New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) held a public hearing on the proposed East 25th Street Historic District in Flatbush, Brooklyn and this week, voted to designate this historic district in East Flatbush. The new historically designated district is a cohesive group of 56 Renaissance Revival style row houses built by a single developer, the Henry Meyer Building Company, between 1909 and 1912. Located on East 25th Street between Clarendon Road and Avenue D, this is the first historic district in East Flatbush.
Originally separate from the city of Brooklyn, Flatbush remained largely rural into the 1890s and was annexed by Brooklyn in 1894. New transportation lines like the Brooklyn, Flatbush & Coney Island Railroad, opened in 1878 along the present-day Brighton subway line, and the construction of Prospect Park (Olmsted & Vaux, 1865-73, a designated New York City Scenic Landmark) primed Flatbush for residential development. Developers initially focused on the areas closest to the park, including the section now known as Prospect Lefferts Gardens and the suburban areas of Prospect Park South, Ditmas Park, and Fiske Terrace, designated New York City Historic Districts begun before 1905. At that time, the area round East 25th Street was still semi-rural, consisting mostly of wood-framed buildings scattered along an incomplete street grid.
Within a few years, new transportation routes to and through the neighborhood were spurring intensive development in the vicinity of East 25th Street. Chief among these were Nostrand Avenue streetcar line, opened in 1906, which crossed the new Williamsburg Bridge, linking Flatbush with Manhattan’s Lower East Side; and a substantial upgrade and expansion of the Brighton railroad line completed in 1908.
The Henry Meyer Building Company purchased the site of the proposed historic district in April of 1909. Born in Germany around 1864, Meyer immigrated to the United States while still in his teens. Starting in the 1890s, his firm constructed approximately 700 houses in Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills neighborhood, where it also operated a mill to make interior trim for its homes. The firm’s decision to venture outside that area and into the Flatbush market may have resulted from Meyer’s membership in the Cortelyou Club, which stood near the proposed district. (He is not to be confused with Henry A. Meyer, another Flatbush developer and Cortelyou Club member, who was unrelated.)
Meyer’s East 25th Street houses were executed in the Renaissance Revival style, featuring limestone or brownstone fronts, full-height rounded or angled projecting bays, classically ornamented entrance surrounds, and foliated keystones. Unlike similar houses constructed elsewhere in Brooklyn at that time, they were built as single-family rather than two-family houses, reflecting Flatbush’s affluent reputation.
In its marketing, Meyer’s firm highlighted the area’s excellent transit facilities and easy access to Brighton Beach and Coney Island, as well as “modern” features such as parquet floors, oak and birch trim from the company’s own mill, up-to-date plumbing, laundry facilities, gas and electric fixtures, and burglarproof doors.
Following an economic downturn coinciding with their completion, many of the houses languished on the market. In 1912, these unsold homes were purchased as a group by another Brooklyn developer, Realty Associates, which subsequently sold them off. “They were built too good to sell in the present slow times,” Brooklyn Life reported at the time, “and rather than retail them at lower prices the Henry Meyer Building Company decided to sell them in bulk and get out of the building business for the present.”
During their early years, these houses were owned by white merchants or other upper-middle-class professionals. In recent decades, their ownership has come to reflect Flatbush’s increasing diversity and the growth of its African American and Caribbean American communities. Since 2004, this section of East 25th Street has won the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s “Greenest Block in Brooklyn” contest four times and earned several second- and third-place finishes and window-box awards. The pride of the street’s homeowners in their houses is evident not only in the lush greenery of their front yards but in the proposed district’s outstanding historical integrity.