Take an autumn stroll through Victorian Flatbush
This is the neighborhood where you’ll find America’s largest concentration of freestanding Victorian homes. They have lawns and gardens and architectural flourishes such as turrets and porches. They are appealing eye candy even when it’s 40-something degrees and the skies are the color of lead.
Victorian Flatbush is located south of Prospect Park between Coney Island Avenue and Flatbush Avenue. It consists of 11 micro-neighborhoods developed more than a century ago as suburban enclaves for commuters on the Brooklyn, Flatbush and Coney Island Railroad.
You can see representative snippets of most of the micro-neighborhoods by walking in a loop up Westminster Road from Avenue H to Caton Avenue and then down East 18th Street to Avenue H once again.
Some of the mini-nabes are historic districts, with no demolition or changes to house exteriors allowed without the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s permission. Some are not.
Local residents want the six micro-neighborhoods that are not historic districts to be granted that status. In 2012, Flatbush Development Corp. and civic groups got together and submitted a request for evaluation asking the commission to turn these areas into a single historic district.
Last year, the Historic Districts Council sent the preservation agency a letter urging it to act on that request.
A subway station with rocking chairs
If you don’t live within walking distance of Victorian Flatbush, normally I’d suggest you get there by taking the Q train to the Avenue H subway station. This quirky landmarked building looks like a cottage in the Adirondacks. It has a porch that’s held up by columns made of logs and furnished with rocking chairs.
But Q service to this part of Brooklyn is often suspended on the weekends for track maintenance, so you must check train schedules before you embark.
The stroll starts in nonlandmarked West Midwood. Germania Real Estate & Improvement Co., which developed this micro-neighborhood, advertised it and other parts of Victorian Flatbush as “country living in the city,” the request for evaluation for landmarking says.
The houses on this stretch of Westminster Road were built around 1905. Many have porches on their first and second floors.
On the first block of Westminster Road after the intersection of Avenue H, you’ll hear wind chimes clanking on front porches whenever there’s a breeze.
One of the prettiest spots on this part of the walk is the intersection of Westminster Road and Glenwood Road, where the corner houses are especially big and beautiful.
West Midwood ends at the intersection of Foster Avenue.
Mary Pickford’s house
When you cross Newkirk Avenue, you’re in nonlandmarked Ditmas Park West.
Movie buffs will appreciate this: This micro-neighborhood has a house that Mary Pickford, the most famous actress of the silent-film era, was going to live in.
Vitagraph, a studio located nearby, built 1320 Ditmas Ave. for her in hopes of signing a contract with her in 1916. But she decided not to leave the studio she was working for, so she didn’t move into the lovely modified neo-Tudor home.
Mary Pickford’s would-be house is just a couple blocks away from the intersection of Ditmas Avenue and Westminster Road.
There, you’ll see eye-catching 1207 Ditmas Ave., which stands on a big lot.
When you get to the intersection of Cortelyou Road, you’ll notice lots of places to get a bite to eat. Because daylight fades fast this time of year, I decided to keep walking and snack later.
Thank you, Dean Alvord
When you cross Cortelyou Road, you’re in nonlandmarked Beverley Square West. An architect named Thomas Benton Ackerson built it. The T.B. Ackerson Construction Co. was his development business.
One of my favorite spots in this part of the walk is the corner of Cortelyou Road, where the house at 358 Westminster Road has a twin house standing beside it at 354 Westminster Road. They have similar massing and similar first- and second-story front porches framed by similar two-story-high Corinthian columns.
And the next three houses on the block have terrific turrets with pointy roofs like witches’ hats.
When you cross Beverley Road, you’re in the Prospect Park South Historic District.
Dean Alvord, a developer who was born in Syracuse, started building Prospect Park South at the end of the 19th century.
This neighborhood has a number of spectacular mansions. The houses on Westminster Road are lovely.
One of my favorite homes on this part of the walk is 115 Westminster Road on the corner of Albemarle Road.
The neo-Classical stucco house with a Spanish tile roof was built in 1918; Boris Dorfman designed it, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Prospect Park South Historic District says.
A street named Tennis Court
When you cross Church Avenue, you step into Caton Park. Westminster Road, which is mostly populated by apartment buildings, is outside the portion of this micro-neighborhood that’s included in the proposed historic district.
When you turn onto Caton Avenue, you’ll see the Prospect Park Parade Ground. Some of America’s greatest baseball players, including Sandy Koufax, played there as youthful amateurs.
One reason I picked East 18th Street for the return loop of this stroll is that it takes you to Tennis Court. Isn’t that a great name for a street? Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal should have apartments there.
On East 18th Street where Tennis Court dead-ends, you’ll notice the entrance to the Knickerbocker Field Club, which was established in 1889. Though you can’t see them from the sidewalk — an apartment complex blocks your view — there are five tennis courts.
The most eye-catching apartment on Tennis Court is Chateau Frontenac. As the name suggests, it looks like a castle. The stone front entrance is decorated with heraldic symbols including porcupines.
A Brooklyn Borough President
When you can leave Tennis Court and head back down East 18th Street, you will walk past apartment buildings for a couple blocks. A judge ordered the landlord of one of these properties, 180 East 18th St., to repair the fire-damaged building or face civil penalties, my colleague Kelly Mena wrote recently.
When you cross Beverley Road, you’re in unlandmarked Beverley Square East. Thomas Benton Ackerson did the earliest construction in the neighborhood, between 1898 and 1901. Remember him from Beverley Square West?
Lewis Pounds also did a lot of Beverley Square East development with Delbert Decker as his partner, the request for evaluation for landmarking says. Pounds was the Brooklyn borough president between 1913 and 1917.
The houses on this part of East 18th Street are so beautiful. I especially love the circular porch at 315 East 18th St.
A Spanish hacienda
When you cross the intersection of Cortelyou Road, you’re in landmarked Ditmas Park.
Pounds and Decker developed this micro-neighborhood, too.
As you stroll along, you’ll see the work of architects such as Arlington Isham, who designed Colonial Revival-style 456 East 18th St., and Slee & Bryson, who designed Colonial Revival-style 460 East 18th St., the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report for the Ditmas Park Historic District says.
The houses on the corners of East 18th Street and Ditmas Avenue are especially picturesque.
The Ditmas Park Historic District ends at Newkirk Avenue. A house at that intersection, 575 East 18th St., is eye-catching because of its Spanish Colonial Revival design.
Two neighborhoods, one historic district
Keep walking — in a New York minute, you’ll cross Foster Avenue.
The landmarked mini-neighborhood you’ll find here is called Midwood Park. A couple blocks away, at the intersection of Glenwood Road, there’s Fiske Terrace.
The two areas are combined into a single historic district.
This stretch of East 18th Street is lined with lovely houses from beginning to end.
John R. Corbin Co. was the developer of Midwood Park, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park Historic District says.
The company cut beams, frames and trims for 30 different models of prefabricated Midwood Park houses at a factory located on East 56th Street near Jamaica Bay, a 2006 CityLand story about the neighborhood says.
Fiske Terrace is named for oil merchant George Fiske, who along with his wife and his brother owned the land where the micro-neighborhood is located. They sold it to T.B. Ackerson, which did the development there.
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Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you.
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