Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Not Pristine" in 7th Avenue

The two buildings at 123 & 123A 7th Avenue reflect the larger changes undergone by the avenue in the late 19th century:

123-123A 7th Avenue - unprotected

The buildings appear to have originated as single-family homes; presumably they would have fit right in on many of Park Slope's entirely residential side streets. 123 7th Avenue, on the left above, even retains its original stoop, door hood, and console brackets. The buildings exhibit Neo-Grec detailing.

According to research we've compiled in our Documentary History of the Park Slope Historic District Extension, the buildings were constructed in 1885 by Mr. [E. A.?] Wooley, to plans by Brooklyn architect Robert Dixon:

"Building Intelligence; Brooklyn," American Architect and Building News vol. 17, no. 488 (May 2, 1885): p. 215.
– "Seventh Ave., e s, 21' n Carroll St., 2 three-st’y brown-stone dwells., tin roofs; cost, about $7,000 each; owner and builder, Mr. Wooley, on premises; architect, Robert Dixon."

As noted previously, Park Slope's 7th Avenue began to develop as a mostly residential street, with some mixed-use (flats over stores) at the intersections, somewhat as parts of 6th Avenue appear today. Soon however, as 7th Avenue achieved an increasingly commercial character, residential buildings such as the ones above were frequently retrofit with commercial space at the basement and parlor levels.

Thus these buildings are said to be "not pristine", in the technical terminology of historic preservation. Even so, buildings such as these contribute a great deal to Park Slope's historic character and sense of place.

But the question arises, what is the "preservation ideal" for buildings like this that are "not pristine"?

One professional preservationist whom we have consulted regarding this project suggests that 123A, with its interesting second floor projecting bay, columns, and small transom windows, might be considered a fine example of an early residential-to-commercial conversion:

123A 7th Avenue - detail
Early residential-to-commercial conversion

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

2010 House Tour: 475A 1st Street

This house will be featured on the 2010 Park Slope House Tour, which will be held Sunday, May 16. Tickets will be available at 7th Avenue merchants, and through the Park Slope Civic Council's website.

475A 1st Street - Park Slope Historic District

475A 1st Street is one of a row of six two-story-over-basement single-family homes built in 1877 for owner George W. Richards and designed by Brooklyn architect-carpenter William Wright. The Park Slope Historic District Designation Report states that the row is "French neo-Grec", based perhaps on the incised foliate decoration carved into the window lintels. However, the houses also exhibit many characteristics of the lingering Italiate style, including the segmental-arched windows and door hood, the parlor-floor windows that drop all the way to the floor, the cornice detailing, and the cast-iron stoop handrails, newel posts, and areaway fence.

In 1891, this house was the venue for an elaborate musicale, hosted by a Mrs. Wardner, to benefit the home mission work of the Park Congregational Church. The Brooklyn Eagle reported that the event drew performers from both Brooklyn and New York, then still a separate city; that "the capacious parlors were well filled"; and that an "elocutionist" was particularly well-received.

Brooklyn Eagle, February 13, 1891, p.2 ("In Aid of Home Mission Work")

Park Congregational was at that time located in a church building that still stands in 7th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues; in a few years it would move to a new home at the corner of 8th Avenue and 2nd Street.

475A 1st Street has very recently undergone a renovation and enlargement that is highly sensitive to the original house and to the historic district. A new half-floor was added to the roof, but is invisible from the sidewalk and can only be seen from the top of the stoops across the street:

475A 1st Street, showing rooftop addition.
View from top of stoop across the street

Friday, February 19, 2010

2010 House Tour: 15 Prospect Park West

This house will be featured on the 2010 Park Slope House Tour, which will be held Sunday, May 16. Tickets will be available at 7th Avenue merchants, and through the Park Slope Civic Council's website.

15-13 Prospect Park West, Park Slope Historic District

15 Prospect Park West, one of an identical pair of residences, was built in 1919 for Walter Kraslow and designed by Brooklyn architect William T. McCarthy. These houses exemplify the neo-Tudor style that was very popular in the years following the First World War. Historian Francis Morrone notes that these are among the last single-family residences constructed in Park Slope. A continuous balustrade supporting heraldic animals above the first story ties the two buildings together.

A noteworthy feature of these houses is the central driveway leading to separate garage space in the rear of the lots, reflecting the growing importance of the automobile in daily life. The driveway creates a break in the "street wall", and a curb cut for access to the street; both radical departures from earlier urban design in Park Slope.

Ultimately, as the automobile grew ever more important, and as cities sprawled into suburbs, the garage, which began as a separate outbuilding, crept ever closer to, and finally merged with, the primary residence:

1950s house

In modern houses the garage, enlarged to accomodate two or even three automobiles, becomes the dominant feature of the facade, and residents of such "drive-in" homes become accustomed to using the "garage door" rather than the "front door" to enter the residence. The front yard is overwhelmed by a vast parking lot:

1990s house

Walter Kraslow died a suicide, aged 45, in 1928. A New York Times article notes that he was depressed and brooding about business reversals in the time leading up to his death:

New York Times, August 23, 1928, p. 26

Monday, February 15, 2010

4th to 5th Avenues: Hidden in Plain Sight

A few people disparage the Lower Slope blocks between 4th and 5th Avenues as containing no buildings of historic value. Indeed, many of these blocks contain generic warehouses or have been ripped up for new, "luxury" condo development.

But a closer look at these blocks rewards the visitor with many delightful rows of mid- to late-19th-c. dwellings retaining a great deal of historic character and "sense of place". These are not the stolid, brownstone-faced single-family rowhouses of the Upper Slope. Below 5th Avenue, brownstone was used more sparingly, and the dwellings are a mix of single- and multi-family housing, most likely built for workers at the nearby industrial Gowanus Canal district.

We have posted earlier about how far "back from the brink" the 3rd Street block has come.

The question of whether these blocks could ever be included in the Park Slope Historic District is basically moot, since it will be twenty or thirty years (if ever) before the historic district even begins to approach these blocks. But we feel that a more complete, more holistic Park Slope Historic District should certainly contain Lower Slope blocks of brick-faced, multi-family housing, along with the brownstone single-family houses of the Upper Slope.

Dean Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

Bergen Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

Douglass Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

Degraw Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

Carroll Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

3rd Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

5th Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

6th Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

11th Street between 4th & 5th Avenues - unprotected

Thursday, February 11, 2010

NY Post Totally Inaccurate on Slope Expansion

The New York Post published an article today about our project to expand the Park Slope Historic District. We're right under an article entitled "Hairy Situation" about John Travolta's hair:

The article contained inaccuracies, to say the least... Brownstoner also reposted it, eliciting the usual mix in the comments section of gross misinformation and rare insight.

The first inaccuracy in the Post article is that it will take 10 years to complete this project. If only! At our current rate, it will be more like 20 years.

Next, civic organizations like the Park Slope Civic Council only submit a "Request for Evaluation" to the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Basically, the "civic" (as the Post calls groups like ours) proposes a "study area" for the LPC to review. The LPC eventually responds to the RFE, and sometimes the response takes the form of a proposal for a new Historic District, or an extension of an existing Historic District. The final proposal for a new district or an extension to an existing district comes from the LPC, not from the "civic".

Why did the Park Slope Civic Council include all Park Slope in its RFE? We realize that not every building is landmark-worthy, nor do we expect that every building will ultimately be included in the Park Slope Historic District. But those decisions are for the LPC to make, not us. We are advocates for Park Slope, not architectural historians, and we would be remiss if we did not advocate for the entire neighborhood. Who are we to say that some blocks should be included, and some not? We must let the LPC decide that.

Next, the Post article inaccurately cites an initial review phase of 1,350 buildings, stretching from Flatbush Avenue to 15th Street. If only! That was our initial proposal for phase 1, which was immediately rejected by the LPC as being too large. The compromise phase 1, as documented on this blog, comprises under 800 buildings from about Union Street to 15th Street.

Finally, to return to the time span for this project: our initial phasing encompassed 3 phases, with an estimated project duration of 10 years. Since our first phase had to be cut in half to become manageable by the LPC, we now project perhaps six phases stretching over 20 years. We are in this for the long haul! But, "it's dogged as does it" and one has to start someplace. The point is to start, and then to keep at it. If anyone knows how to speed up the process, let us know.

So much for the Post article. We'll save the amazingly misinformed Brownstoner comments section for another day. We intend to maintain this blog for the duration of this project, so we will need a lot of new material. Responding to the 'Stoner commenters' misconceptions about this project should keep us going for a long time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

CM Levin: "Full Support" for Expanded Historic District

The Park Slope Civic Council recently received a copy of a letter from City Council Member Stephen Levin of the 33rd District expressing "full support" for the Council's efforts to expand the Park Slope Historic District.

The letter, excerpted below, is addressed to Robert Tierney, Chairman of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission. Council Member Levin notes that the expansion is "vital to preserving the unparalleled sense of place" of Park Slope, and that "an expanded Historic District is both necessary and warranted".

Council Member Levin's voice joins a growing chorus of current and former elected officials demanding the Park Slope Historic District's expansion, including United States Representative Yvette Clarke, New York State Senator Eric Adams, former City Council Member Bill de Blasio, and former City Council Member David Yassky.

Thank you, Council Member Levin!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Historic District Splits 3rd Street Row

Apologies for the poor quality of the photograph, but it illustrates yet another example of the schizophrenic boundaries of the current Park Slope Historic District. The photo shows the four houses on the north side of 3rd Street, just above 7th Avenue (an apartment building occupies the corner):

503-507 3rd Street - unprotected
509 3rd Street - Park Slope Historic District

According to a listing we found in the American Architect and Building News, the row was built in 1892 by owner/builder Julius Anderson, and architect Lewis Anderson:

"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."

This listing conforms to the historic district's Designation Report, which also credits this row to Anderson & Anderson:

Park Slope Historic District Designation Report, p. 109

As noted in the Designation Report, however, only #509 is within the current Historic District. The other three houses, closest to 7th Avenue, are not. Can you guess why? Careful readers of this blog will recall how, south of Union Street, the historic district never approaches closer than 100' to 7th Avenue, even if that boundary splits rows of identical houses, as here.

100' is of course the depth of a standard NYC building lot. The boundary of the 1973 Park Slope Historic District seems to anticipate that everything standing in 7th Avenue were ultimately to be bulldozed. In other words, buildings seem not to have been included in the original historic district based solely on merit, but rather on arbitrary extraneous factors including development potential... a highly questionable approach to landmarking, it seems to us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Builder James Jack in 10th Street

Just above 7th Avenue, on the south side of 10th Street, stands a row of 11 matching buildings (#552-572 10th Street). Each is three stories, with the low stoop characteristic of early multi-family housing:

560-558 10th Street - unprotected

The row was apparently constructed in 1887 by local Brooklyn builder James Jack:

Brooklyn Eagle, May 21, 1887, p. 2 ("Houses - Lots")

The flat, brick facades are enlivened with simple brownstone trim, and by an unusual row of terra-cotta tiles below the second and third stories:

558 10th Street - detail

The brickwork runs continuously from one building to the next, and the terra-cotta band drops by two courses of bricks from house to house:

568-566 10th Street - detail

James Jack also built many buildings within the nearby Park Slope Historic District, including nearly the entire south side of 12th Street between 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West:

474-482 12th Street, Park Slope Historic District
James Jack, owner; Thomas Bennett, architect; 1899-1900

484-514 12th Street, Park Slope Historic District
James Jack, owner; William Calder, builder/architect; 1898-99

Jack's distinctive buildings in 10th Street are similar to several other rows of multifamily dwellings elsewhere in Park Slope:

369-379 7th Street - unprotected