Take a wintry stroll to Queens on Gates Avenue | Part One
See historic homes in Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy.
Eye on Real Estate: Central Brooklyn’s 19th- and early 20th-century rowhouses are a thing of beauty.
Gates Avenue offers you glimpses of some very fine ones indeed, in Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. If you keep walking, before you know it, this avenue will also take you across Bushwick to the Queens border.
The avenue, which was named after American Revolutionary War General Horatio Gates, is walkable in a day if you aren’t obsessively photographing the handsome homes and churches. But if you’re incapable of walking down a beautiful street without taking lots of pictures, you’re going to need two days to make this trip.
So. Here is Part One of this wintry stroll. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. If you wear a full-length down coat with a hood, sheepskin boots and heavy-weight gloves, you can walk for hours without feeling cold.
An oddly decorated apartment building
Gates Avenue begins at the intersection of Fulton Street and Clermont Avenue in Clinton Hill. When you look west on Fulton Street, you can see some of Downtown Brooklyn’s high-rise towers in the distance. When you face east, a small public space called Gateway Triangle is in your immediate line of sight.
The first cross street you arrive at is Vanderbilt Avenue. The Vanderbilt Avenue block at the intersection of Gates Avenue is not part of the Clinton Hill Historic District. But there are handsome brownstones and carriage houses on it nevertheless.
In a New York minute, you’ll walk past the Royal Castle Apartments.
This six-story, red-brick apartment complex at 20-30 Gates Ave., aka 470-476 Clinton Ave., is an individual city landmark. Slow down and take a look at the gargoyles on the facade. They’re humans with serious faces and hammers in their hands.
Architecture firm Wortmann & Braun designed the Beaux-Arts complex, which was constructed around 1912 and 1913, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about it says.
The designation report offers an interesting random fact about German-born architect Deitrich Wortmann: He was a member of the U.S. wrestling team at the 1904 Olympics.
The Gold Coast
As you stand on the Gates Avenue corner of Clinton Avenue, take a minute to look up and down the street. It’s one that you should come back to for a separate stroll.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy Brooklynites considered Clinton Avenue a hot spot to construct their mansions. Everybody called it the Gold Coast.
They were following the example of Charles Pratt, the philanthropist who made a fortune in oil and founded nearby Pratt Institute. He built houses on this street as wedding gifts for his sons. The one at 229 Clinton Ave. is now used as a home for Pratt Institute’s president.
On the Gates Avenue corner where you’re standing, you can see a magnificent pair of limestone mansions built in 1902 — 463 and 465 Clinton Ave. An architect named Mercein Thomas designed them in 1902.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Clinton Hill Historic District says the original owner of Beaux-Arts-style 463 Clinton Ave. was Morgan Bogart. His son, a surgeon named Dr. J. Bion Bogart, was the first person to live in the house.
The original owner of neo-Italian Renaissance-style 465 Clinton Ave. was William Berri, the designation report says. He was the owner of a newspaper called the Brooklyn Standard Union and a prominent Republican leader. He was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, his 1917 New York Times obituary says.
An 1860s church
As you continue on Gates Avenue, you leave Clinton Avenue’s mansions behind and see lovely brick and brownstone rowhouses and a couple eye-catching churches.
For starters, there are lovely neo-Grec brownstones with mansard roofs on the corner of Waverly Avenue at 63 to 69 Gates Ave.
An architect-builder named Joseph Kirby constructed them in 1880 for a grain merchant named Stephen R. Post, the Clinton Hill Historic District designation report says.
The congregation won grants from Partners in Preservation and the New York Landmarks Conservancy for the restoration of a Tiffany stained-glass window called “The Pilgrims,” which it completed in December 2014, the church’s website says.
The building, whose address is 484 Washington Ave., was constructed in 1860. Its architectural style is early Romanesque Revival, the Clinton Hill Historic District designation report says. The architect was Ebenezer L. Roberts.
The congregation that built and originally occupied it was the Washington Avenue Baptist Church, the designation report says.
Renovation projects, past and present
The intersection of Gates and Washington avenues is another fine spot to pause and take in the scenery. The red-painted, brick multi-family building with square-headed window bays at 461 Washington Ave. is especially eye-catching. Amzi Hill, one of Brooklyn’s distinguished 19th-century architects, designed the four-story building, the designation report says.
In 1981, when the designation report was published, this property was abandoned. It has since been renovated and divided into four condos. One of them sold this year for $1.9 million, city Finance Department records indicate.
Nearby, on the corner of St. James Place, a renovation project is nearing completion. The address of the Italianate rowhouse is 109 Gates Ave. It has gleaming glass storefronts on its first and second floors, which are similar to storefronts that were added to the building in the early 20th century.
A builder named John Funk constructed 109 Gates Ave. and the rowhouses beside it in the 1860s, the Clinton Hill Historic District designation report indicates.
Brooklyn’s first apartment building
Another important Gates Avenue intersection in the Clinton Hill Historic District is the one at Cambridge Place.
The Italianate brick rowhouse on this corner, whose address is 129 Gates Ave., has a storefront on its ground floor that was a drugstore back in the day. The current occupant is Locanda Vini E Olii — a restaurant that Michelin Guide 2020 calls a “jewel.”
The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the historic district says Samuel Asman designed 129 Gates Ave. in 1877 for John Bahrenburg.
The Italianate rowhouses next to it, from 131 through 143 Gates Ave., were constructed by a builder and lumber dealer named Jeremiah Johnson around 1864. A mansard roof was added to 131 Gates Ave. in the late 19th century and a new brick facade was added in the 1930s, the designation report says.
At the intersection of Gates and Grand avenues, you’ll find the Vendome, a property with big historic significance. It’s Brooklyn’s oldest multi-family apartment building. Its address is 363 Grand Ave.
An architect named Halstead Fowler designed the Vendome in 1887, the Clinton Hill Historic District designation report says. It’s a Romanesque Revival-Queen Anne-style building.
A plaque on the side of the property says it was threatened with demolition in 1987 but saved by neighborhood residents led by the late Ralph Walter.
Two lovely churches
As you continue your stroll, you will walk through a few Clinton Hill blocks that aren’t included in the neighborhood’s historic district.
One of the most eye-catching sights on these blocks is Mount Zion Tabernacle at 182 Gates Ave. on the corner of Irving Place. The church has a beautiful old-fashioned spire.
When you cross Classon Avenue, you’re in Bed-Stuy. This boundary has been the subject of some debate over the past decade or so.
There are no official government-designated boundaries for New York City neighborhoods. But Kenneth Jackson and John Manbeck’s book “The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn” says Classon Avenue is the dividing line between Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy, and that’s what I’m going with.
By the way, there are handsome rowhouses on Classon Avenue at this Gates Avenue intersection.
As you keep walking, you’ll notice a cluster of Romanesque Revival rowhouses on the south side of Gates Avenue near the corner of Franklin Avenue.
On the north side of this block, the bright white facades of Mount Sinai Baptist Church at 241 Gates Ave. and adjacent homes at 247 through 253 Gates Ave. glow with a serene, almost otherworldly light when the sun is shining.
The Baptist congregation has owned the church building since the 1950s, Finance Department records indicate.
The Doe Fund
As you continue into Bed-Stuy, you pass eye-pleasing rowhouses.
At the corner of Nostrand Avenue, there’s an old-fashioned apartment building called Norgate Plaza. This building has affordable units for low-income tenants, online postings indicate. Its address is 390 Nostrand Ave.
St. George’s Episcopal Church, which is an individual city landmark, is on the corner of Gates and Marcy avenues. Worship services were first held there in 1888, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the church says.
The designer of the Victorian Gothic-style church at 800 Marcy Ave. was Richard Michell Upjohn. He and his father Richard Upjohn are best known in Brooklyn for their design of the main gates of Green-Wood Cemetery.
On the Gates Avenue block between Marcy and Tompkins avenues, you’ll see a big four-story building that’s a Doe Fund facility.
The Doe Fund is a nonprofit George and Harriet McDonald created in 1990 to assist homeless New Yorkers by providing occupational training, jobs, transitional housing, education and social services.
This is the end of my first Gates Avenue stroll. The shadows are lengthening, and it’s getting hard to take good photos.
At a moment like this, when what I most need in life is caffeine, I head for Brooklyn Tea at 524 Nostrand Ave. It’s one of many excellent spots to get a bite to eat in Bed-Stuy.
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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