Flatbush block with 38 historic row houses may be landmarked
Most are ‘Kinko houses’ designed by two of Brooklyn's most prominent architects.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to put a standout group of row houses in Flatbush on its calendar for consideration as a historic district called the Melrose Parkside Historic District.
Located on Parkside Avenue between Flatbush and Bedford avenues in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, the 38 single and two-family duplex homes designed by two of Brooklyn’s most prominent architects, Benjamin Driesler and Axel Hedman, make up “a remarkably cohesive and intact neighborhood” said LPC’s Director of Research, Kate Lemos McHale.
The proposed historic district was identified in response to a request from property owners, letters of support, surveys and a petition signed by Parkside Avenue Property Owners, LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said.
“This is another exciting neighborhood because we’ve been talking to many of the owners for a long time now and there’s a lot of pride of place here in this group,” Carroll said. “This group of buildings is a standout in the larger neighborhood.”
Calendaring is the first step in the designation process; a public hearing and a vote will be held early in the fall, Carroll said.
Many are ‘Kinko houses’
The houses were built for developers William A. A. Brown and Eli H. Bishop & Son between 1909 and 1915. Of the 38 houses within the proposed district, 20 were constructed as duplexes often referred to as Kinko houses — a distinct residential building type of two-family duplex homes with separate private entrances that originated in Brooklyn in 1905. Kinko houses were popularized by the Kings and Westchester Land Company (hence the name Kinko), according to Lemos McHale.
Lemos McHale said LPC’s reserach department considers the area’s Kinko houses to be “among the finest representations of the type in Brooklyn.”
Driesler “drew upon the neoclassical vocabulary” to compose six distinct designs to create what were noted in a 1909 advertisement as “the most artistic fronts in Greater New York, with interiors to match,” she said. In 1909 a Brooklyn Eagle article on the duplexes called them “the latest type of modern house building with artistic and varied fronts of fine architectural design.”
The other 18 houses were constructed as single family row houses.
“Based on the high quality of the architectural design and the level of integrity that contributes to the proposed district [and its] sense of place, the research department recommends the commission vote to add the Melrose Parkside Historic District to its calendar for designation,” Lemos McHale said.
Where a once grand (and possibly haunted) estate once stood
The name Melrose Parkside is a reflection of the district’s history. The grand Melrose Hall was built in the 18th century by an Englishman named Lane, back when the area was still known as Long Island, according to Suzanne Spellen’s “Walkabout” published in Brownstoner. The estate included formal gardens, outbuildings, a large farm and slave quarters. It was located between today’s Parkside Avenue (at that time mapped as Robinson Road) and Melrose Park. Lane sold the estate to British loyalist Colonel William Axtell.
In 1883, local physician and real estate speculator Dr. Homer Bartlett purchased Melrose Hall, According to Spellen, the manor was said to be haunted. Some of the spirits belonged to American soldiers killed in the dungeons beneath the halls, kept as prisoners by Colonel Axtell. When Dr. Bartlett tore down most of the manor, secret cellars with chains on the walls were found.
Bartlett proposed to build a suburban development he planned to call Melrose Park. The projected development went unrealized, according to Lemos McHale, and an 1886 Bartlett sold most of the property to the wealthy brewer and speculator William Brown. Brown’s son, William Arthur Alexander Brown, took over development of the holdings following his father’s death in 1905.
In addition to the two rows of duplex houses designed by Driesler which were completed in 1910, a row of single-family no-basement houses by Driesler were nearing completion in 1912. Property on the north side was sold to developer Eli Bishop & Son in late 1913, and by 1915 development within the proposed historic district was completed with a row of American basement, single-family houses designed by Axel Hedman.
While once almost entirely occupied by white residents, Parkside Avenue “continues to reflect the diversity of Greater Flatbush,” Lemos McHale said.
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