Designated!

Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park HISTORIC DISTRICT

At the turn of the 20th century, a number of real estate developers purchased large tracts of farmland and woods near the sleepy market town of Flatbush, Brooklyn, and began to develop a suburban oasis affording wide lawns and spacious Victorian houses at a convenient distance from the City. The historic neighborhoods of Flatbush retain to a remarkable degree their integrity as early 20th-century suburban developments more than 100 years later.

A Typical House in Midwood Park, BrooklynMidwood Park was constructed by developer John Corbin in the first decade of the 20th-century on what had previously been farmland. The houses were built using Corbin’s method of standardized construction. Buyers could choose from thirty distinct models, but uniform construction techniques, materials and assembly methods were employed to minimize cost and boost efficiency. The wood-shingled houses are relatively grand: set back from the street on large lawns, they have open porches and rich interior detailing in the style of the time. The streets have a landscaped median and are lined with mature trees. The neighborhood must have represented a striking alternative to city living.

Midwood Park has undergone few inappropriate alterations. It remains a unified, coherent and harmonious suburban neighborhood in an urban context. The Midwood Park Homeowners Association is advocating in consultation with the Historic Districts Council for historic district designation for the neighborhood.

The adjacent Fiske Terrace features more elegant houses but retains an intimate sense of place through its historical integrity. In 1905, T. B. Ackerson Company purchased a densely wooded tract of land and immediately cleared it, laid out streets and installed underground water, sewer, gas and electric lines. Eighteen months later, the former Fiske estate had been transformed by some 150 custom-built, detached, three-story suburban houses with heavy oak ornamental mantels, staircases, beamed ceilings and built-in bookcases, ornately bordered parquet floors and elaborate cabinetry. A landscaped median and hundreds of street trees planted at the time of development continue to contribute to the idyllic feeling of the neighborhood.

Avenue H Subway Station

A number of the original Ackerson houses were replaced with apartment buildings in the 1920s, primarily along Ocean Avenue and Avenue H. Several other houses have undergone more recent alterations, most involving porch enclosures, exterior siding, or roofing materials. Despite these changes, the original character of the neighborhood remains intact. The Fiske Terrace Association is working in concert with HDC and residents from neighboring Midwood Park to protect their neighborhood from the pressures of development and insensitive alteration.

Another interesting piece of New York’s architectural heritage in this proposed district is the Avenue H subway station on the corner of East 16th Street and Avenue H. Built in 1905-06 as the real estate office for the adjacent development in Fiske Terrace, it was converted into a stationhouse for the Brighton Beach Railroad in 1908. Its unusual control house is suggestive of picturesque railroad stations built in the suburbs outside New York City and makes a subtle comparison between suburbs outside the city and those within. This feature helps to reinforce the planned “village within a town” esthetic of early 20th century developments that still thrives in Flatbush. The Avenue H Subway Station is one of the most unique structures in the city and its preservation is now gratifyingly assured. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building as an individual landmark on June 29th 2004, noting that the charming wooden station house is an early example of adaptive reuse. It is now owned by the MTA, which must be applauded for its support of the designation and desire to be a good steward of this new landmark. Congratulations also to the individuals and community groups that spurred interest in the station and pursued its designation – the Midwood Park Neighborhood Association and the Fiske Terrace Neighborhood Association. HDC will continue working with these groups and lobbying the LPC to get these important examples of early-20th century “streetcar suburbs” designated and protected.

Together, Midwood Park, Fiske Terrace and the Avenue H subway station form a coherent picture of a flourishing suburban neighborhood in Brooklyn in the early 1900s. The area has retained the scale and architectural quality that contribute to a strong sense of place. Neighborhood residents are concerned that growing pressure for developments designed to increase density will destroy an attractive area. HDC feels that designation of these historic Flatbush communities must be a priority.

 

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