Brooklyn Structure: A Twentieth Century Invader within the Heights
Brooklyn Heights is known for its 19th-century row house character with graceful staircases and quirky charm, but amid the quaint streets there are some interesting 20th-century intruders.
Right on Brooklyn Heights Promenade, at 160 Columbia Heights, is an Art Modern / Art Deco yellow brick apartment building designed in 1937 by architect A. Rollin Caughey for construction company Silk & Hitlin.
Caughey designed the 11-story building to replace several houses on the site – a move that the Brooklyn Daily Eagle identified as “fine old heights” in 1936 was not uncommon[s] Apartments are being demolished to make way for residential operations. ”The location was a prime location for the new tower, on an exquisite corner overlooking the waterfront, overlooking the East River and Manhattan.
Caughey appears to have had a solid home design business, some with partner William F. Evans, Jr. under the name Caughey & Evans.
While the height of the building is above the more humble 19th-century houses next door, the entrance is fairly low key and is right at street level so the adjacent staircase still protrudes beyond it.
The gentle curves of the entrance and the red and black brick details are as decorative as the building gets.
The facades of Columbia Heights and Clark Street have corner windows and low-key brick details. Repairs over the years have resulted in a brick replacement, and the dark brick details are a bit dulled.
The waterfront façade is a bit lush, with angular bay windows that rise in the middle of the façade and curved balconies at the corners.
Thanks to the building’s strong funding, we know exactly where the building’s elements came from – so if you’re wondering who did the original plastering or what type of stove would have been installed, you’re in luck.
The full-page ad listed all of the participating vendors as well as the enviable features, including soundproofing between apartments, easy subway access, and a promise that views of the Manhattan skyline would remain unobstructed. Some mod-cons that are no longer as common were combo baskets and utility cabinets, as well as dedicated radio sockets.
The building, now a cooperative, was originally built with 81 apartments with units of two to eight rooms. According to an early promotional brochure for the building, it contained “some duplex penthouses”.
Advertisements for the building often mentioned its prime location and enviable view. One perk that wouldn’t have been part of the original promotion is the Brooklyn Heights Promenade – construction of the lookout point and underlying Brooklyn-Queens Expressway began in 1946 and wasn’t completed until 1950. Early renters would have resigned to the noise and construction dust, but if they’d stayed there they would have been rewarded with access to an iconic Brooklyn amenity.
The building is adjacent to the Clark Street entrance to the boardwalk and Fort Stirling Park, an often overlooked green space. Pocket Park was once the site of a War of Independence fortress named after Lord Stirling, a general in the Continental Army.
160 Columbia Heights are not only visible to passers-by on the boardwalk, but their visibility has increased with the increase in public access to the boardwalk. The view has gotten greener in recent years thanks to Brooklyn Bridge Park.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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