As part of the CLIR team surveying the archival, manuscript, and photography collections at BHS, we’ve come across several collections that document either iconic Brooklyn architecture or local Brooklyn architects. With the recent conclusion of the 8th annual Open House New York, I’ve been thinking about architecture, the multitude of buildings I encounter everyday, and my relationship with them. From the Hotel St. George where the subway lets me out in the morning, to the George B. Post landmarked building I work in at BHS, to the sprawling Concord Village I walk past everyday on my way to the Manhattan Bridge pedestrian walkway, I am in constant interaction with buildings. Buildings can be destinations, hindrances, or points of reference. They can be beautiful or ugly, memorable or forgettable, historic or everyday.
Not only does Brooklyn have iconic buildings such as the towering Art Deco skyscraper, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank building in Fort Greene or the once grandiose destination, the Hotel St. George in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn neighborhoods have their own unique architectural styles. If someone tells you they live in Fort Greene or Park Slope, you picture rows and rows of brownstones. If you try to describe Red Hook, you can’t do it justice without including both the waterfront red brick industrial factories-turned-artist spaces and lofts, as well the vast housing project, the Red Hook Houses, that are home to over 75% of all the residents of Red Hook. Greenpoint? Vinyl-sided railroad apartments. Williamsburg? The Domino Sugar Factory. Ditmas Park? Candy-colored Victorians.
Our architectural archival collections here at BHS reflect Brooklyn’s architectural diversity. The Williamsburgh Savings Bank building, 1 Hanson Place collection (ARC.116) documents one of the most iconic landmarks in Brooklyn. Our photographic collection captures before, during, and post-construction of the second tallest building in Brooklyn, 1927-1929.
The Hotel St. George collection (ARC.100) includes historic picture postcards that make you wish you could have been there when. The hotel, located in Brooklyn Heights, once had the largest indoor salt water swimming pool and the largest banquet room in the world.
William Thomas McCarthy (d. 1952) was a Brooklyn architect whose designs included large-scale apartment buildings such as the Cathedral Arms Apartments and the Chateau Frontenac Apartments in Flatbush; some of the last single-family homes built in Park Slope; and some of the most iconic housing projects in New York City, all of which are located in Brooklyn. He co-designed four of the seven buildings of Concord Village (1958, finished after McCarthy died), the Red Hook Houses (1939), and the Gowanus Houses (1949). All of the buildings below still stand today.
The Cathedral Arms Apartments and the Chateau Frontenac Apartments are located in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn and were built circa 1930.
McCarthy designed some of the last single-family homes in Park Slope, circa 1920. The homes below are located along Prospect Park West. The driveways were included in the original designs and are still a very unique aspect of Brooklyn architecture.
Concord Village is located on the border of the Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods. McCarthy co-designed four of the seven buildings with Italian born architect Rosario Candela (1890-1953). The building complex was completed in phases and was finished after McCarthy died.
The rendering below shows an idealized vision of Concord Village. The delineator was Arthur Frappier.
The Gowanus Houses (1949) and Red Hook Houses (1939) are prominent parts of the Brooklyn architectural landscape and of Brooklyn architectural history. It’s very rare to read about who designed our large-scale housing projects throughout the city. Today, former and current residents of the Gowanus Houses are creating their own archive of the buildings and the people who live in them on a Facebook page Gowanus Houses Forever, Bklyn, NY. Below are images that help tell the story of the original vision for the housing projects.
If you’re looking to do architectural research on your house, building, block, or neighborhood, the Library and Archives staff at BHS has made it easy for you with the House and Building Research at BHS. Or, if you want an in-depth guide to Brooklyn architecture, the BHS staff has curated a selection of books that are available through the BHS Virtual Bookstore.