Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Friday, December 24, 2010

Assemblywoman Joan Millman Supports the H. D. Extension

New York State Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman's Report to the People arrived in our mailbox the other day, and we were pleased to see her Statement of Support for the Park Slope Historic District Extension (reprinted below; many thanks Joan!).

We've always appreciated that the Assemblywoman insists on being called not Assemblymember, or Assemblyperson, but Assemblywoman!


On October 26th, I submitted testimony to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in support of expanding the Park Slope Historic District. The original historic district was created in 1973 and includes most of the brownstone blocks on Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West from Sterling Place to 15th Street and Seventh Avenue from Sterling Place to 4th Street as well as some additional blocks in the northern part of Park Slope. The proposal would expand the district to include eight square blocks between Seventh and 14th Streets and between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. It also would include buildings on both sides of Seventh Avenue between Seventh and 14th Streets.

Park Slope is one of Brooklyn’s most prized and best preserved neighborhoods. It has achieved that status because of the community’s active involvement in protecting its unique 19th century charm. Historic designation has been an important factor in the preservation of Park Slope’s character since the early 1970s, but the initial designation covered only a quarter of what the American Planning Association has declared to be one of America’s ten greatest neighborhoods.

In recent years, many Park Slope buildings with similar quality have been demolished or inappropriately altered. Designation of a larger historic district will ensure that Park Slope retains the historical and architectural character that makes it one of the finest 19th century neighborhoods in the nation.

Back in June, some 200 South Slope building owners attended a meeting sponsored by the LPC. LPC staff answered questions on the permitting process, the type of exterior changes that can be made without a permit, and the steps involved with the landmarking process. Currently, LPC staff is researching the condition of 600 buildings within the expansion area. They will then create a designation report which will take six to eight months to complete. Action by the LPC is expected before the end of 2011.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Union Street "Automobile Stable"

We've been scanning some numbers of the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, trying to fill in the gaps in our documentary history of Park Slope architecture. The following listing from late 1900 caught our eye, both for its Park Slope location, and for its use of a term we'd not seen before:

"Projected Buildings," RERBG v. 66, no. 1705 (November 17, 1900): p. 691.
-1663- Union st, n s, 192.4 e 6th av, 2-sty automobile stable, 40x70, gravel roof; cost, $3,750; F & G Schwartz, 112 Berkeley pl; ar't, P B Marryatt, 17 St Marks pl.

At the dawn of the automobile age, to call a building an "automobile stable" must have seemed quite natural. What else would one call it?

At any rate, as usual, we checked our photo archive for the building, and indeed this "automobile stable" appears still to exist, largely unchanged since original construction:

811 Union Street
F & G Schwartz, owners
P B Maryatt, architect - 1900

The owners who built it lived at 112 Berkeley Place, which is located directly behind this building; they could have walked through the rear garden to access their "automobile stable." You can see 112 Berkeley Place highlighted on the screen shot below; 811 Union St. is the wide (40x70) building at bottom center:

The 1897 Lain's Brooklyn Directory lists Gustave Schwartz residing at 112 Berkeley Place; no occupation is given.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Preservation and Affordability

Sigh.... here we go again... according to a letter in this week's Brooklyn Paper, "the extension of the Park Slope landmark district will contribute significantly to the exclusion of future new middle class homeowners, helping make Park Slope a less diverse neighborhood, economically."

The writer continues:

"I would like to have a neighborhood where newly arrived, middle-class neighbors can imagine moving, working to raise their children, and paying their mortgage — like me. The real irony is, in the South Slope that is what we have without landmarking."

Actually, we hate to break it to you, but the irony is, the South Slope is not a neighborhood where "newly-arrived middle class families" can move in and raise their families. Even without landmarking.

Let's do a price check... just the other day, Brownstoner listed the results of a public auction that included 482 7th Street, a 3-family, brownstone-faced building on the south side of 7th Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues. The building is in the proposed first phase extension of the historic district, and part of a block we have discussed before on this blog (it is identical to the house, 2 doors away, shown below):

486 7th Street

The auction price of this "affordable to the middle-class" house in the South Slope? Get ready for the "real irony":


And this building isn't in the historic district.

We preservationists are often accused of being "delusional," of wanting to walk around in a fantasy land of fake-old lampposts etc. (Except, we invite anyone to find any appeal for fake-old lampposts on this blog... you will search in vain.)

But the idea that a $1,600,000 house is affordable to anyone in the "middle class" seems totally delusional to us.

Perhaps the battle to keep the South Slope "affordable" has nothing to do with landmarking, and has already been lost, years ago? Could there perhaps be larger economic forces at work?

Meanwhile, in the "lower Slope", west of 5th Avenue, one finds housing that still might be slightly "affordable" to the "middle class". Often it is in older, walk-up "flat houses" or small apartment buildings from the late 19th century. Unfortunately this older housing is increasingly being ripped out and replaced by "luxury" condo developments.

Case in point: the following groups of buildings stand across the street from each other in Sackett Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. If you were looking to rent an apartment, in which building do you think you'd find a more reasonable rent? Which group of buildings is historic, and which is a new development?

Sackett Street, between 4th and 5th Avenues, south side

Sackett Street, between 4th & 5th Avenues, north side

The new development even has off-street parking for residents in the rear, with a "convenient drive-thru" passageway protected by an automatic gate, quite like the automatic garage door openers one finds in the suburbs.

Which buildings look more "affordable" to you?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

1960 Park Slope

We finally had a chance to review the exhaustive New York Times coverage of the 1960 Park Slope airplane disaster. A lot of great old photographs accompany the articles; the Here's Park Slope blog has a comprehensive then-and-now portfolio. What strikes us is how little the neighborhood has actually changed in the 50 years since the tragedy, thanks in part to the creation of the Park Slope Historic District.

While the buildings are largely the same, the photograph below reflects some of the other changes that the Slope has undergone in the last 50 years. The picture below shows the intersection of 7th Avenue and Park Place, the subject of one of our "Lost Park Slope" posts from a while back:

7th Avenue and Park Place, 1960
New York Times photograph

The building on the right is the truncated remnant of the Doherty Building at Flatbush and 7th; the B67 bus stop is right there. On the left stands #10 7th Avenue, one of the earliest houses in Park Slope, and one of a row of simple Italianate dwellings built circa 1865.

If you look closely, you can make out the sign for a business named "Paradise" on the ground floor of #10 7th Ave. What do you want to bet that the "Paradise" was one of the many saloons that once lined the avenue?

Perhaps the most poignant photograph, for us, shows 126 Sterling Place after part of the doomed jet had sliced through its cornice:

126 Sterling Place - 1960
New York Times photograph

The brick wall was repaired, but the cornice was never restored. 126 Sterling Place, one of a row of three identical apartment houses, is on the left in the photograph below.

126-122-118 Sterling Place

We have no knowledge regarding who designed or built these apartment houses, or when. Perhaps our ongoing research in the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide will someday yield substantive information about them.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Acme Hall's Architect

The history of Acme Hall, on the northwest corner of 9th Street and 7th Avenue, is well known by now, having been recounted on the old Gowanus Lounge and Here's Park Slope blogs.

It is well established from these previous accounts that Acme Hall was built in 1889-1890 by Charles Nickenig, who also built the adjoining mixed-use (flats over stores) row extending to 8th Street.

Acme Hall
Charles Nickenig, Owner/Builder
J. G. Glover, architect - 1889

However, we've never before seen the name of Acme Hall's architect. Perhaps someone has posted it elsewhere, but we're not aware that he has been identified, until now. According to the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, the architect is J. G. Glover:

"Buildings Projected - Kings County," RERBG v. 44, no. 1116 (August 3, 1889): p. 1094.
- 1693 - 7th av, n w cor 9th st, one four-story brick club house, 38.6x71, tin roof, iron cornice; cost, $30,000; Chas. Nickenig, 368 11th st; ar't, J. G. Glover.

J. G. (John Graham) Glover's name is familiar to us; he was the architect of C. B. Sheldon's great Verona apartment building at 7th Avenue and President Street. Glover's name also appears frequently in various historic district Designation Reports.

Friday, December 10, 2010


When we started out researching Park Slope buildings, we relied on the Brooklyn Eagle's real estate listings, because that's all we knew about. We'd already photographed all the buildings in Park Slope, so we started matching building descriptions from the Eagle to the photos in our photo archive. But our Eagle research was just random, hit or miss.

Meanwhile our friend Darrin, an independent architectural historian, discovered our project, and announced that he had many original issues of the American Architect and Building News. Darrin systematically scanned through all his copies, culling out and carefully transcribing all the Park Slope "hits" and forwarding them to us. Darrin's work helped immeasurably to unearth the history of a great many Park Slope buildings.

Still later, Darrin told us about the Real Estate Record & Builders' Guide, and how it is considered the ultimate authority by architectural historians, since it carried basically everything filed at the Dept. of Buildings for both Manhattan and Brooklyn. We hunted around online for the RERBG, but never found more than a few issues here and there. It is available on microfilm at the New York Public Library, but since we are corporate wage slaves by day, the only time we have to work on this project is late at night.

Just a few days ago, however, we found what is apparently the entire run of the RERBG online, in the digital collections of the Columbia University Library! How cool is that?

At any rate we have already begun scanning for some of the gaps in Darrin's AABN listings. We'll post some of our new RERBG-based discoveries in a bit.

One of these days, we may go ahead and mount a complete scan of the entire RERBG. If anyone out there wants to collectivize this effort and help out in your spare time, let us know. Good vision, abundant time and patience, and careful attention to detail are essential!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Splatter House Row

"Splatter House" is what we've always called artist Mark Ravitz's residence on the west side of 7th Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets:

200 7th Avenue, circa 2003

The building is actually part of a row of 5. According to the American Architect and Building News, the mixed-use (flats over stores) row was built in 1890 by owner George H. McGill of Gravesend, and was designed by architect Henry Vollweiler:

"Building Intelligence; Houses; Brooklyn, N. Y.," AABN vol. 28, no. 747 (Apr. 19, 1890): p. xv.
– "Seventh Ave., s w cor. Second St., four-st’y brick dwell., tin roof; cost, $10,000; owner, George H. McGill, Gravesend Neck Road; architect, Henry Vollweller, 14 Elm St."
– "Seventh Ave., w s, 20' s Second St., 4 four-st’y brick dwells., tin roofs; cost, $8,000 each; owner, George H. McGill, Gravesend Neck Road; architect, Henry Vollweller, 14 Elm St."

194-202 7th Avenue
George H. McGill, owner
Henry Vollweiler, architect - 1890

Not much is known about architect Henry Vollweiler. His name appears in one of Christopher Gray's "Streetscapes" columns, in connection with the Stewart Woodford house at 869 President Street in Park Slope; Vollweiler in 1929 redesigned the original Henry Ogden Avery interiors of the 1885 Woodford house.

Mr. Ravitz, the subject of a profile in the current issue of Borough President Markowitz's "Brooklyn Newspaper", maintains a website featuring photographs of his work, including the many "Drip" installations on his building's facade.

photo: markravitzartanddesign.com

We've always enjoyed the "Splatter House" installations. They make the world a bit more fun!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Readers' Questions: Lost Park Slope

Faithful reader "LGR" commented a while back on our "Lost Park Slope" post about the John H. Hanan residence that formerly stood at 118 8th Avenue, corner Carroll Street:

John H. Hanan residence - 118 8th Avenue
C. P. H. Gilbert, architect - ca. 1890
Demolished ca. 1935

"LGR" asks:

If you look at the earlier image of the residence, the row houses just visible are actually not where they should be, if you actually take a look on Carroll Street. Rather, these look very suspiciously like the two houses on the south side of President Street, right off of Eighth Avenue. So, what's going on? Is the original photo reversed? (though I note the mansion is also cited in Merlis in the location given here). I mean, something is amiss.

Here's a closer view of the adjacent Carroll Street house, peeking out from behind the Hanan mansion:

Good question, LGR! What's going on, indeed? Because that house is certainly not there today. Or is it? LGR suggests that what we see in the photo above might actually be one of these houses in President Street, south side, just below 8th Avenue, and that perhaps the old photo above is reversed:

878-876 President Street
Park Slope Historic District
Albert E. White, architect - 1889

An interesting theory! We had noticed the anomaly when we found the photo of the Hanan residence, but just assumed it had been knocked down and incorporated into the footprint of the current apartment building that occupies the corner lot.

But then we checked the DOITT block/lot map, and saw immediately that the current apartment tower's lot had not expanded beyond the original 100' depth on Carroll Street. We have added the rear lot line in green, in the screen shot below:

So what's going on? Here's a recent photo of the adjacent 799 Carroll Street building:

799 Carroll Street - Park Slope Historic District
Albert E. White, architect - 1889
1918 redesign by George Chappell

Actually, the answer is "hiding in plain sight", in the Park Slope Historic District's 1973 Designation Report:

No. 799 Carroll Street was built in 1889 and designed by Brooklyn architect Albert E. White for James C. Jewett. White also designed Nos. 876 and 878 President Street. Originally, it may have resembled the President Street houses, but in 1918 the house was altered to its present neo-Federal appearance by architect George Chappell of Manhattan who had a long and distinguished career in the history of Brooklyn architecture...

So in fact, the old photograph of the Hanan mansion does not lie. That is indeed 799 Carroll Street peeking out from behind the mansion, as it appeared prior to its 1918 remodeling! It looks quite like its President Street companions.

[Sorry for the delayed response, LGR... We don't actually "own" this blog, so we don't receive notifications when someone comments. We should really start a new blog one of these days.]

Updated 7-Dec-2010: The Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, March 22, 1890, states of the Hanan mansion that "the billiard room will be in the tower, circular in form, and with a height of 20 feet."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day's Avena, 6th Avenue & 9th Street

Okay, folks, we have some winners to announce regarding the mysterious public hall at 9th Street and 6th Avenue.

Day's Avena Hall, 9th Street & 6th Avenue, s w corner

We knew from our last post that the building was constructed in 1892 as a public hall by Edward P. Day, to plans by architect Walter H. C. Hornum. What we didn't know was the name of the building.

Sharp-eyed commenter John Casson found the following Brooklyn Eagle citation that yields the name "Arvena" for this building; the Eagle notes that the word derives from a Greek term for "place of assemblage." Congratulations and thanks for this great find, John!:

Brooklyn Eagle, October 16, 1892, p. 2 ("A New Amusement Hall")

Meanwhile, independently from John's work, we happened across a further clue while researching Columbia Hall. Apparently a "Professor J. O. E. Small" conducted dancing classes at both Columbia Hall and at Day's building, on alternate evenings. However, "Professor" Small's advertisement refers to Day's building as "Day's Avena," dropping the 'r':

Apparently "Day's Avena" is the name that came into common usage. The Eagle lists all the usual fraternal and sororal associations meeting at "Day's Avena" (not "Arvena") in the final decade of the 19th century.

So, congratulations are also due to Professor J. O. E. Small, dancing instructor, for his role in helping to resolve the mystery of "Day's Avena:"

Day's Avena Hall
Edward P. Day, owner
Walter H. C. Hornum, architect - 1892

At least now we know what the building was called. Yet another mystery regarding this building arises: what are those symbols inside the pediment on the 6th Avenue facade? Are they Masonic? There is some Eagle evidence that Edward P. Day was a Mason. Is that the letter 'C', and if so what if anything does it mean? Inquiring minds want to know!:

Detail - Day's Avena