Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More Boundary Madness

A recent Brownstoner story brings news that the carriage house at 90 Park Place is undergoing renovation:

90 Park Place - Park Slope Historic District
photo: brownstoner

According to the Park Slope Historic District's Designation Report, this "handsome little Italianate stable" was built to serve the adjacent house at the corner of 6th Avenue and Park Place:

117 6th Avenue - unprotected

However, in yet another example of the current historic district's irrational boundaries, the stable itself is within the boundaries of the Park Slope Historic District, while main house it was built to serve is not. The link between the two buildings, one inside and one outside the current historic district, is confirmed in the Designation Report:

Nota Bene: Fixers' Collective

Brooklyn Rail covers the Fixers' Collective:

According to the Fixers’ website, the Collective’s goal is “to increase material literacy in our community by fostering an ethic of creative caring toward the objects in our lives.”

For David Mahfouda and the other Fixers, this is both a practical and political imperative—a way to make amends for environmental damage and rampant consumerism. “I’d love to see a network of collectives, places all over the country where people can go to fix things,” Mahfouda says. “I’d love to see hundreds of places where people can pick up the skills to make repairs rather than acquiring new objects. Sure, it’s a cultural and moral issue, but it’s also a way for people to be in dialogue with each other. Fixing starts by listening, learning how things were done before. It starts with you taking responsibility for an object, but it’s not a huge leap from this idea to the idea that you also have a responsibility to the world and everyone in it.”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Lost Park Slope: The Envelope Please

Our Lost Park Slope quiz asked readers to identify the location of the photograph below:

Where is this Park Slope location?

May we have the envelope please... Ruth Edebohls! correctly identifies the location as the corner of Flatbush and 7th Avenues. Below is the same location today; the view is from the Prospect Heights side of Flatbush, looking west across Flatbush at Park Slope:

Flatbush Avenue, 7th Avenue, and Park Place - 2010

The historic photograph is from the collection of the New York Public Library. The text on the verso reads:

The intersection of Flatbush Ave. and Park Place at Seventh Ave. The trolley tracks run northward on Flatbush Ave. At the left is the Durfey house, on the corner of Seventh Ave. and Park Place; beyond it appear Nos. 8-12 Seventh Ave. and the west side of Park Place. About 1912.

The Durfey house, with its wonderful front porch and mansard roof, on the left in the historic view, formerly stood at 158 Park Place, at the corner of Flatbush Avenue. Erected in 1872 in French Second Empire style, it was the home of Joseph Prentice Durfey, a successful jewelry merchant in New York, who died in 1900:

Brooklyn Eagle, June 26, 1900, p. 3 ("Obituary")
Correction: "Durfey & Shieble" should read "Durfey & Shiebler"

According to William Younger's essential Old Brooklyn Photographs, the Durfey house was occupied by the Durfey family until 1906. After later uses as a dancing school and restaurant, it was demolished in 1932. A 1-story commercial building now occupies the site. (N.b.: Younger reprints the same photograph, but identifies it as circa 1895.)

Younger's book identifies the building on the right, at the corner of 7th Avenue and Flatbush, as the Doherty Building. The building was standing at least as early as 1877, when the following ad appeared in the Brooklyn Eagle:

Brooklyn Eagle, March 12, 1877

The Doherty Building still stands today, although sadly its upper two stories were removed at some point. The original quoining can still be seen on its corners:

Doherty Building in 2010
Flatbush and 7th Avenues

The Doherty Building can be seen in the left foreground of the 1914 view below. The legend on the window identifies the occupant as "Brooklyn Post Office Station 86":

Doherty Building at left, 1914 view

In fact, except for the Durfey residence, all of the other buildings in the top photograph still stand today, albeit in somewhat altered form.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Where Did Barry Live?

Back in 2008, the Obama campaign confirmed that President Obama once lived in Park Slope:

The Obama campaign declined to discuss Obama's time at Columbia and his friendships in general. It won't, for example, release his transcript or name his friends. It did, however, list five locations where Obama lived during his four years here: three on Manhattan's Upper West Side and two in Brooklyn — one in Park Slope, the other in Brooklyn Heights. -"Old Friends Recall Obama's College Years"

And the founder of a local campaign support organization recounts a conversation she had with candidate Obama after the Democratic primary:

Gabriele Sewtz, co-founder of Audacity of Park Slope, spoke to Barack Obama briefly after the event. Gabriele, who had met Barack Obama on previous occasions, was proud to report that thanks to the tireless efforts of Audacity of Park Slope, Barack Obama had won Park Slope with 56% on Super Tuesday. And Barack Obama answered with a smile: "I used to live in Park Slope". -Audacity of Park Slope

We're not aware of any other President who actually lived here, so this is pretty cool... does anyone know where Barack Obama lived in Park Slope?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Park Slope Jewish Center - Part 4

The third historic South Brooklyn congregation from which the present-day Park Slope Jewish Center evolved (after Tifereth Israel and B'nai Jacob) was B'nai Sholaum. PSJC's current history exhibit, "Building on a Strong Foundation," tells us:

B'nai Sholaum began between 1875 and 1886 (sources disagree about this fact) as a Reform congregation, but later took a Conservative path. This was an active congregation, with "modern" ideas, including mixed gender seating. Helen Hadassah Levinthal, the first woman to finish a course of Rabbinical Studies, preached from the pulpit on the High Holidays in 1939. In 1943, it dedicated a Sabbath to "Interfaith Amity and Goodwill." A Unitarian minister gave a speech entitled "Can the Gulf be Bridged?"

By the early 1900s, B'nai Sholaum had two schools, a Sabbath School with 200 students and a Daily School with 25. By 1921, it had 560 contributing members.

In 1897 B'nai Sholaum built the first synagogue in South Brooklyn, at 329 Ninth Street:

Congregation B'nai Sholaum, 1897-1914
329 9th Street
Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

Various local and state politicians attended the cornerstone-laying ceremony. The last mayor of Brooklyn, Frederick Wurster, even donated $100 to the building fund. The congregation choir provided entertainment.

In 1915, the congregation sold 329 9th Street to make way for a movie theater:

(Former) RKO Prospect Theater
Replaced B'nai Sholaum, 1914

They moved a block away and erected a "modern home of worship." The new building, which cost $50,000, had an organ and seating for 800:

Congregation B'nai Sholaum, 1915-1960
Hedman & Schoen, architects - 1913-1915
Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

The first merger discussions with B'nai Jacob Tifereth Israel were held in 1948 (motivated by declining membership?). By 1960, when they finally merged, B'nai Sholaum had 80 members. The building became an American Legion post.

The 1960 merger of Congregation B'nai Sholaum into Congregation B'nai Jacob Tifereth Israel created the present-day Park Slope Jewish Center; we'll conclude the story in a subsequent post.

401 9th Street, 2010

Axel Hedman and Eugene Schoen were the principals of Hedman & Schoen, architects of B'nai Sholaum at 401 9th Street. Axel Hedman was active elsewhere in Park Slope and is the subject of recent articles at the Brooklyn Public Library (1, 2) and on Brownstoner (1, 2).

Hedman & Schoen's building appears to have lost a small projecting cupola over the main entrance, and the two handsome lamps on either side of the steps. The hedges are gone. The neighbors have put away their awnings.
Otherwise, the view across 9th Street looks much the same today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

2010 House Tour: 946 President 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. All proceeds from the House Tour are returned to the community through the Council's Grants Program.

946 President Street - Park Slope Historic District

Part of a 4-house row built in Queen Anne style, 946 President Street was constructed in 1886; the date is visible in the gable. The tall, quoined chimney serves unusual corner fireplaces in the line of rooms below it. According to the Park Slope Historic District's Designation Report, this house once shared a central courtyard with its paired neighbor at #944 through which both houses were entered. The architect might have been Charles T. Mott, who in 1890 modified some of the companion houses in this row.

946 President Street - detail

In 1902, both 944 and 946 President Street were auctioned by the estate of Newbury H. Frost, who served on the Board of Directors of the Long Island Elevated Rail Road. Frost was also a "man of the turf;" the Brooklyn Eagle noted that he was "...one of the most enthusiastic of local horsemen... As he cannot be ranked among the lightweights he rides a seal brown mare of great strength and endurance."

Brooklyn Eagle, March 9, 1902, p. 30

Both houses were bought at auction by Gilbert Elliott, a Brooklyn real estate operator and lawyer; the 1902 price for 946 President Street was $9,500.

For much of the 20th century, 946 President Street was the home and music school of Carl H. Tollefsen, a violinist, music teacher, and collector of musical items. He became a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and with the New York Symphony Society under Walter Damrosch, conductor, but gained his widest fame and critical plaudits with the Tollefsen Trio, founded with his first wife in 1908. In his house he had a collection that included more than 1,500 musical manuscripts and excerpts from manuscripts by Beethoven, Bach, Schumann, Paderewski, Tchaikovsky, Mozart and other composers. Mr. Tollefsen owned 30 rare stringed instruments, including a lute that belonged to Catherine the Great and a harpsichord once owned by Marie Antoinette.

Brooklyn Eagle Almanac for 1919

Carl Tollefsen died at 946 President Street in 1963, and his second wife died in 1965. But the historic district's Designation Report still identified the house as the Tollefsen School of Music in its 1973 description.

Carl Tollefsen (holding violin) in 1940
Photo: University of New Hampshire Library

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lost Park Slope Quiz

Okay folks, quiz time... the following historic photograph shows what location in Park Slope? We'll post the answer in a few days.

Where in Park Slope is this?

Berkeley-Carroll Expansion Approved by LPC

The Berkeley-Carroll School's proposed expansion to their Lincoln Place campus has been approved by the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission:

Proposed addition, Berkeley-Carroll School - rear view

This part of the school's campus stands within the Park Slope Historic District, so LPC approval was required. An LPC spokesperson, quoted in the Brooklyn Paper, states why the expansion was allowed:

The project was approved because it “does not involve the removal of historic fabric, and the addition is not visible from a public thoroughfare,” said Landmarks spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon.

She added that the agency is not charged with assessing “quality of life concerns,” but merely the impact of a project on a community’s historic texture.

It should be noted that changes are conditionally permitted by the LPC, even when visible from the street.

The BCS project is yet another example of a permitted change within a historic district, and thus repudiates those who erroneously contend that historic preservation "freezes a neighborhood in amber". On the contrary, changes are still permitted, but controlled in such a way that the historic district is not adversely impacted.

2010 House Tour: 614 2nd 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. All proceeds from the House Tour are returned to the community through the Council's Grants Program.

614 2nd Street, Park Slope Historic District
Benjamin Driesler, architect - 1903

Our next tour home, 614 2nd Street, is part of a longer row of 26 houses (#590-648) built as a single development. The row occupies most of the south side of the "park block" of 2nd Street. Regarding this row, the Park Slope Historic District's Designation Report tells us:

This long row of twenty-six houses was begun in 1903 for William H. Reynolds, representing the First Construction Company of Brooklyn, and was designed by Benjamin Driesler, a Brooklyn architect. It is an interesting example of the quest for variety, while at the same time utilizing certain standards of form, materials and architectural detail. Although at first the row has the appearance of a series of individually designed townhouses, a second glance reveals certain underlying similarities, with minor variations of detail intended to differentiate the houses. First, with regard to form, there is an alternating sequence of curved and three-sided bays; in addition, the end houses terminate the row with projecting square bays. Second, with regard to materials, there are three basic house types, all built upon brownstone basements: an all brownstone house, a brick above brownstone house, and an all limestone house. Third, there is the consideration of architectural style and details and how they are used relative to the houses of varying materials. The basic similarities of these houses are found in the uniform use of brownstone basements, Romanesque Revival L-shaped stoops, and neo-Classical sheetmetal cornices with small round bosses evenly spaced throughout. The houses are all slightly stepped down, as is noticeable at the cornices, to follow the slope of the street. ...The materials are used at random, and the limestone houses stand out quite boldly against their more sombre-hued neighbors. ...Architecturally, these houses all belong to the Eclectic period, when a wide range of styles was in use.

614 2nd Street, center

The architect, Benjamin Driesler, was born in Bavaria in 1869, and immigrated in 1881. He built a very successful architectural practice in Brooklyn, designing hundreds of houses in Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Ditmas Park, Midwood, and Kensington:

From Flatbush of Today, by Herbert Foster Gunnison, 1908

The developer, William H. Reynolds, served briefly as a New York state senator. He was a shrewd businessman whose ability to profit from public investments sometimes raised eyebrows:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fire Alarm Boxes Phasing Out

We understand that the ubiquitous fire alarm call boxes on seemingly every other street corner are being phased out by the city's Fire Department.

This kind of "street furniture" is not strictly under our purview, but we regret to see them pass away anyway. End of an era, and all that...

These boxes are placed according to a strict pattern. Have you noticed? Do you know what the pattern is? The inimitable Kevin Walsh of Forgotten NY devotes an entire page to fire boxes here. Kevin thinks the top looks like an ice-cream cone. We're thinking, Statue of Liberty torch.

We photographed the specimen below at the northeast corner of 6th Avenue and Carroll Street in Park Slope:

NYC Fire Alarm Call Box

Research Files

A while ago we published a Google document to the web containing all of our Brooklyn Eagle, American Architect & Building News, New York Times etc. research on the parts of Park Slope that have not been included in the current historic district... i.e. on the "study area" that we have asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to evaluate when considering a phased expansion of the Park Slope Historic District.

Recently, alas, this file exceeded the maximum allowed size (1MB) for a Google Doc... and we have had to split it.

So for the rare reader who actually consults this document, be advised that it is now split into two parts:

Lots facing Park Slope's avenues (4th, 5th, 6th, ... PPW) can be accessed here.
Lots facing Park Slope's streets (Flatbush thru 15th) can be accessed here.

Please update bookmarks or whatever. You know who you are.

Our apologies for the technical difficulties, which were beyond our control. Every citation is of course also present in the photo captions for our comprehensive photo database of Park Slope.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Park Slope Jewish Center - Part 3

The second historic South Brooklyn congregation from which the present-day Park Slope Jewish Center evolved (after Tifereth Israel) was B'nai Jacob. PSJC's current history exhibit, "Building on a Strong Foundation," tells us:

An Orthodox group, it erected a synagogue in 1898 at 136 Prospect Ave., between 3rd and 4th Avenues. The building cost $8,500 and seated 350. New York Mayor Van Wyck and other officials joined in the cornerstone-laying, as did the rabbi of Beth Elohim.

According to the exhibit, B'nai Jacob (together with B'nai Sholaum, another ancestor of PSJC) facilitated the creation of a YMHA that once stood at 345 9th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues:

In 1906 a Hebrew Young Men's Institute of Brooklyn was formed. (The initial meeting was held at B'nai Jacob.) The group purchased 345 9th Street, and the Y opened the following year. The first successful YMHA in Brooklyn, it was closely affiliated with B'nai Sholaum. The Y's baseball teams played at the Parade Grounds, and its dramatics program was led by Moss Hart. In the 1930s the Y moved to 339 8th Street, the building that now houses Camp Friendship.

The original building at 345 9th Street was approximately where the 9th Street CVS now stands:

345 9th Street - site of YMHA

The Camp Friendship building, where the YMHA met in the 1930s, was erected in 1884 as the Sixth Avenue Methodist Church (later to become the Park Slope United Methodist Church):

Sixth Avenue Methodist Church
John Mumford, architect - 1884

PSJC's exhibit informs us of Congregation B'nai Jacob's ultimate fate:

B'nai Jacob was small. It grew steadily from 75 members in 1908 to 115 by 1925. But the property was condemned in 1942 to make way for the Prospect Expressway. The congregation merged with Tifereth Israel that same year.

Ouch! B'nai Jacob's even-numbered address (#136) would have placed it on the south side of Prospect Avenue, between 3rd & 4th Avenues. As can be seen from the photo below, only the north side of Prospect Avenue still stands; the south side of that block was lost to one of Robert Moses's contributions to Park Slope, the Prospect Expressway:

Prospect Expressway (r) meets the Gowanus Expressway (l)

Thus Congregation B'nai Jacob merged with Congregation Tifereth Israel in 1942 to create the new, consolidated Congregation B'nai Jacob Tifereth Israel.

Up next: Congregation B'nai Sholaum.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

2010 House Tour: 553 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. All proceeds from the House Tour are returned to the community through the Council's Grants Program.

553 1st Street is one of a row of four Neo-Renaissance rowhouses, #547-553, erected in 1901. These houses, like many others in this beautiful block, reflect the influence of the highly influential Chicago Exposition of 1893, with its idealized "White City" based on classical architecture.

547-553 1st Street - Park Slope Historic District

553 1st Street is within the boundaries of the Park Slope Historic District, designated July 17, 1973. Regarding 547-553 1st Street, the historic district's Designation Report tells us:

This row of severely classical limestone houses was built for owner William Flanagan according to 1901 designs by architect P. J. Cullen.

553 1st Street - Park Slope Historic District
P. J. Cullen, architect; William Flanagan, owner - 1901

The three-story facades of the row alternate in an ABAB pattern; the type 'B' houses, No. 549 and No. 553, are identical, with full-height, three-sided projecting bays and simple detailing. Carved decoration embellishes the wall surfaces of the bays between the second and third floors, and engaged Ionic columns flank the entrances and support simple entablatures.

...In this row there is an elegant simplicity and a feeling for unity, which is enhanced by the identical L-shaped stoops and classical cornices with dentils.

Park Slope Jewish Center - Part 2

This series of posts about the Park Slope Jewish Center draws from "Building on a Strong Foundation," a history exhibit currently on view at PSJC, and from the building's National Register of Historic Places Designation Report.

In 1925, Congregation Tifereth Israel constructed a new synagogue at the corner of 8th Avenue and 14th Street in Park Slope, around the corner from its previous home in two adjoining row houses in 14th Street, discussed in our previous post.

Congregation Tifereth Israel
(Park Slope Jewish Center)
Allen A. Blaustein, architect - 1925

From the Designation Report:

Architect Allen A. Blaustein designed the synagogue in an eclectic fashion with Romanesque and Baroque elements...

In the center of the upper facade is a large rose window. Usually rose windows are associated with Romanesque or Gothic style Christian churches, but here the Star of David motif in the stained glass reveals the Jewish affiliation...

Perhaps the most distinctive features of the synagogue are the bold blind arches of cast stone running along the upper part of the south and east elevations. These arches spring from unusual tripartite arched corbels with Romanesque foliate designs...

14th Street elevation, from Designation Report

Congregation Tifereth Israel's building was constructed in 1925, at the peak of the synagogue boom and at a time of optimism and growth of the Jewish population of Brooklyn. Its size, elaborate detailing, and fine craftsmanship all exhibit a pride and desire to create a lasting presence in the neighborhood. The domed skylight is typical of its period. The dome was seen as a symbol of unity, an essential Jewish concept.

While the synagogue was built during a period of prosperity, anti-Jewish feeling was strong in America. The synagogue contains a small upstairs room that was designed to function, if need be, as a sukkah, during the holiday of Sukkot. Instead of building a sukkah outside, where it would be exposed to hostile view, the members could celebrate the holiday inside, in privacy. The sukkah room was designed with a retractable skylight in the roof, so the room could be made exposed to the open sky, which is a requirement of a sukkah. Another tangible reminder of the presence of outside threats is the grating that protects the stained glass from vandalism.

The eclectic design of Park Slope Jewish Center can be seen as part of the prevailing historicist attitude of the period, as well as part of the continued search by Jews for an historic precedent for their architecture. The idea of historicism was a dominant force in the cultural life of the nation during the late nineteenth century and early decades of the twentieth century. Architects and architectural patrons were particularly influenced by historicist ideas, appropriating the design, details, and symbols of the architecture of past civilizations and turning them into the symbols of the importance of contemporary America. In contrast, historicism could also be employed to reinforce and/or protect the ethnic differences between immigrant groups or to separate them from the mainstream culture. Since large synagogues began to appear in American cities before the Civil War, the appropriate style for these buildings was a widely debated subject. Moorish designs prevailed in the mid-nineteenth century but by the final years of the nineteenth century, following the discovery of the ruins of the Roman Classical style Second Temple of Jerusalem, a bold Classicism became the accepted style for synagogues. However, by the 1920s, this Classical style had acquired generalized associations with American nationalism and was widely used for public buildings such as banks and courthouses and Jews searched for a new style for their synagogues. Park Slope Jewish Center's design is evocative of the Romanesque architecture of eleventh and twelfth century Europe. Many of Tifereth Israel's original members were from Germany where Romanesque architecture had flourished. The architect employed elements of the Romanesque and combined them with typically Jewish symbolism to make for an inventive, yet eclectic design.

Congregation Tifereth Israel - detail
National Register of Historic Places Designation Report

...Park Slope Jewish Center retains a high degree of historic integrity and is a distinctive architectural, cultural, and religious landmark. Today, the synagogue's continued presence in the Park Slope neighborhood is testimony to the principles of religious freedom so integral to our nation's history.

From the "Building on a Strong Foundation" exhibit:

In 1925, Tifereth Israel built what is now our building, for $125,000. The first services were held on the High Holidays, even though "no more than the bare four walls" were in place. A plan to build a community center in the adjoining lot was never realized.

This building was erected in 1925, and the honor of laying the cornerstone went to the highest bidder. Later, a ceremonial procession brought the torah scrolls here from their former home around the corner. Those carrying the scrolls had paid for the honor with generous donations.

East/north elevations

Note the plain brick north wall facing the side garden, where the congregation intended to build an adjoining community center.

Next, we will explore another early Park Slope congregation, B'nai Jacob, which merged with Tifereth Israel in 1942.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Park Slope Jewish Center - Part 1

This past weekend we had the great privilege of attending the opening of "Building on a Strong Foundation," an exhibit mounted at the Park Slope Jewish Center, 8th Avenue and 14th Street in Park Slope. The wide-ranging exhibit explores the extremely rich history of PSJC, which traces its roots back to three South Brooklyn congregations that are as old as Park Slope itself: B'nai Jacob, B'nai Sholaum, and Tifereth Israel. We will try to capture a bit of this rich story here. This fascinating story reflects aspects of American immigration and religious history, the history of American Judaism, of Brooklyn, of Park Slope, and of the larger social currents of American life in the 20th century.

PSJC's home has also been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the designation report, available for download at New York's Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, makes for very interesting reading. We will draw from both the exhibit and the designation report.

Background (from the National Register Designation Report):

In addition to its architectural significance, Park Slope Jewish Center is also historically significant... for its association with the development of Conservative Judaism. It is also important in the area of ethnic heritage for its association with the history of Eastern European Jewish immigration in New York City. The synagogue exemplifies the history of American Jewish congregations, and the ways that Jews have changed and adapted to life in this country.

While Jews have been in America since the earliest colonial days, there was not a large presence in Brooklyn until the second half of the nineteenth century. The early immigrants were Sephardic Jews. During the early 1800s the immigration shifted to Ashkenazim from Germany... Things changed rapidly in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Many Jews moved to New York. Between 1880 and 1910 1.4 million Jews moved to the city, and 1.1 million stayed. Before the First World War, Jews began leaving the Lower East Side of Manhattan for other neighborhoods around the city. One of these neighborhoods was the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn.

Background (from the Exhibit):

Legend has it that, in the 1830s, the Levy family rowed across the East River to attend Shabbat services. German Jews arrived in the mid-1850s, and soon Reform congregations were springing up. Beginning in the 1880s, an influx of traditional Eastern European Jews brought more Orthodox congregations. South Brooklyn was never a "Jewish" neighborhood, but the Jewish community was growing. Over time, mergers and splits of congregations were common, as ritual preferences diverged and population patterns shifted.

Each of our congregations began modestly. At first they met in people's homes or rented space. Only when they achieved a degree of success and stability did they put up buildings of their own.

Early History of Congregation Tifereth Israel (Designation Report):

Congregation Tifereth Israel was founded in 1900, according to papers in the synagogue's archives. The congregation filed its articles of incorporation on April 12, 1912, under the name of "Congregation Thifereth Israel, Inc." The congregation dates from the period when Park Slope was being developed, and benefited from the major wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe from 1880 to World War 1.

Early History of Congregation Tifereth Israel (Exhibit):

This was a congregation of immigrants (as far as we know). Services were Orthodox, and shul business was conducted in Yiddish. The membership was organized as a chevra, with members referred to in meeting minutes as "Brothers". In 1912, the Chevra hired a doctor, available to members for an extra $2.00 per year in dues.

The Exhibit details the locations where the young congregation worshiped. The earliest was on the second floor of 232 15th Street (between 5th & 6th) which no longer stands; our comprehensive photographic survey of Park Slope shows an empty lot there:

(Formerly) 232 15th Street
Earliest location of Congregation Tifereth Israel

(Parenthetically, the lot until quite recently held a very early Park Slope theater building, a view of which is preserved in Google's street view below. We recall attending one of theater historian Cezar Del Valle's walking tours of early Park Slope theaters, and he stopped the tour at the building shown below, now gone:)

Google street view showing early Park Slope theater, now demolished

Tifereth Israel's next location was at 411 7th Avenue, third from left in the set of four matching buildings shown below:

407-413 7th Avenue
Congregation Tifereth Israel, 411 7th Avenue until 1915

Next, the congregation purchased 397 14th Street, between 7th & 8th, in 1915, and the following year purchased the adjoining 399 14th Street:

399 14th Street
Tifereth Israel here from 1916-1925

397-399 14th Street at center

In 1925 the congregation built PSJC's present home at the corner of 8th Avenue and 14th Street, which we will examine in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Eastlake Detail in 6th Avenue

Brownstoner's "Montrose Morris", in another of her always-fascinating essays, recently covered the Aesthetic Movement and its impact on Brooklyn's brownstone belt. The essay is highlighted with a photograph of incised facade decoration that Morris identifies as "Eastlake detail". The detailing appears on a house in MacDonough Street, between Throop and Tompkins, in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District:

MacDonough Street - Stuyvesant Heights Historic District
(brownstoner photo)

What caught our eye about the photograph however is how closely the detailing matches that on a complete row of houses here in Park Slope, on 6th Avenue between 1st and 2nd Streets:

294 6th Avenue, Park Slope - detail

Morris writes:

Charles Eastlake was very influenced by Japanese culture and design, those designs reinterpreted in the American Eastlake furniture and interior woodwork, as well as exterior incised stonework of the Neo-Grec brownstones of Brooklyn.

Interestingly, although the detailing appears identical, the houses themselves were apparently designed and constructed by different builders.

As we have noted earlier, the Park Slope row was apparently constructed in 1887 by Brooklyn owner/architect/builder Christopher P. Skelton:

278-296 6th Avenue, Park Slope - unprotected
Christopher P. Skelton - owner/builder/architect, 1887

MacDonough Street, in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, actually has two sets of similar houses on the same block. One row was erected in 1888 by builder John Fraser, while another row was built in 1886 by Arthur Taylor. The district's Designation Report identifies these houses as examples of the "French neo-Grec" style. One wonders whether these guys just handed around the same sets of plans?

Since we never tire of pointing out the inconsistencies, irrationalities, and omissions in the Park Slope Historic District, we must emphasize that the Park Slope row pictured above is not protected by historic district designation. The virtually identical rows of houses in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District were designated in 1971.