Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Friday, July 30, 2010

1887 Mixed-Use Row in 7th Avenue

On the southwest corner of 7th Avenue and 7th Street stands a fine row of five 4-story, brownstone-faced, mixed-use (flats over stores) buildings that are in near-original condition. According to our research, plans for the row were submitted by the firm of Cozzens and Brown in late 1887. The architect was Isaac D. Reynolds:

294-302 7th Avenue
Cozzens and Brown, owners/builders
Isaac D. Reynolds, architect - 1887

Citations from both the Brooklyn Eagle and American Architect & Building News support the attribution. Note the typo in the AABN listing, which incorrectly places the row on the northwest corner of the intersection, on land occupied by the All Saints Episcopal Church:

Brooklyn Eagle, August 27, 1887, p. 1 ("Falling Off")

"Building Intelligence; Apartment-Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 22, no. 610 (Sept. 3, 1887): p. xi.
– "Seventh Ave., n w cor. [sic - s w cor.] Seventh St., 5 four-st’y brown-stone flats, cor. with store, tin roofs; cost, each, $10,000; owners and buiders, Cozzens & Brown, 377 Fulton St.; architect, I. D. Reynolds."

The corner building features a wonderful, circular corner bay window overlooking the intersection. This bay might have once been surmounted by a conical tower, a part of which still appears below the cornice. Many of the mixed-use buildings in 7th Avenue appear in historic photographs with such tower-like corner embellishments:

294 7th Avenue - detail

The corner bay is just visible at the far right-hand side in an old photo of the row across the street in the Brooklyn Public Library's collection.

Little is known about the firm of Cozzens and Brown, according to the Prospect Heights Historic District's Designation Report, where the firm is listed along with its Prospect Heights attributions:

Prospect Heights Historic District - Designation Report

We know a bit more about the architect, Isaac D. Reynolds, who established his Brooklyn practice in the 1860s and who designed many buildings in both the Prospect Heights and Park Slope Historic Districts:

Prospect Heights Historic District - Designation Report

Saturday, July 24, 2010

ROSAS: Commercial Design Guidelines

Not so long ago, according to longtime Slope residents, "Park Slope" was a lot smaller than it is today, ending at perhaps 3rd Street or maybe 9th Street on the south. The "South Slope" was seen as a distinct neighborhood, with its own set of needs, which would best be served by a separate neighborhood association. Such was the rationale for ROSAS, which stood for "Revitalization of the Southern Area of the Slope."

By the late 1990s, however, the South Slope was booming, along with the rest of Brooklyn's brownstone belt. The need for a separate neighborhood association having subsided, ROSAS decided to merge itself into the Park Slope Civic Council in about 1998 or 1999. (Some wags contend that ROSAS, having successfully revitalized the South Slope, next decided to "revitalize" the Park Slope Civic Council through an influx of new Trustees!)

ROSAS is not often remembered now, but one of its signature projects, a booklet called "Design Guidelines for Facade Improvement," has come into our hands, and we decided to scan it in and make it available on the web along with our photo archive, block history archive, etc.

Our understanding is that the 7th Avenue commercial corridor above 9th Street was dying out, through conversion of ground-floor commercial space into residential, which obviously tends to kill off a shopping street. The folks at ROSAS did not want to see their local commercial street die, and this manual is one manifestation of their efforts to sustain the local economy, similar to today's "shop local" campaigns and "business improvement districts."

The manual is of interest as a historical artifact, but it also contains useful information for anyone contemplating a commercial storefront renovation/restoration, and is highly recommended for this purpose.

The manual also reflects the aspirations of the early South Slope "brownstoners". One page contrasts the garish signage of a hypothetical "Cheap Charlie's" with that of the more restrained "Park Slope Gourmet:"

We have to say, we too prefer the more understated signage. But in today's Park Slope, where the concern is no longer revitalization, but hyper-gentrification, we'd be quite happy to see "Cheap Charlie's" stick around. Which begs an interesting question... would "Cheap Charlie's" still be "Cheap Charlie's" if it had signage like "Park Slope Gourmet"?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

10th Street: 1891 Flats from Louis Bonert

Once upon a time we devoted a huge amount of space on this blog to builder Louis Bonert, the man whose contributions to the physical appearance of Park Slope today cannot be understated. We haven't featured anything from Bonert in a while, but his attributions continue to pile up.

On the south side of 10th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues, stands a row of 6 three-family "flat houses" (so named because they feature one "flat" or apartment per floor):

574-584 10th Street
Louis Bonert, Owner
Robert Dixon, Architect - 1890-91

According to an attribution from the American Architect & Building News, predecessor of today's American Architect magazine, the row was built in 1891 by Louis Bonert. Prolific Brooklyn architect Robert Dixon provided the plans:

"Building Intelligence; Apartment-Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 30, no. 782 (Dec. 20, 1890): p. xvii.
– "Tenth St., s s, 285' 9" w Eighth Ave., 6 three-st’y brick flats, tin roofs; cost, $4,000 each; owner, L. Bonard [sic - Bonert], on premises; architect, Robert Dixon, 219 Montague St."

All 6 of the original "flat houses" still stand today. Unfortunately, all 6 have lost their original cornices, although in other respects they remain in near-original condition.

We sometimes wonder what term would have been used had people first been accustomed to living in "flats," and then someone invented the house with stairs. Would such an arrangement have been initially called an "upright"?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Van Tuyl & Lincoln: 1888 Mixed-Use in 7th Avenue

On the southeast corner of 7th Avenue and 8th Street in Park Slope stands an intact row of 4 buildings that mix commercial use on the ground floor, with "flats" for residential use above. The brick, brownstone-faced buildings are generously proportioned; the corner building boasts not one but two full-height, three-sided bays on the 8th Street side, and the buildings facing 7th Avenue are 4 bays wide:

309-315 7th Avenue
Van Tuyl & Lincoln, owners/architects - 1888

The 8th Street side of 309 7th Avenue features a variety of different elements in brick including "sawtooth" brick and unusual Gothic arches at the top floor:

309 7th Avenue - side elevation - detail

The two center buildings feature arched windows at the top floor:

311-313 7th Avenue

Our attribution comes from the American Architect & Building News of 1888:

"Building Intelligence; Stores; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 23, no. 653 (Jun. 30, 1888): p. xxii.
– "Seventh Av e., s e cor. Eighth St., 4 four-st’y brownstone stores and flats, tin roofs; total cost, $30,000; owners and architects, Van Tuyl & Lincoln, 166 Montegue St.; masons, Buchanan & Riley."

This row is one of very few works we can attribute to the firm of Van Tuyl & Lincoln. The firm's only other work in Park Slope, to our knowledge, is a fine 3-house row on the south side of Union Street, between 5th & 6th Avenues, recently featured on Brownstoner.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is Grand Army Plaza Landmarked?

We were playing around with Citymap this evening and noticed something odd.

Is Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn's grandest public space, a designated landmark?

In Citymap one can select additional options to show historic districts, individual landmarks, scenic landmarks, and interior landmarks. We checked every landmark option there is, and result is shown above. Historic districts (Park Slope to the left; Prospect Heights above) are shown in brown. Scenic landmarks (Prospect Park below; Eastern Parkway to the right) are shown in purple. The Soldiers and Sailors Arch in the middle of Grand Army Plaza is shown as an individual landmark.

But the rest of Grand Army Plaza appears to be unprotected by any kind of landmark designation, which seems an odd oversight. We had always assumed that the GAP berms etc. were protected under Prospect Park's scenic landmark designation. Are we wrong?

In fact this page at the city's Dept. of Parks and Recreation states that the Plaza itself is indeed a landmark and was designated in 1975:

The bust of John F. Kennedy was added in 1965. In 1973 the Arch was designated an official City landmark, and in 1975 the entire Grand Army Plaza was designated such as well.

If this is true, then why doesn't the GAP oval appear in purple on the map above? Or is this just an artifact of the mapping system?

UPDATED: We tracked down Prospect Park's original Designation Report from 1975, and it appears to include Grand Army Plaza after all. So Citymap's omission of GAP from the Prospect Park scenic landmark appears to be a mistake.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

7th Street: Block History vs. Eagle & AABN

We're particularly interested to read block histories because it gives us a chance to compare our own ad-hoc research findings from the Brooklyn Eagle, American Architect & Building News, etc. with the building research compiled by others.

So how does our research stack up against Lois Stewart's 7th Street Block History, compiled in the 1960s?

In fact, the two sets of research conform with each other quite well. Let's take a walk up the street and compare data.

Nearest 7th Avenue is a row of 10 brownstone-faced 3-family flat houses, discussed previously on this blog:

476-494 7th Street - 1887
Alexander G. Calder, owner
William M. Calder, architect

Lois Stewart's Block History dates this row to 1887 and attributes it to the father-and-son team of Alexander G. and William M. Calder:

This conforms precisely to our own findings about this row from the American Architect & Building News:

"Building Intelligence; Tenement-Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 21, no. 589 (Apr. 9, 1887): p. xii.
– "Seventh St., s s, 80' e Seventh Ave., 10 three-st’y brown-stone tenements, tin roofs; cost, each, $7,000; owner and contractor, A. G. Calder, 312 Thirteenth St., architect, W. M. Calder."

The next group of six buildings is nearly identical to the first group of 10, differing only slightly in detailing:

496-506 7th Street - 1888
Sampson B. Oulton, owner
William Wirth, architect

Lois Stewart's Block History cites 1888 as the year of construction, and attributes the row to Sampson B. Oulton:

Once again our AABN listing conforms to the above, and adds the name of William Wirth, architect, to the story.

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 23, no. 651 (Jun. 16, 1888): p. xix.
– "Seventh St., s s, 422' 10" w Eighth Ave., 6 three-st’y brownstone dwells., tin roof; cost, each, $5,000; owner, S. B. Oulton, 188 Eleventh St.; architect, Wm. Wirth; builder, Lawson."

Careful readers will recall another collaboration from the team of Oulton and Wirth.

So far our research is 2 for 2 on this block!

The final set of buildings on the block is a later Neoclassical row of 10 single-family houses, quite different from the adjacent rows of 3-family flats:

508-526 7th Street - 1899-1900
Daniel Buckley, owner

We had uncovered nothing about this particular row. Lois Stewart's Block History attributes them to a builder named "Buckley," since all of the sales transactions were in the name of Rose Buckley, presumably the builder's wife:

Here at last we are able to add something that escaped Lois Stewart's eagle eye. Some research in the Brooklyn Eagle, Lain's Brooklyn Directory of 1897, and our own Park Slope research files indicates that Rose P. Buckley was the wife of Daniel Buckley, a Park Slope-based builder; thus the evidence strongly suggests that these houses were built by Daniel Buckley:

Brooklyn Eagle, January 2, 1896, p. 2 ("Legal Notices")
Establishes Rose P. Buckley as wife to Daniel Buckley

BUCKLEY Dan'l bldr. h 283 7th av

1897 Lain's Brooklyn Directory

The above findings raise our confidence that the building research we've compiled from the Brooklyn Eagle, AABN, etc. is fairly accurate. It's certainly not complete; for example, we had nothing in our files regarding the 7th Street Buckley row. For that we have to thank the amazing work done by Lois Stewart in the 1960s.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Block History: 7th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues

7th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues, Park Slope

As word of our efforts to expand the Park Slope Historic District spreads, people step forward to contribute in a variety of ways. Sometimes the contribution takes the form of a "block history:" a history of a specific block, or even just one side of a block, here in Park Slope. Usually these histories are known only to the residents of that block, and sometimes, if the history was done long ago, not even to many of them.

We hope to recover as many of these block histories as we can, and to scan them in and make them available online so that they will be more widely available. If anyone knows of any "block histories" for Park Slope, please contact the Park Slope Civic Council and bring them to our attention.

The most recent example of this is the history of 7th Street between 7th & 8th Avenues, south side, composed in the 1960s by Lois Stewart, then as now a resident of that block. Ms. Stewart's block history is extremely comprehensive, even citing the deed history for each building (current into the 1960s of course), and is precisely the kind of research that we are trying to do for all of the undesignated portions of Park Slope.

It is our understanding that this block history was conducted in the 1960s in the hope that the block would be included in the original Park Slope Historic District. The District was established in 1973 but unfortunately, this block of 7th Street was unaccountably excluded. It is a privilege to build upon the pioneering preservation work of dedicated Park Slope residents such as Lois Stewart.

Once again, if anyone knows of additional block histories, please contact the Park Slope Civic Council and make them known to us.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Transitions: William M. Calder

Architect and developer William M. Calder, who helped shape the Park Slope we know today, also found time to serve in the House of Representatives and to become elected to the United States Senate. Calder died on March 3, 1945, and his obituary was carried in the next day's New York Times:

New York Times, March 4, 1945, p. 38

Calder's residence at the time of his death was 551 First Street, on the north side of First Street's "park block", within the current boundaries of the Park Slope Historic District. One notes that Calder chose to reside in a house designed by another architect (P. J. Cullen, according to the historic district's Designation Report), rather than in a residence that he had designed himself.

An election-season profile of William Calder in the New York Times of Oct. 22, 1922 notes that he had become associated with the so-called "Calder House" or two-family house, which proliferated in the "Flatbush section" of the borough. The "Calder House", notes the article, appeals "strongly to beginners in housekeeping, otherwise known as 'newly-weds'." The article also notes that Senator Calder was born on March 3, 1869:

New York Times, October 22, 1922, p. 35