The Forgotten Neighborhoods of South Brooklyn
A good part of the reason there hasn’t, to my knowledge, been a significant architectural survey of South (aka ‘southern’) Brooklyn, much less Bensonhurst, is that the identities of its architects, builders and even building styles have not usually been preserved for posterity. Unlike Bensonhurst and the rest of South Brooklyn, the bulk of Brooklyn’s northern neighborhoods were designed by architects who were local celebrities. Often part of Brooklyn and New York’s upper crust, they were a network of knickerbockers whose names dominated the newspaper society pages of their day. Builders in Brooklyn’s first residential districts often belonged to the same gentry that the new homes and commercial spaces were being built for. It was a smaller world back in the late 19th and first decade and a half of the 20th century, when most of ‘Brownstone Brooklyn’ was built, and people generally worked closer to home.
In the 1920’s and 30’s, as dirt roads and wooden farmhouses turned into asphalt and brick buildings from Green-wood Cemetery to Gravesend and from Flatbush to Flatlands, housing was in high demand. There was a need to vastly add to the existing housing stock for a population that was increasing, due to both immigration and lower infant mortality, at a rate never before seen in history. The emphasis was now on utility rather than braggadocio. There was a need to get these new buildings, which were generally well built, up as fast as possible. It is because of this need for speed, as well as a higher cost of both labor and materials, that the private homes in these later-developed neighborhoods exhibited less architectural detail and stone work. The architects of South Brooklyn tended to favor brick facades with some minor stone, terra cotta or concrete details. The newer buildings tended to have lower ceilings than structures built during the previous Victorian era and were less grand overall. This was not just due to cost. It was a new, modern era when cleaner styles had become the fashion. The cost of heating, a concern for working families, was probably a significant reason for the lower ceiling heights.
This is where the story usually ends for many connoisseurs of Real Estate porn. That’s too bad because, although built for working people, these row houses, semi-detached homes and apartment buildings display some of the last examples of uber American craftsmanship produced on such a massive scale for “affordable housing”. In my humble opinion these homes and businesses are closer to Federal style buildings than to Fedders specials. To me South Brooklyn’s Dutch Colonials invoke stately suburban blocks at the turn of the 20th century more than they do rows of tick tacky McMansions at the turn of the 21st.
I wrote this as a caveat. I will do my best with what are my own limited resources, time and patience to document Bensonhurst and South Brooklyn’s rich history. To any readers out there who are knowledgeable about architecture and/or history, please contact me with any suggestions; whether they be corrections, research tools/resources, names of architects/builders or more specific information about anything mentioned in these articles.
The ‘Stroffolino’ Building
I first decided to document 6423 Bay Parkway months ago but have been frustrated by attempts to get any info on it beyond hearsay. It’s easy to like; similar to buildings I’ve seen in Manhattan as well as right here in Bensonhurst, it’s located on the corner of 65th Street and Bay Parkway. As part of the name game of trying to identify architectural styles, I’ve honored it with a landmark-sounding name. Let’s call it (dah dah dah dah) the Stroffolino Building, after the Realtor that is currently occupying the ground floor.
The facade appears to be made of a ceramic that has stone-like qualities; my guess would be terra cotta. When I first tried to identify the style, I thought late, or Second, Renaissance Revival, probably from the 1920’s. Why? First the moldings that wrap around the building, known as belt or string courses, that seem to divide the floors into distinct sections. Also the third floor windows are smaller than the first and second, reminiscent of a Renaissance era building’s smaller top, or mezzanine, level. Plus the architectural details on the facade are intricate for a building of that period. One thing that puzzled me was the palatial turrets that jut out of the building. To me they exhibit characteristics of Neo-Gothic style architecture, such as in the design of the Woolworth Building, more than Renaissance Revival. (Neo-Gothic and Gothic Revival may be used interchangeably, just like Renaissance Revival and Neo Renaissance)
When looking at a picture of the Woolworth building you may notice the castle-like turrets sticking out of the building’s sides. That and the basic shape and character of the building is why I’ve decided that the Stroffolino Building has the Gothic Revival look. If any readers would like to voice their opinions on the architectural style, or have more info on the buildings history, please comment below or contact me at email@example.com.
I plan to continue working my way south and west from this area, documenting the different types of interesting structures I see along the way to Gravesend Bay. Bensonhurst displays a wealth of different architectural styles as well as a history that goes back to the Colonial era. It’s also a large neighborhood so I’ll have my work cut out for me. This series hasn’t really taken on that much structure yet; sometimes I’ll be tackling a particular style, using a specific building as an example. Other times the focus will be on identifying a building’s style and sharing any revelations I’m able to learn about its history. If any readers have suggestions re: buildings of note in the Bensonhurst area, please let me know.