Gowanus Lounge: Serving Brooklyn

Urban Environmentalist NYC: Sunset Park’s Great Corner History Revealed

November 14th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Standing at 43rd Street and Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, you can look at any of three corners and see great architecture alongside a microcosm of the neighborhood’s history. On the southwest corner of Fourth stands one of the most distinctive and saddest structures in Sunset Park. Originally the 18th Precinct Station House and Stable, it is a powerful ruin, begging for worthy attention. Built in 1892, the design is attributed to architects Emile Gruwe and George Ingram. The mainly Romanesque-style medieval fortress has, on the avenue side, a round-arched entrance portico with a Venetian-style arcade. The side street reveals a bay of stairway windows and tiny inset balcony, of no practical use. The original brick is a warm orange and the details represent a chaotic mix of decorative forms: a corbelled parapet of rounded brick, rope moldings of terra cotta, zigzag and Romanesque carving, rock-faced brownstone and decorative ironwork. Adjacent to it on the avenue is a two-story stable with more modest detail. Vacated in 1970, the deterioration of the building accelerated with a fire in 1980—seeming to have sealed its fate. In 1984, the Landmarks Commission designated the building a landmark and the city put the property up for auction. The Sunset Park School of Music. obtained the property for $15,000 with the provision that that by July of 1986 they were to raise a minimum of $750,000 and begin a major rehabilitation. Unable to raise the money, the building has now stood vacant since the late 1980’s and is in dire need of a fairy god-developer for a good adaptive re-use.

On the same side of Fourth, occupying the block from 42nd to 43rd Street, St. Michael’s R. C. Church and adjacent school looks like a transplant from Italy, with its distinctive “sugar cone” topping the tower, which can be seen from many neighborhoods in Brooklyn – just look south at Fourth Avenue in Gowanus for a glimpse of the unusual structure. The church was designed by a Raymond F. Almirall and finished in 1905. At the time it was erected, Fourth Avenue was a broad boulevard with a grassy median (see old photo). On June 22, 1915, the BMT Fourth Avenue subway began service and the gracious look of the avenue slowly disappeared.

On the northeastern corner of Fourth stands the Classical Revival style of the Sunset Park Court House, given Landmarks Designation in 2001. Built in 1931, this handsome building is one of only two courthouse buildings designed by Mortimer D. Metcalfe, a New York architect who helped with the design of Grand Central Terminal. According to the Landmarks Commission, “its imposing Ionic-columned porticos and its grand quoins culminating in American eagle capitals, moldings, meticulously articulated limestone details, and window make the Sunset Park Court House a rich and faithful translation of the Classical Revival style treatment.” It now houses Community Board 7 headquarters.

On Sunday, November 16th at 2 pm, the Center for the Urban Environment will meet on this very corner for a tour of Sunset Park: The Old Neighborhood led by Joe Svehlak, who grew up in the neighborhood and will introduce us to its many treasures.

(Ruth Edebohls is the Coordinator of Urban Tours at the Center for the Urban Environment. To learn more about the Center visit us at www.thecue.org.)

Tags: Sunset Park · Urban Environmentalist

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Best View in Brooklyn // Nov 14, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    43rd and 4th has lots to look at, that’s for sure. And the “ruin” on the west side of 4th is absolutely one of the most depressing on-going losses of the area.

    I think the SP Courthouse also houses a recreation/workout center for our city’s finest as well as the CB7 headquarters.

    Thanks for highlighting Sunset once again. It’s a much more pleasant shout out than a passing reference to brown, stinky water.

  • 2 CHRISTOPHER GAMBONI // May 17, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    I attended St. Michael’s School from 1st thru 8th grades, graduating in June of 1960. I remember the old Poilice station house – 68th Precinct – at 43st. and 4th ave. It always seemed dark and menacing to me. One day word spread around the neighborhood that the police had a wrecked car there that had hit someboidy at high speed and had body parts lodged in it’s grill. We kids, of course, had to go down and see this and it was true. It was a fifty eight Oldsmobile and you could see bloody flesh jammed in the grill. It was summer and there were flies all over it. How the cops could have left that car there even for two seconds amazes me. I live out on Long Island now but my cousins still live on 40th st. Whenever I go to visit them and pass the old station house the image of that wrecked car comes into my mind.

  • 3 Frank // Dec 3, 2009 at 5:58 pm

    I to remember the old 68, got to in inside a few times to look around, but got chased…lol. would like to see some shots of it before the 68 Pct moved, I lived on 44th between 4th and 5th during the 50’s. Things were so much nicer then, the building is falling apart now.