Saturday, November 15, 2008

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832), American Patriot, born in Annapolis, Maryland, studied law abroad and returned to his home state in 1764 as an accomplished scholar. He added "of Carrollton" to his signature to separate himself from the other Charleses in his sprawling family – including his father, Charles Carroll of Annapolis.

In 1775 he was elected to the Continental Congress, and the following year he was the only Roman Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. As a Roman Catholic, he was barred from entering politics, practicing law, and voting. It is reputed that the First Amendment to the Constitution was written in appreciation for his financial support during the Revolutionary War by his peers, discerning his contributions in such stark contrast to the denial of civic rights due to his Catholicism.

Of all the signers he risked the most. He was the wealthiest man in the colonies at the beginning of the Revolution, his wealth being estimated at $2,000,000. He served in the Continental Congress, on the Board of War, through much of the War of Independence, and simultaneously participated in the framing of a constitution for Maryland and forming a state government.

Carroll was also a member of the commission appointed by the Continental Congress, which visited Canada in 1776 along with Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and his cousin John Carroll, in a vain effort to induce the Canadians to join the war against Britain. Shortly after his return, the Maryland Convention decided to join in support for the Revolution. He was elected to represent Maryland on the 4th of July, 1776, though he was too late to vote for the Declaration, he did sign it. He remained a delegate until 1778

Carroll eventually became a state senator in 1781, and when the United States government was created, the Maryland legislature elected him a U.S. Senator from Maryland to the first Federal Congress in 1788. Carroll returned to the Maryland Senate in 1790, where he served until retiring from politics in 1800. His last public act was the laying of the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad on the 4th of July, 1828. After the death of Adams and Jefferson on the 4th of July 1826, he was the only surviving Signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Charles Carroll funded the building of what is known today as Homewood House, a 140 acre estate in northern Baltimore, Maryland as a wedding gift to this son, Charles Jr. and Harriet Chew. Charles Jr. then oversaw the design and construction of the house, which was constructed from 1801 to 1808 at a cost of $40,000, four times the budged expense. Homewood was donated to Johns Hopkins University in 1876 and later became its main campus. Today, Johns Hopkins operates Homewood House as a museum, and its Georgian architecture serves as the inspiration for the Hopkins’ architecture.

In 1832, still regarded as the richest man in the country, Charles Carroll died at the age of ninety-five and was buried at Doughoregan Manor, his favorite country come near Ellicott City, Maryland. He was buried in the family chapel attached to the north end of the mansion. The Georgian brick plantation house, built about 1727, was greatly enlarged and remodeled in the Greek Revival style in the 1830s by the signer's grandson, Charles Carroll V.

Friday, September 19, 2008

126 First Place

At 6pm on Thursday, September 25,2008, a Public Hearing IN THE MATTER OF an application submitted to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA Calendar No. 217-08-BZY)* on behalf of Steven Reich for an extension of time to complete construction pursuant to Zoning Resolution section 11-331, property located at 126 First Place (Block 459, Lot 17), will come before Community District 6, Brooklyn, The Landmarks/Land Use Committee of Brooklyn Community Board 6. It will be held at the auditorium of P.S. 32, 317 Hoyt Street between (Union/President Streets). The owner has raised the roof line to extend the height of the top floor to the same height as the lower floors. On the roof, there is a penthouse that is set back. It looks like the setback will be used as a front balcony, as they have put a wrought iron railing at the roof line, which is totally out of keeping with Brownstone architectural elements. It has also extended the rear and added four rear balconies to each condo.

Friday, June 27, 2008

126 First Place

It is fun to speculate the purpose of all the dozens of rods coming out of the top of 126 First Place, that have been put up in the last several days. Of course, being from the Midwest, my thought was that they are lightning rods, but maybe it is for an electric fence to keep out the pigeons. I believe the flag symbolizes 'topping' the building?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Carroll Gardens Development: Views from my Rooftop

The available FAR at 122 First Place gave the owners a choice of extending into the rear yard or adding an additional floor. They extended into the rear yard, which blocked my kitchen window, and our stairwell windows.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Back Yard View of Development Projects between 1st & 2nd Place

The height on 360 Smith Street condominium project is being calculated under the “Wide Streets” Zoning Text.
The rearyard extension of 122 First Place resulted in my viewing of cinderblocks instead of the sunrise out my kitchen window.
Additional floor and rearyard extension at 126 First Place
The mechanical units on the roof of the recently renovated Hannah Senesh Community Day School. I am continually dismayed that the school had so little respect and understanding of its new home in Carroll Gardens that its Board of Directors approved a design that willfully violates the urban context of our historic rowhouse brownstone neighborhood. And I am constantly amazed that architecture professional journals continue to applaud willful buildings that violate the urban contexts in which they are located, as though exciting architecture is only possible to the degree that it’s contextually inappropriate.

As a follow-up to the meeting at the CB6 Landmark/Land Use Committee on Thursday, April 24th, which approved the proposed Zoning Resolution Text Amendment to define the Place blocks and Carroll, President, and Second Street, between Smith and Hoyt Streets, as “Narrow Streets” for zoning calculation purposes.

I appreciate the concerns of the lady who was almost crying because she claimed that she might lose her property rights. But there has to be a balance between property rights and the rights of preserving our neighborhood.

The apartment house adjacent to where I live on First Place recently built an extension in their rear yard, which resulted in the lost of the window in my kitchen and stairwell. Every morning I miss my 20-year ritual of looking out this window to watch the sunrise, and seeing the people at the subway plaza, enjoying my neighbors amazing homing pigeons soaring above or perched on the clothes lines in the backyards, as I fix my breakfast. My neighbor exercised their rights as a property owner and now I get to look out on their cinder block wall (see above.) Do only property owners have rights? What about my right for air and light?

The NYC Department of Planning Incorrectly Mapped these Streets as "Wide Streets."
Carroll Gardens is a planned community, created by law in 1846 and 1852, and the Department of Planning incorrectly mapped these streets as “wide streets”. The proposed Zoning Resolution Amendment addresses this error. The old Brooklyn law, which is attached to the deed of every property on the Place blocks, sets the metes and bounds of the neighborhood with two 13-foot sidewalks and a 24-foot “carriage way” equaling 50 feet. The Zoning Resolution considers a Wide Street any street 75 feet or more in width.

Historian Frances Morrone in his book, “An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn” says that with great foresight, the surveyor, Richard Butts, planned the area with garden setbacks in 1846. Each house is setback behind 33.5¼ feet deep gardens, which have become the area’s signature. Butts’ cleverness is apparent in two ways. First, the houses are so sited on their lots that they have unusually deep front yards – the “gardens” of Carroll Gardens. Second, he fiddled with the grid in a way one wishes many more developers had done: the east-west streets jag slightly so that houses terminate the vistas along these streets.

The old Brooklyn law specifically notes the northern and southern limits of the streets, with respect to a starting point of the street, clearly indicating that the street line begins at the sidewalk edge, not at the building line. Interestingly, Butts elected to eliminate one street in the normal street grid and then evenly divide up that left over space to create courtyards between the street lines and the building lines.
I consider protecting our heritage as a noble mission that benefits everyone, and that I want to whole-heartily thank the community board our local elected officials for supporting this Zoning Resolution Text Amendment!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Carroll Gardens Courtyard Activities

The Department of Transportation refuses to ticket illegally parked cars in the “courtyards.” They claim they have no enforcement agents. Their legal department is evaluating this problem, but this is only just part of the problem. I would also like your thoughts on if there should be legislation to clarify what elements, including tents, porticos, retaining walls, etc., that can be constructed in the courtyards.

Sidewalk cafes are regulated by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs. I think that courtyards with a commercial overlay, on the Place block corners on Court Street and the corners of President, Carroll and Second Streets, which are conducting commercial activity in their courtyards, should also be regulate by DCA. After all, the courtyards are owned by the City and considered part of the street.

If anybody would get hurt while shopping at one of the stores that use their courtyard, such as Mazzone Hardware, or while eating and drinking at one of the food establishments or beer gardens that serve in their courtyard, there is no indemnification for the City, and it would be liable. This is why the Department of Consumer Affairs should regulate any restaurant, bar, or other commercial activity that operates in a courtyard on the Place blocks on Court Street and on President, Carroll and Second Steets.

Portico in a couryard at 1st Place

Mazzone True Value - 4th Place & Court Street

PJ Handley's - 4th Place & Court Street

Dunkin Donut - 1st Place & Court Street
Gowanus Yacht Club - President & Smith Streets

3rd Place & Court Street. This building is for sale and the realtor mentions the availability of the use of the courtyard.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Carroll Gardens Courtyard Restrictions

The NYC Administrative Codes that protect the courtyards are:
Code §19-132 Restrictions on First Place, Second Place, Third Place and Fourth Place in the borough of Brooklyn. The buildings to be erected upon the lots fronting upon First place, Second place, Third place and Fourth place in the borough of Brooklyn, shall be built on a line thirty-three feet five inches and a quarter of an inch back from the sides or lines of such places as they are now established by the map of the city, and the intervening space of land shall be used for courtyards only.

Code§19-136(b) Obstructions: It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to use any portion of a sidewalk or courtyard, established by law, between the building line and the curb line for the parking, storage, display or sale of motor vehicles.

Old Brooklyn Law creating the courtyards that is attached to deed of every property on the "Place" blocks.

Carroll Gardens Courtyard History

Even though the streets are narrow (24 ft.), NYC DOB consider the Place blocks, and Carroll, President, and Second Streets between Hoyt and Smith as wide streets when considering the FAR of a zoning lot. This allowed developers extra floors on this building at 116 Third Place.

Illegal parking in the courtyard at 100 Fourth Place.

The area of Brooklyn now known as Carroll Gardens was laid out in the mid-1800s with great foresight, by the surveyor Richard Butts; and the neighborhood’s signature courtyards were created by law in 1846 and 1850 as a neighborhood easement. His “Map of the City of Brooklyn and Village of Williamsburgh,” showing the size of blocks and width of streets as laid out by the Commissioner, the old farm lines, water line, and all recent changes in streets, shows that between Henry and Smith Streets, the five streets of Summitt, Woodhull, Rapelje, Cooper and Coles were to be altered to provide for four new streets, First through Fourth Place, that were be 50 feet wide.

The metes and bounds that formed the neighborhood’s “Place” blocks, courtyards, and width of the streets, was legislated in old Brooklyn law in 1846 and 1850, and is attached to the deed of every property on the “Place” blocks. The courtyards are protected by this covenant, owned by the City, and considered part of the street, with the property line beginning at the building line. The old Brooklyn law creating the courtyards was transferred into the New York City Transportation Code.

The old Brooklyn law specifically notes the northern and southern limits of the streets, with respect to a starting point of the street, clearly indicating that the street line begins at the sidewalk edge, not at the building line. The law also clearly lays out the width of the street (two 13-foot sidewalks and a 24-foot "carriage way") equaling 50 feet. Interestingly, Butts elected to eliminate one street in the normal street grid and then evenly divide up that left over space to create courtyards on the "Place" blocks, between the street lines and the building lines.

When City Planning mapped the courtyards as part of the street in the early 1960s, it included the two 33.5¼ feet courtyards as part of the 50-feet street, resulting in a 117.5 foot street. Since zoning allows a higher FAR for “Wide Street”, or streets wider than 75 feet, this has allowed developers in recent years to take advantage in this quirk in the interpretation of the law that created the courtyards. Even though the streets are narrow, this produced an opportunity for developers to add extra stories that are out of character with the brownstone row houses.

The Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association has been working with the local elected officials and New York City Plan to change the zoning code to map the “Place” blocks and President, Carroll, and Second Streets between Hoyt and Smith as narrow streets. To remedy this erroneous interpretation of the law that formed the courtyards, the NYC Department of Planning has proposed the following text amendment, which was first presented, reviewed, and approved by Community Board 6, Landmarks/Land Use Committee on April 24, 2008:

Presentation and review of proposed Zoning Resolution Text Amendment (#N080345ZRK), known as the Carroll Gardens Places Text Amendment, submitted by the Department of City Planning that would define 1st Place, 2nd Place, 3rd Place and 4th Place between Henry Street and Smith Street; and 2nd Street, Carroll Street and President Street between Smith Street and Hoyt Street, in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn Community Board 6 as 'Narrow Streets' for zoning calculation purposes.

Since the early 1990s, another problem threatening the integrity of the courtyards is that the Departments of Transportation and Buildings began issuing curb-cut permits to property owners, who wanted to park their cars in the courtyards. We were told by City Planning that it is probably because in an R-6 zone, if there is 18-feet or more footage in front of a property, that DOB will allow a property owner a permit. The problem with resolving this issue is that the courtyard restriction is in the Transportation Code, and not part of the zoning resolution, and neither DOB nor DOT will claim jurisdiction to resolve this problem, and the Department of Planning says it is an enforcement problem.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Architectural History

President Street between Smith and Hoyt Streets
Carroll Gardens is a quiet residential community that has retained its nineteenth century atmosphere. As with most Victorian neighborhoods, brownstone and brick houses were built on a hill, saving twentieth-century residents from pollution that borders on the east in the Gowanus Canal and on the west and south by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. On Bergen Hill, the gaslight era is preserved in cobblestone streets, trolley tracks, slate sidewalks, ornamental iron fences and stoop railings, as well as the stately brownstone homes themselves.

Most of the major development begin in the late 1860s with the construction of rows of brownstones and was completed by the early 1880s. The housing reflects the general method employed for urban residential development during that time. The Carroll Gardens brownstones are a form of terrace house that evolved in England toward the end of the seventeenth century. By building an entire street of row houses and treating them as an architectural whole, comparatively small homes could be given the dignity of a palace. Architecturally, the buildings reflect the high standards of builder of a century ago. The older houses were custom-designed for prosperous merchants; however, the post-Civil War row houses were produced on a mass production basis for those of more modest means. It was, and still is today, a representative, solidly middle-class community.

Draining of the swampland by the Gowanus Canal in the late 1860s stimulated land speculation east of Smith Street, and the pattern set by the Places was followed. On Smith and Court Streets, stores at street level with living quarters above provide the neighborhood with the shops and service that is required.

The sense of remoteness and the feeling of sunny, airy openness, on the Place Streets, and Carroll and Presidents Streets, is the result of the foresighted, mid-19th century planning of Richard Butts, a surveyor. In his map of 1846, he provided blocks of unusual depth, resulting in lots with houses set back behind front yards 33.5 feet deep. The success of Butts’ plan is that the east-west streets jog slightly so that houses terminate the vistas along these streets. This pattern shut off these streets from the bustle of Court and Smith streets. The impression is that of a protected enclave, an oasis within the city.

The builders used brownstone facing shipped by barge from quarries in Jersey and Connecticut arranged with a wide variety of ornamental elements manufactured in small, local factories to offer house buyers mantles for fireplaces, louvered shutters, banisters, moldings of distinctive designs. The buildings illustrate a number of the popular styles of the late 19th century: late Italianate, Neo-Grec and Victorian Gothic. The woods used for moldings and banisters were mahogany and walnut; while, at the end of the century, oak enjoyed a brief vogue. Although pines of various types were usually secondary woods, red English pine was used as flooring in the early-Victorian brownstones.
Excerpts from the Carroll Gardens Historic District Designation Report, 1973, and Jeanette Jeanes for background material

Monday, April 14, 2008

Recent South Congregation Church History

By the 1940s, the church was thriving and numbered 2400 members, but in the years following World War II, members moved away and dropped to fewer than 100. In 1982, the church, faced with a $9,000 winter heating bill and dwindling membership, the congregation accepted an offer from a developer to convert the church and chapel into luxury apartments.

In a New York Times article “Church Makes Novel Deal with Developer,” dated December 5, 1982, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Neville-Simmons Smith said, ''As you can see, we cannot maintain the building with our meager resources. The plaster has cracked on the wall behind the pulpit, and the old stained-glass windows along the south wall are broken and chipped.”

After the 1851 Romanesque-style church was sold, the congregation worshiped in the former Ladies’ Parlor behind the church. Fortunately, the church complex had just been granted landmark status by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in the spring of 1982, so the church’s exterior could not be architecturally altered.

Reporting why the New York Landmarks Conservancy approved the conversion of the church, its Executive Director Laurie Beckelman wrote in The State of Churches report, “The proposal for the church is innovative in that it enables the congregation to remain within the church complex and continue to serve the immediate community. While plans for the interior call for the retention of as much of the original building fabric as possible, the creation of three residential floor levels will dramatically alter the scale and sense of the original interior space.”

In 1993, the small congregation, lead by Rev. Smith, merged with Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, and in a sad way brought the story of the relationship of South Congregational Church and Plymouth Church to a full circle.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Break in the Steeple of the South Congregational Church

Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Collection

“A break in the steeple of the South Congregation Church,” was reported in the January 4, 1979 Brooklyn Eagle, "Fears that There will be a Big Crash this Afternoon." The article continued, "The slates have been blown away from the lower portion of two of the octagonal sides, it reported, and the wind has thus a ready access to the interior, the result of which is to make the entire tower rock from side to side, with a prospect of collapsing at any moment.”

The tower was described as about eighty feet, and it slopes gradually in from the base until it reaches a sharp point at the top, which is ornamented with a Corinthian capital. The church and tower were constructed about eighteen years ago, and during its construction a shocking accident occurred, which resulted in the instant killing of two men and serious injury to several others. The casualty was caused by the falling of a scaffold in the interior of the edifice.

The article described that it was not a matter of surprise, to those who resided in the neighborhood and had observed the steeple moving from one side to the other during more than ordinary severe gales, that it has not fallen long ago.

South Congregational Church Complex

The South Congregation Church of Brooklyn originated in the year 1851. In the previous year the building site had been purchased at the corner of Court and President Streets. The first building erected upon the site was the present chapel, containing a lecture room, Sabbath school and pastor’s rooms. This building was finished the last week in January 1851, and on the first Sabbath in February it was opened for public worship.

The New England Congregationalist built so much of nineteenth-century Brooklyn, and it is said that the idea for this church was that of Henry Ward Beecher, the colorful pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights. Francis Morrone in his book An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn says that Richard Upjohn had introduced the Romanesque Revival to New York church design in his Church of the Pilgrims (now the Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Brooklyn Heights).

The main church edifice was erected and dedicated in 1857 and is a splendid example of the genre. It was remodeled with the addition of galleries in 1864. The gabled front of the church features a fine receding round arch to either side of this gabled front are the twin towers, which are marvelous. Built with four stages featuring stepped sloping setoffs, the towers terminate in corbels and merlons and, pointing high in the sky and visible all up and down court street, finials that rise from pinnacles at the four corners of the square towers.

The Ladies’ Parlor is also Romanesque Rivival. It is faced in brick with extensive terra-cotta trim, all in rusty red. There is “Ruskinian” polychromy in the voussoirs of the entrance arch, an asymmetrically placed and vertically accentuated projecting bay rising a story above the rest of the building, and lush bands of terra-cotta ornament along the top of the building. The architect, F. Carles Merry, designed in the same year a group of wonderful row houses on Lenox Avenue (nos. 220 to 228) between 121st and 122nd Streets in Harlem.

The rectory, just to the west of the Ladies’ Parlor, is yet another fine work, built thirty-six years after the main church and in a different style. The architect was Woodruff Leeming. It is in a Gothic Style with a basement and parlor floor of rock-faced brownstone; above is red brick with brownstone trim. The stoop is on the left and leads to a doorway set within a pointed-arch molding. On the right is a round bay. Two gables, both set with pointed arches, top the house. Leeming was born in Illinois, but came to Brooklyn as a lad to attend the prestigious Polytechnic Institute, following which he went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ecole des Beauz-Arts in Paris. He worked for Heins & La Farge at the time they won the competition to design the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Leeming struck out on his own, establishing his office in Brooklyn in the very year he designed the rectory, which may have been the first commission of his private practice. Twenty-one years later, he designed the very large parish house of Plymouth Church on Orange Street.

The South Congregational Church Complex was designated a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1982, and was put on the National Register of Historic Places on November 4, 1982.

South Congregational Church Complex, Northwest corner of Court and President
Chapel. 1851, architect unknown
Church, 1857, architect unknown
Ladies Parlor, 257 President Street, 1889, Frederick Carles Merry, Architect

Rectory, 255 President Street, 1893, Woodruff Leeming, Architect

Friday, April 11, 2008

Brooklyn Public Library, Carroll Gardens Branch

Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library

The Carroll Park Branch begun in 1901 in rented quarters at Smith and Carroll Street, and then moved its current location at Clinton and Union in 1905. The newPress clippings describing the opening ceremony, the fifth Carnegie Branch built in Brooklyn, “a model one in every respect, large, airy, well-lighted and perfectly equipped.” The spacious, 14,000 plus square foot interior has the original dramatic barrel-vaulted ceiling supported by columns and some of the original details.

Designed in the Beaux-Art Classicism style by the architect William B. Tubby (1858-1944), it is a modest structure with classical lines built of Harvard brick and limestone, and features Ionic columns, pediment, arches, roof balustrade, pilasters, and dentilated cornice. It nonetheless has a kind of monumentality and stately presence in its Carroll Gardens neighborhood setting. The builder was John Thatcher & Son, who also built the Flatbush Carnegie Branch for R.L. Daus, Architect.

Tubby was among the top Brooklyn architects, born in Iowa, Tubby came to Brooklyn to attend Brooklyn Friends School and then Polytechnic Institute, following which he went to work for Ebenezer Roberts, architect of Charles Pratt’s house on Clinton Avenue. Tubby succeeded to the Roberts practice and designed some of the most distinctive Brooklyn buildings of the 1880s and 1890s, including the Queen Anne row houses at 864 to 872 Carroll Street (1887) in Park Slope, the row houses at 262 to 272 Hicks Street (1887-88) in Brooklyn Heights, the Charles Adolph Millard Pratt house (1890-93) on Clinton Avenue, and the 20th Precinct Police Station House (1894-95) on Wilson Avenue in Bushwick.

The Carroll Gardens Branch has always served the large Italian-American community. In 1907, the Brooklyn Eagle reported that free lectures were given in Italian every Sunday evening. In the 1930s, Carroll Gardens was famous for its citizenship classes and services, and through the National League of American Citizenship helped over 10,000 people secure their citizenship pagers. Its 1933 annual report notes, “there isn’t any place like this where aliens can be helped. There isn’t any other place with the knowledge and patience to care for them.” Mrs. Vincent Astor was the chairman of the advisory council of the League at the time. Today, Italian-Americans are joined by a diverse population that includes Latinos and African-Americans.

In 1973, the branch closed for renovations. When it reopened, the building had been completely air-conditioned and repainted; a list of new features included, new electrical service, lighting, flooring, and a new roof. It was renamed Carroll Gardens, a change requested by the community. In addition to its regular services, the branch also conducts programs for children and adults.

In 2005, the library under went a $1.5 million renovations to make the branch wheelchair accessible. The project, completed in spring 2006, included painting the auditorium, widening of the Union Street entrance, new wheelchair ramps, a wheelchair-accessible restroom, and a new elevator to the main reading floor, balcony and basement levels.
An active Friends group supports the branch. Telephone number is (718) 596-6972.

With excerpts from “An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn”, by Francis Morrone, published in 2001 by Gibbs Smith, and are used with permission by the author

Friday, April 4, 2008

A picture gets action

At the CGNA February meeting, the developer of 360 Smith Street William Stein made a presentation of his controversial 49-unit condo development that would be built over the F and G Subway Plaza at Second Place. His architect Armand Quadrini of KSQ Architects promised to get back to the elected officials about how much of the plaza would be covered by the development. When his architect failed to get back to them, this blogger published a picture showing that 1/3 of the plaza would be covered over by the condo project. Council Member Bill deBlasio’s and Assembly Member Joan Millman’s legislative aids sent the picture to the developer, and “a picture get action.” Last Thursday, Stein made a special trip in from Garden City to walk the aids through the plans for the plaza. He also graciously agreed to come in from Long Island again last Sunday to show the plans to community members.

He brought his pictures and challenged the correctness of the rendering that I posted on my blog which showed the 22-foot portion of plaza that would be be built over and that the community would loose 1/3 of the plaza to the development. I responded that I know the 1/3 claim didn't include the 14-foot sidewalk, but the illustration showing what portion would be lost is correct. It was done by a professional from a top engineering company, and the perspective is aligned perpendicular to the horizon and diagonally with the property line.

He told us that the area around the newsstand was actually commercial space and shouldn’t be considered as lost public space. He plans to put in a news and sundry store with an entrance on Smith Street that would be operated by the current newsstand operator.

In response to the picture, his publicist must have sent a press release to the Brooklyn Paper. It published an article dated April 5, 2008, “Plaza-Palooza,” without soliciting community comment. The article stated, “Stein’s design show there will be a 20-foot covered path to the subway entrance, because his building will project over what is now open space.” This is the 22-foot of open space that I said would be lost. Stein said that there would be a clear canopy over the entrance. Since there is no commercial overlay for retail on that block of Smith Street, he assumes that the community would support a change of zoning to allow a commercial overlay for the sundry and other retail shop being considered for the Smith Street frontage.

Billie Stein showing us where the new entrance pathway to the subway will begin.

He said that the roof of the subway extends under most of the parking lot, and that he has to build a platform over the roof to support the building. The subway roof supposedly was constructed for a load-bearing for a 4 or 5-story commercial building and should support his building which would weigh less, but the MTA still required the platform. Neighbors complained about the vibrations when they did the test borings in the parking lot; now the concern will be about what will be the damage to their homes when they drill to bedrock to secure the platform.

He said that constructing the platform is very expensive, and that he will lose the ground floor for parking. He said that this is why it is necessary for him to build to the maximum of the FAR that is allowed for wide streets, but he agreed with the community pursuit of a change to the zoning resolution to stop the wide-street allowance. He said that he is also providing amenities for the public easement for access to the subway, such as lighting and maintenance without getting any FAR allowance like most buildings.

The white wall in the rendering is the retaining wall that currently separates the plaza from the parking lot.

Several weeks ago, Stein asked the NYC Parks Department for a permit to remove the trees on the plaza. They supposedly gave him permission to remove the two trees on the 22-feet portion of the plaza that is privately-owned, as the NYC Parks Department has no jurisdiction on private property. Parks would not allow removal of the other three honey locust trees just because the architect wanted different trees. I said that I preferred that the courtyard of the parking lot look like the other courtyards along Second Place. He also explained that the incline of the parking lot prevented this, and that it needed to be terraced, and asked our advice on putting in planters along the sidewalk.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Louis Valentino Jr. Ballfield in Carroll Park

Court Street, between Carroll and President Streets

The property for the park’s ballfield that borders Court Street was acquired by the Parks Department on June 3, 1953. The playground was first built in 1957 and was renamed “Louis Valentino Jr. Ballfield” under a local law introduced by Councilmember Stephen DiBrienza and signed by Mayor Rudy Giuliani on June 25, 1996. On February 5, 1996, Valentino, who grew up in Red Hook, was killed while searching for wounded firefighters in a three-alarm blaze in an illegal Flatlands garage.

Valentino fulfilled his lifelong aspiration to become a firefighter when he joined the Fire Department in 1984. He was assigned to Engine Company 281 where he battled fires for two years. He was twice cited for his bravery, in 1987 and again in 1990, and served with Ladder Company 147 in Flatbush. Valentino was accepted to the elite Rescue Company 2 in Crown Heights in 1993, joining the ranks of the city’s most experienced and versatile. A commemoration plaque on the ballfield fence memorializes that “The Louis Valentino Jr. Ballfield preserves the memory of a man who not only demonstrated selfless devotion to fighting fires and saving lives but was also renowned for his prowess as a member of the Fire Department softball team.”

In 1999, Councilmember DiBrienza allotted $603,773 to refurbish the .90-acre ballfield. The scope of the renovation included paving the park’s field with new asphalt, chain link fencing, single and double gates, benches, new baseball, basketball, and bocce recreational facilities. In addition, the existing perimeter landscape was enhanced with additional plant material to create a grove and community garden.

Monday, March 24, 2008

One-Third of Carroll Gardens' Subway Plaza Will Be Lost to Development

The residents of Carroll Gardens will lose one-third (22-feet) of the Second Place Subway Plaza (in red in the above picture) , and an important neighborhood tradition, when developer William Stern’s controversial out-of-context condominium complex is built over the subway plaza.

The 70-foot high condo project will be a massive intrusion at the corner of Smith and Second Place, which is an important gateway to the historic Carroll Gardens neighborhood. Envision a 7-story Hannah Senesh building, perhaps the most out-of-context building in Carroll Gardens, topped off with a hat.

The loss of a third of the plaza will also affect an important neighborhood tradition, that of reading a paper, talking to friends, or making those last puffs on a cigarette, while waiting until the F or G train appear on the Culver Viaduct, the 91-foot-tall subway bridge that spans the Gowanus Canal, as it makes its way to the below ground Carroll Street Station. When the train appears, everyone rushes down the steps to the subway to catch the Manhattan-bound train.

The Plaza has been open to the public in its current configuration since the subway was built in the 30s. The plaza consists of both public and privately owned sections. The publicly owned area consists of the 13-foot sidewalk and the 33’-5’25” courtyard. The courtyard is measured from the edge of the sidewalk (the house-side edge, not curb-side).

To visually understand where the courtyard ends and Stern’s property begins, look for the “S” in “Smith Street” in the mural on the freedom wall (see photo on the sidebar). From the “S”, it is 22-feet to the stairway to the subway. The property line then runs on a diagonal to a few feet north (towards the newsstand) of the MTA manhole. Stern claims that the Condo Association will maintain the 22- foot corridor that commuters will have to walk through to get to the subway stairway, as well as the 33’-5’25” courtyard.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Carroll Park Parkhouse

Smith Street, between Carroll and President Streets
Brooklyn Collectibles (
This 1928 picture of the Carroll Park Comfort Station shows a central open area and entry to the park that wonderfully frames the park.

All plans and drawings related to park improvements post-1933 are housed in the NYC Parks and Recreational Department’s Map File Division, located at their design and construction building known as the Olmsted Center in Flushing Meadows, Corona Park. All park plans prior to 1934 are housed at the Municipal Archives.

According to records at the Parks Department Map File Division, there is a drawing dated 1935 for “alterations to the Comfort Station” that illustrates new walls and foundations in the center section between the restrooms. The floor plan labels it as a “Playroom.” The park received an overall redesign and renovation in 1935-36. Does anyone know when the Carroll Park Comfort Station was originally constructed, as it may be sometime before I can research.

The brick parkhouse was again renovated in 1994 upon completion of a major refurbishing of the park in 1993. Additional funds from the City of New York were secured, thanks to the help of City Council Member Steve DiBrienza, to renovate the parkhouse. In a ceremony on November 24, 1997, the parkhouse was named in memory of Robert Scott Acito, a former District Manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6. Link to Robert Acito Parkhouse

Recent Carroll Bridge History

Brooklyn Public Library Brooklyn Collection
Monte’s Venetian Room, an Italian restaurant two blocks away on Carroll Street, repainted the bridge in green, white, and red – the colors of the Italian flag around 1978.

The organization Place in History assembled a group of neighborhood residents to rebuild a historic garden once located on the banks of the Gowanus Canal in October 1998. The original garden was created in 1912 at the foot of the Carroll Street Bridge. The restoration of the garden was a public project designed to celebrate the reopening of the Gowanus Pumping Station, which now flushes the Canal with clean water from New York Harbor. Place in History strives to broaden public exposure to the complex histories underlying everyday urban settings.

On November 12, 1985 the Carroll Street Bridge rolled into the open position to let the tanker Jet Trader pass through the Gowanus Canal. Two days later, an inspection revealed that the bridge was plagued by serious structural problems. These included corroded steel, deck holes and overworked and failing machinery. Department of Transportation engineers did not consider the bridge sound, and therefore decided to leave it in the open position. This severed a nearly 100-year-old link between the Carroll Gardens and Park Slope communities in Brooklyn.

Inadvertently, the designation of the bridge as a City landmark became an obstacle in getting funding to upgrade and repair the bridge. To be eligible for State and Federal funding for the estimated $3 million rehabilitation cost, the bridge would have had to be rebuilt to "modern" standards - with a steel deck instead of a wooden one and with other changes. These would not have been in accordance with the wishes of the Landmarks Commission that requires that the bridge retain its historic elements that include its wooden decking.

In 1988, the Department of Transportation, having successfully restored the Williamsburg Bridge to full operation, decided to redesign and rebuild the Carroll Street Bridge according to original specifications. To complete the work, the City made an even bolder decision - to use primarily City workers. Accordingly, from February through September 1989, City Bridge workers raced to completely reconstructed the Carroll Street Bridge in time for its 100th birthday on September 9, 1989.

From the bridge operator's house to the wooden deck and sidewalks, the bridge is a nearly exact replica of the original structure. Wherever possible, original parts were refurbished and used in the reconstruction. City Bridge workers’ restoration of the Carroll Street Bridge was completed on time and within the projected cost.

History of the Carroll Street Retractile Bridge

Retractile Mechanism and Carroll Street Garden 1912
The bridge slides open to a perpendicular angle in the middle of the Gowanus Canal until shipping has passed and it slides back again to close
(Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library)

Retractile Bridges date back to drawbridges. Although never a very popular design, they were used in the mid-19th century for narrow crossings where maximum horizontal clearance was required. One clear drawback of this model was that a significant amount of land had to be reserved on the bank of the waterway to "park" the structure when it was in the open position. At the turn of the century, New York City boasted five retractile bridges.

The Carroll Street Bridge is a simple, largely utilitarian structure that consists of two steel-plate girders that support the deck, two wooden, cantilevered sidewalks, and a central latticework frame supporting long stays that fan out to connect to both sides of the bridge. The stays support the structure when the Bridge is in operation. Swinging gates close the roadway and outside pedestrian walkways when the bridge is open.

The genius of the retractile bridge is not immediately evident. Under the wooden deck, the girders are supported on a set of wheels that rest on steel rails. Much like a cable car, the bridge is drawn in and out by a cable that runs into the operating house located on the western side of the Canal. The steam engine that originally operated the bridge was converted to an electrical motor in 1908.

In large part, the Carroll Street Bridge had remained unchanged over its first hundred years. In addition to the conversion from steam to electricity, alterations have included the replacement of the rails, wheels, axles, and the elegant iron hand railings was replaced with cruder angle irons in the late 40’s.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Carroll Street Bridge

Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal, 1912
(Brooklyn Collection, Brooklyn Public Library)
The Carroll Street Bridge, built in 1888-89, remains a symbol of the industrial past of the Gowanus Canal and the ongoing vitality of the surrounding communities. It is a retractile bridge, which rolls back horizontally on wheels set on steel rails, to allow shipping to pass.

In 1887, the wooden bridge that had been built when the Canal was opened was shut down because of deterioration. Engineers from the Brooklyn Department of Public Works decided to build a new bridge rather than rehabilitate the old structure. A dispute followed over what kind of bridge should be built. Robert VanBuren, the Department's Chief Engineer, and George Ingram, the Assistant Engineer, favored the construction of a steel retractile bridge.

According to the landmark designation report by Jay Shockley, the wooden deck rested on two long-steel girders, the west halves of which were carried on rollers resting on three rails on the shore. It was drawn in and out by a cable running into a picturesque little brick engine house on the west side of the canal. The bridge would slowly slide back, diagonally, until it was next to the roadway on the western side, opening a channel 36-feet wide.

The trapezoid-shaped bridge is 107-feet long, and is one of the oldest bridges in New York City, and the oldest of four such bridges in the whole country. The other bridges are the Borden Avenue Bridge in Queens and two in Boston built in 1890’s. In 1986, the tracks were so out of alignment that the bridge had to be closed. The Landmarks Commission designated it as a City Landmark in 1987, calling it “rare and unusual”. From February through September 1989, NYC City Bridge workers completely reconstructed the Carroll Street Bridge, in time for its 100th birthday on September 9, 1989.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Carroll Gardens Historic District

View of Holt Street at President Street and President Street between Holt and Smith Streets
The Carroll Gardens Historic District includes the buildings on President and Carroll Streets between Smith and Hoyt Streets and the western ends of the two blocks between President and First Streets. It includes over 160 buildings and only eight block faces.

Historian Frances Morrone in his book, “An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn” says that with great foresight, the surveyor, Richard Butts, planned the area with garden setbacks in 1846. Each house is setback behind 33.5¼ feet deep gardens, which have become the area’s signature. Butts’ cleverness is apparent in two ways. First, the houses are so sited on their lots that they have unusually deep front yards – the “gardens” of Carroll Gardens. Second, he fiddled with the grid in a way one wishes many more developers had done: the east-west streets jag slightly so that houses terminate the vistas along these streets.

In September 25, 1973, the Landmarks Preservation commission, designated a Carroll Gardens Historic District: “finding its quiet residential community, developed between 1869 and 1884, retains much of its nineteenth century atmosphere; that because of separate self-contained entity within the larger fabric of the area, the sunny tree-lined streets, with rows of low-lying houses set uniformly far back behind carefully tended gardens, achieve a sense of space unusual in an urban environment, that the long rows of two and three-story houses are architecturally compatible as the result of the cooperation between neighborhood builders and architectural coherence and dignity to the streetscape, that the architecture is representative of the popular styles of the period, including the late Italianate, neo-Grec and Victorian Gothic, that the District was, and still is today, a solid community which, because of its location, atmosphere, architecture and spirit continues to attract newcomers to the area.”

Butts also planned the area to the south, bounded by 1st Place, Henry Street, 4th Place, and Smith Street with the same setback gardens. (The Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association is currently evaluating expanding the Carroll Gardens Historic District to include these streets.) Butts’ “Map of the City of Brooklyn and Village of Williamsburgh”, shows blocks of unusual depth. The map indicates that between Henry and Smith Streets, the five streets of Summitt, Woodhull, Rapelje, Cooper and Coles were to be altered to provide for four new streets, First through Fourth Place, that were to be 50 feet wide. Houses on these streets were to have front courtyards 33.5¼ feet deep.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Carroll Gardens Today

Carroll Gardens is named for the neighborhood’s signature setback gardens, which was planned with great foresight by the surveyor Richard Butts in 1846. In that year, a law established the gardens on the four Places between Henry and Smith Streets and deemed the courtyards “shall be built on a line 33 feet 5 ¼ inches” that “shall be used for courtyards only”. The heart of the neighborhood is Carroll Park, Brooklyn’s third oldest park, which is bustling with activity with its play areas and bocce ball courts.

The neighborhood is famous for its eclectic mix of restaurants, food and pastry shops, a combination of food of the local Italians, who immigrated to the area in the earlier part of the twentieth century, with the taste of the newly settle young urban professionals for a wide range of international gourmet food along Smith Street’s “restaurant row”.

The Carroll Gardens Historic District so designated on September 25, 1973 is one of the smallest historic districts in the city, notable for its atypical setbacks that create deep front yards for the Neo-Grec and Italianate style brownstone rowhouses. The Carroll Street Bridge, built in 1888-89, remains a symbol of the industrial past of the Gowanus Canal and the ongoing vitality of the surrounding communities.

The area’s history goes back to the purchase of a large tract of land by the Dutch West India Company from the Mohawk Indians in 1636 whose tribal chief was Gowanus. The street names also reflect its history: Samuel Smith, a Brooklyn mayor: Charles Hoyt, a local real estate speculator; the farm families of Rapelje, Sackett, Hicks, and Degraw; and an early president of the Kings County Medical Society, Dr. Thomas Henry.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Why I started this blog

I have started this blog to post Carroll Gardens history items in preparation for the neighborhood being granted New York City landmark status. I, like many Carroll Gardeners, am upset that our neighborhood is being inundated with development that does not respect its rich history and tradition. David Lewis, the pioneering founder of the firm Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh, distinguishes history as the study of the past, and tradition is the bridge between the past and the future. Unlike history, tradition is open-ended, forward-looking, and perpetually unfinished. It is the vital language that citizens use when they relate local heritage to what they want their community to become in facing the challenges of change.

In accepting the Congress for the New Urbanism’s Athena Medal for lifetime achievement, he stated. “I am always amazed that in our architecture schools, we continue to train students to design buildings as egotistical art-objects, as though architects have a divine right to disregard the traditions and urban form of the cities into which they insert their statements. And I am constantly amazed that our professional journals continue to applaud willful buildings that violate the urban contexts in which they are located, as though exciting architecture is only possible to the degree that it’s contextually inappropriate.

“Buildings do not exist in a vacuum. Every city has its own language. When we travel from one city to another, what we enjoy is getting to know the language of that city, its streets and its rivers, its squares and its markets, its history and its people. And the deeper we delve, the more intriguing the city becomes for us.”