The Parfitt Brothers’ luxurious flats in Brooklyn Heights
It’s easy to overlook the delights of this section of late 19th century apartment buildings in Brooklyn Heights if you don’t look up. The Berkeley and Grosvenor Apartments at 111-117 Montague Street were designed in 1885 by the well-known Brooklyn-based architects Parfitt Brothers.
The brothers, who made a name for themselves for townhouse architecture, were also prolific designers of the luxury apartments that were so fashionable towards the end of the century. In Brooklyn Heights, they received not one but three residential building contracts from two different developers in the 1880s.
They designed the Montague Apartments at 105 Montague Street for William Ziegler. According to Brownstoner columnist Suzanne Spellen, the Montague was bold and luxurious with Tiffany decor and elevator service to every floor. There were only 14 apartments, two per floor, for the expensive sum of $ 100 a month.
Just one block away, Henry Weil commissioned the brothers to build the twin buildings Berkeley and Grosvenor. According to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Weil received planning permission in March 1885 for two seven-story brick and stone buildings that cost $ 140,000. 14 families were to be accommodated in each building.
As with the Montague, the Parfitt Brothers opted for the Queen Anne style design. At street level, the thick brownstone walls are pierced with arched entrance bays and present a solid, imposing presence. The names of the buildings are engraved above the entrances, with Berkeley to the west and Grosvenor to the east.
Above the firmness of the brownstone base, the upper levels develop into a more fanciful expression of Queen Anne with rich red brick, terracotta ornamentation, and iron balconies and fire escape.
While each building has its own name and address, the Parfitt brothers designed the apartments so that they can be read as one building. Double rows of dormers extend along the roof line, and the center is interrupted by a massive central gable.
The terracotta ornamentation is distributed over the facade. There are swans, horses, shields, abstract flowers and at the very top of this central pediment a plaque with the date “1885”.
The buildings were reported as completed in 1886, and advertisements for rentals of the apartments and businesses were running late that year. Until 1914, the apartments in the buildings were advertised as “newly decorated” and described as “very selected apartments for luxury and sophistication”. Four- and seven-bedroom units are available for $ 600 to $ 1,000 per year.
The buildings in the historic Brooklyn Heights neighborhood still have a powerful and imaginative presence on Montague Street. Both buildings are owned and still rented out – although the original apartments have undoubtedly been somewhat dismantled as there are now 30 units in Berkeley and 27 in Grosvenor.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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