Category Archives: Architecture

Bensonhurst Architecture Part 2: The Name Game

The 'Stroffolino Building' stands at the corner of 65th Street and Bay Parkway and was built in (what I think is) the Neo-Gothic style with Renaissance Revival influences

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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.

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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. Continue reading

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Green-Wood 2: Getting High On History

Empire State Building, Citigroup Center (and some of Downtown Brooklyn in foreground) from Green-Wood's Battle Hill

Last weekend I was the highest person in Brooklyn. At 200-220 feet    above sea level, depending on who you ask, Green-Wood Cemetery’s Battle Hill is the highest point in the County of Kings. Battle Hill takes its name from the Battle of Brooklyn, some of which was fought on its plateau.

It was a relatively clear day and I was able to take in some great views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn skylines. The Statue of Liberty could be seen down in the harbor, in the direct line of sight of the waving statue of the Roman goddess Minerva.

The statue of Minerva commemorates the  Battle of Brooklyn. Fought in August of 1776 in locations scattered across modern-day Brooklyn, including this hill, it was the first major battle fought by the newly created United States.

This statue of Minerva commemorates the Battle of Brooklyn

Minerva waves to the Statue of Liberty

Recently the view of the Statue of Liberty from Battle Hill was  nearly lost forever. Community groups fought until the condo developer’s controversial architect produced a redesigned version that allows visitors to still get a glimpse of Lady Liberty.

Fought during the dawn of the industrial age in the early 1860’s, the Civil War tested the limits of the United States less than a hundred years after its founding. Located near Minerva on Battle Hill’s plateau is a monument dedicated to New Yorkers; both those who fought and survived, and those that died, in that bloody conflict.

Woolworth Building and Downtown Manhattan from Battle Hill

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Green-Wood Cemetery and The Soda Fountain King

Looking up at the chandelier inside Green-wood's Historic Chapel

I recently visited Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood cemetery and was able to get a first-hand view of a couple of its more beautiful and amazing sights. My girlfriend and I decided to spend a few hours volunteering. We were helping man the Historical Fund Cart where visitors can get free literature and buy books, t-shirts and other grave gifts. Janice, a dedicated volunteer who  is extremely knowledgeable about the cemetery’s popular sights suggested we check out the art exhibit on display at one of the cemetery’s two chapels.

The two chapels at Green-Wood include the Historic Chapel and a more modern Cremation Chapel. The show, “Artists in Permanent Residence” was in the Historic Chapel and featured works by many of the 300 deceased artists that can be found there.

While the pieces on display, mostly paintings were interesting from both a historic perspective and as works of art, what really caught my eye was the chapel itself. I haven’t been able to find much specific information on the chandelier in the photo above but it appears to be gilded bronze and looks like something out of a storybook Renaissance palace. I’ve taken numerous trips to Green-Wood over the years, usually to visit the resting places of deceased relatives. This was the first time I had ever been inside this impressive work of Gothic architecture. The style of the chapel seems to have a Moorish Revival influence which is apparent on its domes.

The Historic Chapel

The chapel and its surrounding grounds look like something out of a fairy tale

Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 and predates Central Park as a major tourist destination of the early Victorian era. Janice also suggested we visit its reigning meritocratic monarch. It seemed appropriate that such a majestic, otherworldly space would have a king.  He’s known (this is Brooklyn after all) as the “Soda Fountain King.

John Mathews was the inventor of the first countertop soda fountain. After his death in 1870 he was buried with a fittingly extravagant monument complete with waterspouting gargoyles. It was designed by Karl Muller.

 

The top of the Soda Fountain King's over-the-top monument

One of the bears standing watch over John Matthews' final resting place

A gargoyle guards the carbonated king of Kings County

When it rains the gargoyles act as waterspouts that protect the structure below from water erosion

Anyone who’s ever enjoyed an egg cream or fountain soda can thank the effervescent work of Mr. Matthews for making counter-top carbonation possible.

Within view of the Soda Fountain King’s burial place is a lillypad covered pond and fountain. Not the kind you can make an ice cream soda from, the water that comes out of this fountain is sans fizz.

While this pond is beautiful, the fountain does not make seltzer

The cemetery’s front gate on Fifth Avenue and 25th street that greets mourners, history buffs and curious visitors has been doing so since 1861. It was designed by Richard Upjohn. The Gothic Revival stone spires have recently been restored. With the scaffolding gone, the monk parakeets (aka Quaker parrots) that nest in the middle steeple have returned.

Quaker parrot nesting in the center steeple of Green-Wood's Gate

Front entrance gate from inside Green-Wood

The view that greets you as climb uphill from 5th Avenue

Tours of Green-Wood Cemetery are available most weekends and there are special tours and events throughout the year. Volunteers are also welcome. There are countless other points of interest in Green-Wood that have not been covered in this article. This is a magnificent and special destination that should make everyone’s bucket list of things to see while they wander NYC…

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