield Place and in President Street. Compare the detailing in the examples below:

430 8th Street - unprotected
Alexander G. Calder, builder/owner; William M. Calder, architect - 1889

221 Garfield Place - Park Slope Historic District
Martin & Lee, builder/owners; Charles Werner, architect - 1890

807 President Street - unprotected
Builders/owners/architects, Martin & Lee - 1888

Such are the irrational vagaries of the 1973 Park Slope Historic District boundaries! Identical houses, some protected, some not.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reader Questions: 11th Street

Q: any information on the history of the stretch of identical 3 family homes on the north side of 11th St between 7th and 8th from about 535 11th to 547 11th? -benscott

531-547 11th Street compose a fine row of 9 three-family "flat houses" on the north side of 11th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues. Each house is brick-faced, with brownstone trim, and features a full-height, two-sided projecting window bay:

531-547 11th Street - unprotected

531 11th Street

Particularly handsome and well-preserved ironwork runs the entire length of the row:

Unfortunately we have not yet uncovered any announcement of new building plans for this row. What we have found however are several sales listings from the latter half of 1894; local builder James Jack was the seller in most of the transactions. Below are some examples; the full list is in the photo comments here.

(On July 24, 1894, both the New York Times and the Brooklyn Eagle list Jack as the buyer of 539 11th Street. We suspect a clerical error in the Dept. of Buildings that was propagated into both papers. All other 1894 sales transactions for this row cite Jack as the seller.)

New York Times, December 29, 1894, p. 12

New York Times, July 24, 1894, p. 12

New York Times, July 1, 1894, p. 10

This cluster of sales from mid to late 1894 strongly suggests that the row was completed that year, perhaps in the spring or early summer. Also, the fact that James Jack is listed as the seller in most transactions strongly suggests that he was responsible for the row. James Jack was a prolific local builder who lived nearby at 454 9th Street, just above 7th Avenue.

Thus we would attribute this handsome row of three-family dwellings to James Jack, builder, and date the row to 1894. Our limited research funds have not yet enabled us to pull the Department of Buildings files for this block, but when we ultimately do so, we expect the files will confirm the attribution.

N.B. We don't always catch questions submitted to older blog posts. For the most timely response, contact us via the Park Slope Civic Council's website.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A. G. and W. M. Calder in 7th Avenue

The father and son team of Alexander G. Calder and William M. Calder designed and built many properties within the current Park Slope Historic District, which was designated in 1973. According to the district's Designation Report, the pair were particularly active in the South Slope, building for example nearly all of 13th Street's "park block".

According to our research, the pair were also responsible for many Park Slope properties outside the historic district as well, including the row of five mixed-use (flats over stores) buildings on the southeast corner of 7th Avenue and 7th Street. The corner building has one of those great bay windows facing into the middle of the intersection:

289-297 7th Avenue - unprotected
William M. Calder, architect - 1888
Alexander G. Calder, owner and builder

The American Architect and Building News reports that plans for these buildings were filed in April, 1888:

"Building Intelligence; Apartment-Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 23, no. 643 (Apr. 21, 1888): p. xiv.
– "Seventh Ave., e s, 40' 8" s Seventh St., 3 four-st’y brownstone flats, tin roofs, wooden cornices; cost, each, $9,000; owner and contractor, A. G. Calder, 312 Thirteenth St.; architect, W. M. Calder."

"Building Intelligence; Stores; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 23, no. 644 (Apr. 28, 1888): p. xvi.
– "Seventh Ave., e s, 21' s Seventh St., four-st’y brownstone store and flat, tin roof; cost, $9,000; owner and contractor, A. G. Calder, 312 Thirteenth St.; architect, W. M. Calder."
– "Seventh Ave., s e cor., Seventh Ave., four-st’y brownstone store and dwell, tin roof; cost, $11,000; owner and contractor, A. G. Calder, 312 Thirteenth St.; architect, W. M. Calder."

Our intrepid researchers at the Brooklyn Department of Buildings have confirmed the attribution in the form of a "Detailed Statement of Specification of Buildings" filed in the name of A. G. and W. M. Calder.

We have always loved these distinctive corner buildings with the diagonally projecting bays, so characteristic of Park Slope's commercial corridors. Only a few of them, in the far north Slope, are protected by historic district designation.

The Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection has an 1893 photograph of this row. The photograph indicates that the corner building, like many similar buildings in 7th Avenue, once boasted a mansarded turret surmounting the corner bay window:

289-297 7th Avenue in 1893

The BPL's caption reads:

View of the intersection of 7th Avenue and 7th Street, showing portions of three residential buildings and an event, possibly a groundbreaking ceremony for All Saints Episcopal Church, built in 1893, taking place in the foreground.

We last encountered William Calder's work in 12th Street's park block, where he designed a long row of houses for owner James Jack in 1898-99.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

1870s Park Slope: Prospect Place

A while ago we introduced the 1880 Bromley Brooklyn Atlas, which color-codes structures by building type: pink for brick, yellow for wood.

The excerpt below shows that development in the northwest Slope was well advanced by 1880. The excerpt shows 5th Avenue to the left, 6th Avenue to the right, Flatbush Avenue on the diagonal at the top, and Bergen, St. Marks, and Prospect Place from top to bottom.

1880 Bromley Brooklyn Atlas showing NW Park Slope

One notes that the entire north side of Prospect Place between 5th & 6th was built up by 1880. The view remains little changed today:

Prospect Place between 5th & 6th Avenues, north side, circa 1870s -

The map also shows the transit lines running along 5th Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, and Bergen Street; these survive in the bus routes of today.

Finally, the map shows the original location of St. Augustine's R. C. Church, at 5th Avenue and Bergen Street. St. Augustine's would depart 5th Avenue when the elevated 5th Avenue Line began operation in the late 1880s, relocating to its present home in 6th Avenue between Sterling and Park.

None of these blocks of 1870s Park Slope is protected by historic district designation.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Original Building Plans: 7th Avenue & 14th Street

A while ago we visited an 1887 row of 5 mixed-use buildings on the southwest corner of 14th Street and 7th Avenue. The row was designed by architect W. H. Wirth for local builder Sampson B. Oulton.

424-430 7th Avenue
W. H. Wirth, architect - 1887
Sampson B. Oulton, owner/builder

Below is a photograph of the actual architect's rendering of the corner building, 424 7th Avenue. It was taken by one of our intrepid researchers in the Brooklyn Department of Buildings.

Plans - 424 7th Avenue

The legend across the top of the rendering reads, in distinctive "architect script":

House for Mr. S. B. Oulton
Scale [?] S W cor. 7th Ave. & 14th St. Bklyn

The rendering shows only a single entrance, to the ground-floor commercial space; a corner mixed-use building such as this one would normally place the entrance to the upstairs flats around the corner, at the back of the building.

The adjacent buildings in the row, lacking a corner exposure, would have two entrances at the ground floor facing 7th Avenue, one to the commercial space and the other to the upstairs flats.

428 7th Avenue, part of this same 1887 row by Wirth & Oulton, still boasts what appears to be the original storefront. The storefront details, still extant in 2010, are very similar to those in the 1887 architectural rendering above. The central door admits to the commercial space, while the door to the left leads to the upstairs flats. The ground floor is framed by cast-iron pilasters:

428 7th Avenue - detail

There are not many of these original storefronts left in Park Slope; the few that remain are great treasures.

Our researchers are busy photographing everything within our Historic District Expansion Study Areas that can be found at the Brooklyn Department of Buildings. It is our hope someday to upload as much of this material as we can onto the web.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Acme Adhesives in 12th Street

Sometimes Park Slope building research comes into our hands via circuitous paths.

Today, while working our "Outside" shift at the Park Slope Food Coop, we accompanied a shopper and her groceries to her car so that we could return the cart to the store. She happened to mention that she lived in 12th Street, so we asked where, and it turned out she lives between 7th & 8th in a building with an 'A' in the cornice:

459-461 12th Street

459-461 12th Street - detail

She said most people assume that the 'A' is for Ansonia, since the former clock factory is directly across 12th Street. On the contrary, she said that the 'A' is for "Acme Adhesives," a firm that formerly occupied the building before it was converted into apartments around 1980. Her understanding is that the building was erected in 1910 and that it might also have served as a garage at some point.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Does Preservation = Affordable Housing?

People occasionally blame Historic Preservation for accelerating gentrification and the loss of affordable housing. It is sometimes charged that historic preservation "pushes people out" by making neighborhoods unaffordable for long-time residents, resulting in less economic diversity etc.

We're not sure we buy this critique. It seems to us that in Park Slope, at any rate, historic preservation can help preserve affordable housing (relative to Park Slope at any rate).

Consider the two buildings in the photograph below:

The building on the left is one of a row of 12 8-family flats built in 1893 by Charles Hagedorn on the north side of 3rd Street between 4th & 5th Avenues. The lot size is 27', which makes for two 13'-wide apartments per floor. It lacks an elevator, and the apartment layouts are probably somewhat quirky. Perhaps most shocking (at least to cranky Brownstoner commenters), the residents must keep their rubbish in exposed bins in the front areaway.

The new building on the right, by contrast, yields two spacious 20'-wide apartments per floor. The apartments feature large windows admitting lots of light, elevator access to all floors, a discreet place to hide the rubbish bins.

But all these amenities offered by the new, "luxury" building come at a price. In which building do you think it costs more to rent or buy an apartment? In which building would you expect to find more economically diverse residents?

We suspect there's a lot more folks who could afford to live in the old building on the left, than in the new building on the right.

We're not saying that a 4th-floor walkup is the right housing for everyone. But for many people, at some point in their lives, a 4th floor walkup may be their only affordable choice in Park Slope, that will allow them to live here rather than elsewhere.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


One of our favorite 7th Avenue buildings is the "Annandale", on the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and 3rd Street, built of light-colored brick with handsome brownstone trim and corner quoins. The building's warm yellow brick seems to glow in the late afternoon sun:

Annandale Apartments, 7th Avenue & 3rd Street, Park Slope
L. Anderson, architect - 1892

To reach the upper-floor flats, one enters a door behind a Romanesque archway off 7th Avenue. The entrance behind the arch is lined with what appear to be original half-height wooden panels, which make for an altogether extremely handsome doorway:

Annandale Apartments - detail

According to the American Architect and Building News, the apartment house was constructed in 1892-93 to plans by architect L. Anderson; the owners are listed as "Gold, Nicoll, & Anderson":

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brookly n, N. Y.," AABN vol. 38, no. 884 (Dec. 3, 1892): p. 7.
– "Third St., n e cor. Seventh Ave., five-st’y brick store and dwell., tin roof; cost, $16,000; owners, Gold, Nicoll & Anderson, Third St. and Third Ave.; architect, L. Anderson, 33 Cornelia St."

Andersons (as both developer, and architect) are also associated with the adjacent row of four brownstones in 3rd Street, also built in 1892.

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 36, no. 858 (Jun. 4, 1892): p. 3.
– "Third St., n s, 29' e Seventh Ave., 4 three-st’y brick dwells., tin roofs; cost, $6,000 each; owner and builder, Julius Anderson; architect, Lewis Anderson."

One wonders: could "Lewis Anderson," architect of the adjacent row of 4 townhouses in 3rd Street, be the same architect ("L. Anderson") who designed the corner apartment house at 7th Avenue, which was constructed around the same time? It seems highly likely to us.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Prospect Theater in 1914

Concluding our survey of the Brooklyn Public Library's photographs of historic theaters in Park Slope is this great view of the Prospect Theater. The BPL cites 1914 as the date of the photograph:

Prospect Theater, Park Slope, in 1914
photo: Brooklyn Public Library

According to our research, the theater was built in 1914, so this very early image shows the building in its original condition, including domes and cornice, now gone. Also note the handsome street lights progressing up 9th Street.

The theater building extends all the way through the block to 8th Street. The front is now a C-Town supermarket, and the back has been converted to apartments, whose residents enter through the original stage door in 8th Street:

Prospect Theater - 8th Street side

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Park Slope's Fifth Avenue Theater

Another historic Park Slope Theater appearing in the Brooklyn Public Library's collection of newly-digitized Brooklyn theater images is the Fifth Avenue Theater. The library's caption indicates that the theater was located at 5th Avenue and 4th Street in Park Slope:

Fifth Avenue Theater, Park Slope, 1911
Image: Brooklyn Public Library

We were completely unfamiliar with this theater, and inquired of the Brooklyn Collection's curator regarding it. She kindly responded that the Fifth Avenue Theater had indeed once stood at the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and 4th Street, as indicated on the "Belcher Hyde atlas" for the period. We were also unfamiliar with the Belcher Hyde atlas, but a quick web search reveals that it is available on the HistoricMapWorks.com website, and the 1916 Belcher Hyde map does in fact show the Fifth Avenue Theater at that corner (circled in green below):

Fifth Avenue Theater (circled)
5th Avenue & 4th Street, Park Slope
1916 Belcher Hyde Atlas (image: HistoricMapWorks.com)

The theater's location is where the J. J. Byrne Playground stands today, near the Old Stone House.

Our library correspondent further states that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of Sunday, Nov. 2, 1919, announces a performance of "The Country Cousin" at Brooklyn's Fifth Avenue Theater under the heading "At the Play in Brooklyn". Sure enough, here it is below; the play was co-authored by Booth Tarkington and Julian Street and is the story of a "country girl" who falls prey to the "machinations of a group of selfish relatives":

Brooklyn Eagle, Nov. 2, 1919, p. 7

Note that the "Belcher Hyde" maps are listed as "Ullitz" maps in the New York Public Library's digitized collection of atlases of New York City. A close inspection of the title page indicates that Hugo Ullitz was apparently the engineer who put together the maps, while "E. Belcher Hyde" was the publisher: