Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

More J. F. Ransom in 10th Street

The November 15, 1890 Brooklyn Eagle carried notice of plans filed by builder James F. Ransom to erect a row of 5 3-family flat houses in 10th Street, near 8th Avenue:

Brooklyn Eagle, November 15, 1890, p. 2 ("Still Booming")

This is one of those frustrating listings that gives scant details regarding the location... "near" 8th Avenue is not very precise! The listing does however cite much useful information, such as the dimensions (20x56 feet); the fact that the buildings were 3-family apartment houses; there are 5 of them; and the price. The price per house ($55,000 / 5 = $11,000 each) seems quite expensive for Park Slope apartment buildings in those days.

However, with so little to go on, we filed this one away in our "unknown buildings" file, until the next clue arrived, in the form of this listing for the same group from the American Architect and Building News, which usually carried the news a few weeks after the Eagle:

"Building Intelligence; Apartment-Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 30, no. 783 (Dec. 27, 1890): p. xvii.
– "Tenth St., s s, 97' 10" w Eighth Ave., 5 three-st’y brick flats, tin roofs; cost, $7,000 each; owner, J. F. Ransom, 616 Tenth St.; architect, J. D. Reynolds & Son, 363 Fulton St."

This seems to be the same listing, but the price given here ($7,000 x 5 = $35,000) probably indicates a transcription error made by the Brooklyn Eagle reporter a few weeks earlier. $7,000 is a much more likely price for an 1890 Park Slope flat house.

We also learn the architect, "J. D. Reynolds & Son", which we think is another typo for I. D. or Isaac D. Reynolds, prolific Brooklyn architect of the day.

The AABN listing also provides a very precise, yet confusing location: "Tenth St., s s, 97'10" w Eighth Ave". This would place the group exactly in the same location as another set of Ransom buildings, built one year earlier. And that earlier group of 7 small, V-front, 16'-wide rowhouses could never be mistaken for a set of 5 3-story, 3-family, 20'-wide flats. So the AABN location must be wrong.

Where else could the group be?

The distance cited from 8th Avenue (97') is basically the depth of a typical Brooklyn building lot, so let's check across the street, directly behind the lots facing 8th Avenue. Sure enough, on the north side of 10th Street, just off 8th Avenue, stands a group that fits the description:

593-601 10th Street - 1890-1891
James F. Ransom, builder
I. D. Reynolds & Son, architects

They look a bit like rowhouses, but we suspect they were all built as 3-family flat houses (most have 3-bell buzzers to this day). The lots are 20' wide. There are 5 of them.

Therefore, pending the arrival of new information, we are attributing this group to Ransom & Reynolds.

(That makes 3 typos in the space of 2 listings, if anyone's counting... the reporters were working from handwritten documents so the typos are understandable.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

James F. Ransom, 10th Street Builder

The Brooklyn Eagle of April 27, 1889 carried news of a row of 7 small, two-story-over basement, 16' wide houses to be erected in 10th Street, near 8th Avenue, by builder J. F. Ransom:

Brooklyn Eagle, April 27, 1889, p. 1 ("Within Three")

Just such a row of 7 houses stands today at 606-618 10th Street, on the south side of the block between 7th & 8th Avenues, just below 8th:

616-618 10th Street
James F. Ransom, builder - 1889

J. F. Ransom's name also appears in the Park Slope Historic District Designation Report. It was he who built #22-24 Fiske Place, a pair of neo-Grec apartment houses; and he also built #676-682 10th Street, in the park block, which the Designation Report describes as "perfect examples of the neo-Grec style." The description also fits our subject row of 7 houses below 8th Avenue:

606 10th Street
James F. Ransom, builder - 1889

Our research has uncovered several other groups of buildings associated with J. F. Ransom, whose first name is given as James in at least one citation. The 1897 Lain's Brooklyn Directory lists a James F. Ransom, builder, in residence at 918 8th Avenue, around the corner:

RANSOM Jas. F. bldr. h 918 8th av

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Lock In the Past?"

The Courier newspaper recently ran a front-page article, reproduced (and corrected) below, about the proposed Park Slope Historic District extension.

The print version was accompanied by photographs of the following buildings from 12th Street, presumably to illustrate the article's contention that "some of [the buildings in the proposed extension] are historic, some not so much."

457 12th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues, n s

Garage, 12th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues, n s

The fact that not every building in historic districts is equally historic is not at all surprising. Below are some "not so historic" buildings that were included in the original Park Slope Historic District:

543-549 2nd Street - circa 1950
Park Slope Historic District

Buildings such as these are usually said to be "non-contributing," i.e. that they do not contribute to the historic fabric or unique sense of place of the neighborhood. Presumably the Landmarks Preservation Commission would be much more likely to allow changes to (or even demolition of) a "non-contributing" building.

The Courier article, in italics below, contained a number of inaccuracies, for which we offer non-italicized corrections.

Lock In the Past?

The city is moving forward with a controversial plan to add roughly 600 buildings to the Park Slope historic district. The existing 34-block zone, which covers a thin swath between Seventh Avenue and Prospect Park West, is already the largest historic district in the city with 1,975 apartment buildings and houses.

[Actually, the Greenwich Village Historic District has always been larger, according to this press release from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Greenwich Village district was created in 1969 with 2,035 buildings, and has been extended twice to its current size of 2,320 buildings.]

But the new proposal — a wider area that would go all the way from Prospect Park West to Fifth Avenue and from Flatbush Avenue to 15th Street — would add 564 more buildings, some of them historic, some not so much.

[Actually, the proposed Park Slope Historic District extension lies mostly between 7th & 15th Streets, and between 7th & 8th Avenues, as shown on this map.]

The boundary was drawn up last year, and presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has scheduled hearings and analysis for sometime this fall, the first step in a months- or years-long process.

[Actually the boundary of the proposed extension was drawn up by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and presented to the community, not the other way round.]

It’s one that the local councilman thinks is worth doing — mostly because the plan would include city loans for landowners who want to renovate their historic buildings, a costly venture. “The original district is 30-plus years old and there’s a lot it doesn’t cover,” Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) said on Wednesday. “This would be fair for owners — if you apply to do some work on your building, you have the option of getting city help, while keeping the look and feel of the neighborhood.” The commission has no timetable, but the fact that Park Slope got the city’s attention is a huge milestone for the effort to lock in the aesthetic of one of the best-preserved districts of 1800s Greek Revivals in the borough.

[Actually, the Greek Revival style (1830-1850) is nonexistent in Park Slope, which was constructed decades later.]

After all, any new buildings in the proposed district would have to help “create a coherent streetscape [and] a distinct sense of place,” according the commission.

So much for the Courier's overview of the proposed extension. For the perspective of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, scroll down to the next post.

Friday, September 10, 2010

LPC Overview of Phase 1 Extension

Whilst poking about on the LPC's website, we happened upon a 1-page description or "blurb" of the proposed Park Slope Historic District extension. It was apparently written by LPC staffers and distributed internally at the August 10, 2010 hearing when the extension was calendared.

The text is of interest because it sheds light on the LPC's thinking with regard to the extension's significance. We reproduce the LPC text below, enhancing it with our own photographs and captions:

The proposed Park Slope Historic District extension focuses on the blocks between 7th Street and 16th Street, including both sides of Seventh and Eighth Avenues, as well as the west side of Bartell Pritchard Square, adjoining Prospect Park. This phase contains approximately 582 buildings that are located on blocks that border the south and southwest boundaries of the current historic district, designated in 1973. Most of the structures are row houses and apartment buildings that were constructed in the 1880s, following the completion of Prospect Park and the opening of new streetcar routes along the neighborhood’s major avenues. An additional factor in the area’s development was construction of the Ansonia Clock Factory...

Ansonia Clock Factory

...in 1879, which occupied a significant portion of the block bordered by Seventh Avenue, 12th Street, and 13th Street. Now condominium residences, at one time the factory employed a reported 1500 workers. Many buildings in the vicinity were constructed to serve this community, particularly the 4-story buildings along Seventh and Eighth Avenues, which incorporate walk-up apartments and ground-floor commercial space, often designed with distinctive corner entrances and projecting bay windows.

7th Avenue & 12th Street, s w corner
Louis Bonert, owner/builder - 1890

Similar buildings extend along Seventh Avenue, with Acme Hall, at the corner of 9th Street.

Acme Hall - 7th Avenue & 9th Street, n w corner
Charles Nickenig, owner/builder - 1890

Built by developer Charles Nickenig, this large Romanesque Revival style structure originally contained a large ballroom, bowling alleys, and meeting rooms for area organizations. Eleventh Street features two handsome buildings erected for fire protection, a 2-story red brick Italianate structure built in 1883 by the City of Brooklyn and a 3-story tan brick Beaux Arts-style structure built for the New York City Fire Department in 1907.

Fire Engine Houses, 11th Street
1883 building (left)
1907 building (right)

The blocks that the surround the firehouses, between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, contain many handsome examples of late 19th century row house design. Particularly homogeneous groups can be found along both sides of 8th,...


10th Street, 7th-8th Avenues, n s
M[?]. Doody, owner - 1882

...and 11th Streets.

11th Street, 7th-8th Avenues, n s
James Jack, owner/builder - 1894

Erected by commercial developers during the 1880s, these brick and brownstone houses are mostly well preserved and display simple, mostly classical, details. The south side of 9th Street is more stylistically varied, with Italianate and Queen Anne-style designs of the 1880s.

9th Street, 7th-8th Avenues, s s
E. L. Pierson, owner/builder - 1882

The latest buildings in the extension can be found close to Prospect Park, along 15th Street, where mostly two-family houses and multiple dwellings were erected in the neo-classical style during the first decade of the 20th century.

15th Street, 8th Avenue-Prospect Park West, s s

At Bartell Pritchard Square, the whitish-brick buildings turn the corner and curve, echoing the shape of the traffic circle and the granite columns that McKim, Mead & White added to the park’s southwest entrance in 1906.

Bartell-Pritchard Square, west side

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

David Atkins: 9th Street Flats

On the north side of 9th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues stands a row of 9 identical 4-story, 4-family "flat houses" (early apartment buildings). Some of the row are missing their cornices, and some are boarded up and seemingly abandoned:

481-497 9th Street
David Atkin/Atkins, builder - 1893

The Brooklyn Eagle in 1893 published notice of plans by builder David Atkin to erect a row of 9 four-story, 4-family flats in this location, so we suspect this is the very same row, still standing if a bit worse for wear.

Brooklyn Eagle, March 10, 1893, p. 6 ("New Buildings and Real Estate")

The cornices that remain show an interesting scallop-shaped design:

We have associated builder David Atkin (a.k.a. "Atkins") with a few other buildings in the South Slope, most notably the 1889 mixed-use (flats over stores) row at the northwest corner of 15th Street and 7th Avenue. Our research files show both "D. Atkin" and "D. Atkins" operating out of 339 15th Street, a building which he also built in 1889, together with the 7th Avenue row.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Montrose Morris in the North Slope

Recently the ubiquitous local architectural historian "Montrose Morris" devoted a Brownstoner "House of the Day" column to the marvelous mixed-use apartment houses at 76-82 St. Marks Avenue in the North Slope:

76-82 St. Marks Avenue ("Montauk" and "Lenox" apartments)
Montrose Morris, architect - 1885
William H. Scott, owner

According to "Montrose Morris", the buildings were constructed in 1885, to designs by her namesake, distinguished Brooklyn architect Montrose Morris. It is worth reproducing her remarks on this remarkable set of buildings:

Why chosen: Not many people realize this is an MM building. One could argue that it is his practice run for his masterpiece, the Alhambra, built later in 1889. Lauded in the Eagle as one of the finest apt buildings in Brooklyn at the time, this building once had large apartments, each with a parlor, library, dining room, pantry, kitchen, 3 bedrooms, servants' rooms and two bathrooms. Design-wise, we can see Morris' signature style emerging; the placement of the building to command the street, his use of bays and massing of windows adding space, as well as lots of light. His decorative rooflines and use of various elements such as banded foliate terra-cotta, decorative carvings around the entrances, the bold naming of his buildings, and his mixture of materials to add interest to the building. Lastly, we can see his most pervasive signature element; his use of multiple columns, usually surrounding Romanesque arched windows, slightly recessed here, but soon to form deeply recessed loggias.

We asked "Montrose Morris," whom we revere as a fellow fanatical preservationist, what documentation supports her claim that the buildings were designed by Morris. She pointed us to a Brooklyn Eagle article from May 18, 1885 that seems to describe a set of somewhat similar buildings, in the same location, by Montrose Morris:

Brooklyn Eagle, May 18, 1885, p. 6 ("A Big Building")

We then turned to our Documentary History of the Park Slope Historic District Expansion Study Area to see if we had any other evidence to support the attribution, and indeed, we do.

The same development was recorded by the American Architect & Building News in June, 1885:

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," AABN vol. 17, no. 496 (Jun. 27, 1885): p. 311.
– "Flatbush Ave, s e cor. St. Mark’s Ave., seven-st’y brick, Carlisle Stone and terra-cotta apartment-house, Sparham fire-proof cement roofing; cost, $150,000 to $200,000; owner, Wm Scott, 33 Wall St.; architect, M. W. Morris."

The Brooklyn Eagle also noted that the New Building permit for these buildings had been issued in its issue of June 18, 1885:
Brooklyn Eagle, June 18, 1885, p. 4 ("Municipal")

"Montrose Morris" also offered irrefutable evidence that these buildings are by architect Montrose Morris: she says that distinguished architectural historian and Montrose Morris expert Andrew Dolkart says so! That's good enough for "Montrose Morris," and it's good enough for us too!

"Lenox" Apartments - entrance detail
Montrose Morris, architect - 1885