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Cast Iron and Cul-de-Sacs at LPC

alice and agate court crown heights

MAS testified today at the Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of the designation of the proposed Alice and Agate Courts Historic District in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and the Baumann Brothers building on 14th Street, Manhattan. Alice and Agate Courts are two cul-de-sacs of Queen Anne rowhouses built in late-1880s and set perpendicular to Atlantic Avenue.  Their identity as a tranquil enclave off of a busy thoroughfare was recently under threat when a developer sought to demolish a wall separating Agate Court from the adjoining property.  Several of the homeowners, who have ensured over the years that these houses retain their architecture and charm, came in person to the hearing to voice their support and thank the LPC for its work.

The Baumann Brothers store at 22-26 East 14th Street is a cast-iron building dating from 1881 that has been on the LPC’s radar for several years. After years of being considered but not designated, MAS encouraged the LPC to move forward with making this building a landmark.

MAS Testimony on Alice and Agate Courts Historic District Before the Landmarks Preservation CommissionTuesday, September 16, 2008

The Preservation Committee of the Municipal Art Society supports the designation of Alice and Agate Courts in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. These two cul-de-sacs containing 36 Queen Anne style rowhouses were developed in late 1880s by Florian Grosjean. A Swiss immigrant, Grosjean founded a successful kitchenware business. The private courts were named for his daughter, Alice, and for the material that his company’s products imitated in their design.

Built at a right angle to Atlantic Avenue, Alice and Agate Courts have long stood out in the neighborhood. Today, the houses stand out not just because of their unusual layout but also because they remain remarkably intact. Owned by people who cared for and cherished the houses’ architecture, the buildings along Alice and Agate Courts fortunately escaped the movement in the twentieth century to remove architectural details and cover the facades in aluminum siding and other non-historic materials. Today the houses’ high, rock-faced stoops, rock-faced lintels and sills, and oriel windows are intact and preserved. Although most of the buildings are a modest two-stories in height, the end houses in both courts that have facades along Atlantic Avenue were designed by architect Walter M. Coots to be grander in scale and design.

MAS thanks the Commission for considering this small enclave development as a historic district, particularly since they are located in an area with few other landmarks. The houses certainly merit preservation and deserve the protection that historic district designation affords.

MAS Testimony on Baumann Brothers Furniture and Carpets Store Before the Landmarks Preservation CommissionTuesday, September 16, 2008

The MAS Preservation Committee strongly supports the designation of the Baumann Brothers Furniture and Carpets Store on East 14th Street. Located in the heart of what was New York City’s shopping district in the late 19th-century, the Baumann Brothers Furniture store was, by its own accounts, “the largest and most complete furnishing establishment in America.” A reminder of the store can still be seen in the painted wall sign on the building’s western façade.

Architects D. & J. Jardine were responsible for the design of the building’s cast-iron façade. Although under-recognized today, D. & J. Jardine were prolific and exceptional architects in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, designing several store-and-loft buildings, stables, residences, and churches. In the 1884 edition of the publication, “New York’s Great Industries,” D. & J. Jardine are described as having “erected the most important buildings, both public and private, of any firm in the city.” They designed 22-26 East 14th Street for James McCreery, who, like the Jardine brothers, was of Scottish decent. Using cast-iron, D. & J. Jardine mixed neo-Classical, neo-Grec, and Queen Anne to create an exemplary and unusual Aesthetic Movement façade.

The Baumann Brothers building deserves to be protected with historic district designation. The building’s designation has been under consideration for several years now, and the time has come for this extraordinary building to be protected as a landmark.

The writer is Kress/RFR Fellow for Historic Preservation and Public Policy.