Brooklyn structure: Neo-Grec in Prospect Heights

Editor’s note: A version of this post was originally published in 2013. You can view the original contribution here.

We know our historic neighborhoods have beautiful apartment blocks, but often the commercial blocks are neglected – both in terms of landmarks and in terms of the sheer appreciation for good architecture.

This is often the case for obvious reasons, since commercial spaces such as retail stores can be changed and renovated so often that the facade has long since lost its original appearance. Sometimes a building seems to go through a whole new facade and interior every two years, especially if it is a restaurant. But sometimes they manage to stay more or less intact and that can indeed be a visual delight.

Take this building at 375-379 Flatbush Avenue, for example. It is a classic Victorian corner building with retail stores on the ground floor and apartments above. In contrast to most such buildings, which have a business entrance in the central tower, this one reserves the central door for the tenants above. But then this one is a bit different from many other corner buildings.

The original owner, John Konvalinka, owned this oddly shaped corner lot as well as the two lots next door on Sterling Place. In 1885 he had the architect William Cook design a group of Neo-Grec buildings that complement each other and fit into the property.

The houses he built between 185 and 187 sterling fit the block nicely, but the corner shop / retail building couldn’t be centered and still fit in the space, especially if he wanted that distinctive and attractive Second Reich tower.

Brooklyn Architecture 375 Flatbush Avenue Observation Heights

It is thanks to Cook’s skills that he managed to create a balanced building that really is anything but. That’s because the houses on Sterling wear the eye around the block and give the appearance of symmetry.

The avenue blocks of nearby Park Slope abound in these classic High Victorian Corner Tower buildings, and Prospect Heights has a few too. Bedford Stuyvesant too. They instantly convey a time and place in the mind’s eye, a lovelier and slower time when women in bustling dresses and men in morning suits and hats shop in Flatbush Avenue stores.

Brooklyn Architecture 375 Flatbush Avenue View Heights William Cook

This building has three storefronts, all of which are under the original lower cornice, and although quite altered, they still have a strong presence. The tower in the style of the Second Empire has a roof made of slate and most of the widow’s path with cast-iron hoods. The building also has its original door and strong brownstone gable windows.

These are Cook’s only buildings in the Prospect Heights Historic District, but he obviously knew her way around brownstone and neo-grec design. Flatbush Avenue was well on its way to becoming a major retail corridor as well as a major north / south transportation route.

Brooklyn Architecture 375 Flatbush Avenue View Heights William Cook

From the park to downtown Brooklyn and from the 1880s retail stores with apartments or apartment buildings above Flatbush Avenue. This one is as good as any other along the Strip, a proper shop front and a good building.

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