Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Brooklyn's Autonomous Zones (and a Temporary Farewell)

Topic for Research: Brooklyn's Autonomous Zones

We've long been fascinated by Brooklyn's autonomous zones, those regions beyond the edge of the map, where free spirits, eccentrics, squatters, the poor, the marginalized, and the downtrodden migrated beyond the pale of polite society.

The New York Times in 2005 published a fascinating article about these districts, which were self-governing to a large extent. The article carried the following photograph of "shanties" on 4th Avenue, and identified a large autonomous zone along the Gowanus Canal as "Slab City" for the many do-it-yourself shanties to be found there, constructed of slabs of wood salvaged and recycled from the streets.

4th Avenue "Shanties"
Brainerd Collection - Brooklyn Public Library/Brooklyn Collection

Slab City is of course also the name of a present day Temporary Autonomous Zone in southern California that was featured in the 2007 film "Into the Wild".

The December, 2006 "Civic News," a publication of the Park Slope Civic Council, reprinted an August, 1967 reminiscence by Norman Litchfield, great-grandnephew of Edwin C. Litchfield, who built Litchfield Villa in Prospect Park. Norman Litchfield, who was born in 1881, recalled the trip by rail to Coney Island, departing from the old terminal on the west side of 5th Avenue, at 27th Street. The train passed through another of these autonomous zones, beyond the city limits on the other side of Greenwood Cemetery (emphasis added):

Then a roar from the conductor, "All aboard," and with a jerk, the train started out of the depot. But, not so fast; we were still inside the city limits and the train tracks were laid on the city streets. Pedestrians and horses must be guarded from the dangers of the steam monster, and so a man mounted on a horse rode ahead waving a red flag and the engine bell rang continually, not disturbing many people, however, for on one side they were all dead and on the other side mostly missing; in this outlying part of the city, houses were few and far between. Soon we came to the "City Line," a hilly section, gaunt and barren, near enough to the city for its dwellers to enjoy urban advantages, chiefly saloons, and yet more or less outside the pale of law and free from most inhibitions. Shanty town it was, inhabited by Irish "lately come-overs" and their goats.

On this note, it is time to say good-bye to our few faithful readers. We have been tasked by the Landmarks Preservation Commission to undertake some more formal research into the proposed South Slope extension, and we will have to abandon this blog for now. We will continue to update the photo archive comments, and our other online resources, and may occasionally post new material here, but alas not with the same frequency. We hope to restart the blog later, perhaps after the phase 1 extension is designated. Many thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Finding Aid: Guide to Resources

With the apparent demise of link shortener bk.ly, some of our links are stale, so it seems a good time to update our Finding Aid, a guide to online resources concerning the Park Slope Historic District Extension.

(1) The Photo Archive: photographs of every street in Park Slope, winter 2008-2009. See the photo comments for historic information about the buildings.

(2) Park Slope Real Estate News: these are New Building/Alteration permits transcribed from the Brooklyn Eagle, American Architect and Building News, Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, and other periodicals. Divided into:
(2a) Streets
(2b) Avenues
The same information is also compiled in the Photo Archive comments.

(3) Department of Buildings files: organized by block/lot number, photographs of Dept. of Buildings files for some properties in the study areas: link

(4) Save the Slope blog: rants and ruminations about Park Slope history.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Lost Park Slope: Tilyou Penthouse, 35 PPW

In an earlier "Lost Park Slope" post, we visited the George C. Tilyou residence that once stood at 35 Prospect Park West. We established that George Tilyou died in 1914, and that his widow Mary sold the house to developers, who erected the present Emery Roth-designed apartment house in 1929. Mary Tilyou occupied the penthouse apartment until her death, aged 103, in the 1950s.

The Museum of the City of New York's online image collection includes many photographs of the interior of Mary Tilyou's penthouse apartment, a few of which appear below.

The scale of the rooms suggest an extremely spacious apartment:

Although there are at least three penthouse apartments now, it is possible that they were subdivided from a single colossal penthouse once occupied by Mary Tilyou.

The rest of the photographs of the penthouse apartment can be viewed here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thomas Bennett for Louis Bonert in 3rd Street

Long ago we identified prolific Park Slope builder Louis Bonert as the developer of much of 3rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues.

More recently we identified Pohlman and Patrick as the architects for 8 westermost of these apartment houses, 4 on each side of the street, toward 6th Avenue. Pohlman and Patrick's buildings were erected in 1903, and can be identified by the flat, foliate entablature surmounting the entrance:

458 3rd Street
Pohlman and Patrick, architects - 1903
Louis Bonert, builder

458 3rd Street - entrance detail

Bonert apparently felt he had found a winning formula with these spacious, 8-family, 38'-wide apartment houses, because he built seven more of them one year later, in 1904, just uphill from the first group. For reasons unknown, however, he chose to employ for the later group another prolific Brooklyn architect, Thomas Bennett, with whom he had collaborated on some other apartments in 3rd Street a few years earlier:

"Projected Buildings," RERBG v. 73, no. 1882 (April 9, 1904): p. 847.
-639- 3rd st, n s, 293 e 6th av, three 4-sty brk tenements, 38.3x68, 8 families, steam heat; total cost, $45,000; L Bonert, 6th av and 3rd st; ar't, T Bennett, 3rd av and 52d st.

The 1904 buildings are nearly identical to the earlier group, and are distinguished mainly by a peaked entablature surmounting the doorway. The 1904 group also has one less window illuminating the central staircase:

461 3rd Street
Thomas Bennett, architect - 1904
Louis Bonert, builder

461 3rd Street - entrance detail

The similarity between the buildings from two different architects is remarkable. Bonert certainly seems to have maintained no loyalty to a particular architect from one development to the next.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Blizzard of 1888

In 1888 Brooklyn was hit by a blizzard of historic proportions.

The photograph below, from the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection, documents conditions on the street, in a scene that looks familiar to winter-weary borough residents today:

Blizzard of 1888 - Breading G. Way, photographer
Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Collection

What particularly caught our eye in this photograph, however, was the row of two-story wood frame houses behind the mounds of snow. With intact cornices, stoops, entrance hoods, window frames, and clapboard siding, these houses can be really charming. (Some brokers have even detected a "cult" of wood-frame lovers!)

Park Slope still has stretches of these wood-frame houses, mostly in the South Slope, mostly heavily modified. Many of these are actually among the older houses in Park Slope, predating as they do the "fire limits" that mandated brick construction. Many of these wood-frame rows also appear on the 1880 Bromley Brooklyn Atlas, further certifying their antiquity:

15th Street, 6th to 7th Avenues - north side

A few owners have lavished restorative attention on these wood-frame houses, returning them to an approximation of their original appearance:

313 15th Street

We suspect that the Landmarks Preservation Commission would have a hard time designating most of these wood-frame rows today. But we'd be willing to bet that over time, more and more of these wood-frame rows will see sympathetic restorations and will more closely resemble their original appearance.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pohlman & Patrick for Louis Bonert in 3rd Street

3rd Street between 6th and 7th Avenues is one of the grandest blocks in Park Slope. The extra-wide street and the uniform white apartment houses marching uphill lend a dignity and majesty to this block.

Way back in our retrospective of the work of Louis Bonert, one of the most prolific builders in Park Slope, we reviewed evidence for his role as builder of much of this block. However, only recently have we uncovered evidence, from the Real Estate Record and Builders' Guide, that the architectural firm of Pohlman and Patrick designed at least 8 apartment houses for Bonert in this block in 1903.

The RERBG evidence suggests that Pohlman and Patrick designed four of the 8-family apartment houses on each side of 3rd Street, toward the 6th Avenue end of the block.

North side:

"Projected Buildings," RERBG v. 71, no. 1835 (May 16, 1903): p. 1020. -803- 3rd st, n s, 107.9 e 6th av, four 4-sty brk tenements, 38.3x68, 8 families, steam heat; total cost, $60,000; L Bonert, 319 6th av; ar'ts, Pohlman & Patrick, 1235 3rd av.

437-449 3rd Street
Pohlman and Patrick, architects - 1903
Louis Bonert, builder

South side:

"Projected Buildings," RERBG v. 71, no. 1834 (May 9, 1903): p. 972. -774- 3rd st, s s, 106.9 e 6th av, four 4-sty brk tenements, 38.3x68, 8 families, steam heat; total cost, $60,000; L Bonert, 319 6th av; ar'ts, Pohlman & Patrick, 1235 5th av.

450-462 3rd Street
Pohlman and Patrick, architects - 1903
Louis Bonert, builder

The apartment houses are generously sized. The 38' width allows the individual apartments, 2 per floor, to be 19' wide, which is as wide as many Park Slope row houses.

450 3rd Street - entrance detail

Further uphill, on both sides of the street, stand some nearly identical apartment houses, also erected by builder Louis Bonert. Interestingly, Bonert chose a different architect for these other apartment buildings, as we shall soon see.