Bensonhurst Architecture: The Art Deco Style

An Art Deco building on the corner of Bay Parkway and 63rd Street

In the decades after Bensonhurst lost its status as a gated suburb of New York City, the neighborhood underwent a rapid urbanization. Many of the venerable old homes were cleared away for housing developments. The newer homes were built for mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants who, in order to take advantage of expanded subway lines, were moving out of older, more crowded areas such as Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In this article I will focus on apartment buildings, specifically on one built during the late 1920’s or 30’s in the dominant style of the period, Art Deco.

The term ‘Art Deco’ did not come into popular usage until the 1960’s, after a resurgence of interest in the designs of the 20’s and 30’s. The term itself refers to the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes (International Exhibition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts), a World’s Fair held in Paris, which showcased the modern styles popular at the time. It was organized by La Société des artistes décorateurs (the society of the decorator artists), an informal group formed in Paris after the Universal Exposition of 1900. Art deco is modern; the designs were geometric, streamlined and often used bold, bright colors; especially green and orange.

Art Deco had many influences. Among the most prominent are the artistic movements of the time: Cubism and Expressionism, Russian Constructivism, and Italian Futurism. There was a great influence from ancient world cultures: American Indian, especially Aztec; and the Middle East and Africa, particularly Egypt. Geometry was a major component. The pyramids of both the Aztecs and Egyptians served as models for many of the new designers; they can be found in everything from household consumer products such as radios, to colossal efforts like skyscrapers.

This Art Deco Radio has an "Aztec Temple" shape

Aztec Pyramid

Art Deco is known as the last “total style”, meaning its influence can be found be found in all types of products from the time; from cars and locomotives, to fountain pen sets. The most impressive works in terms of scale, whose examples are still easily found today, were in the buildings constructed at the time. The Chrysler Building is, according to many, the most beautiful example of this.

Streamlined and geometric, yet elegant; the spire of the Chrysler Building is to many the epitome of Art Deco

The colors and lines in this fountain pen set from 1930...

...can also be found in this Bensonhurst apartment building

The great thing about Art Deco is that you can find it everywhere. There are examples of it in “retro” styled costume jewelery, as well as in courthouses, apartment and office buildings across the country; from Arizona and Los Angeles, to Detroit and the Bronx.

Art Deco was a very appropriate style for the Twentieth Century as it’s both modern and eclectic. When I think about it, it is also a very appropriate style for Bensonhurst. Just think about it’s influences: Russian, Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern; this is a style that pays homage to many of the same groups that call the neighborhood home today.

Entrance to Bensonhurst Art Deco building, Brooklyn

Bullocks Wilshire Building, Los Angeles.

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4 Comments

Filed under Architecture, History

4 responses to “Bensonhurst Architecture: The Art Deco Style

  1. Louise

    I LOVED YOUR PICTURES AND YOUR ARTICLE. HOPE TO SEE MORE SOON!

  2. These houses were part of the promise of the time, as well as a symbol of it’s basic conflict. They were built to impress, and yet were constructed to entice the middle classes to move into less settled neighborhoods such as Bensonhurst. They were often as spectacular inside as they were outside. Their developers, however, were subjected to the waves and crests of the real estate market. And after the stock market crashed some of these houses, not fully rented yet, became financial burdens to their owners. Some worked through this by creating smaller apartments, others unfortunately ended up with unpayable debt, and ended up selling out at a huge loss. Many of those buildings ended up being low-income rentals, and were poorly maintained by their new owners. I suspect that this is not the case with this building, it still looks magnificent.

  3. Nice blog here.. did you design it yourself or was it made by a professional company? Really nice choice of colors

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