Marine Park is a Wooden House Haven

1925

by Lisa Santoro

Recently, while browsing the New York Public Library’s fantastic photo gallery, I discovered a picture of my beloved Marine Park taken in 1925 with a caption that read “part of one of Brooklyn’s largest developments.” I am very familiar with this row of houses and the scores of others that look just like them; having grown up in Marine Park, I have walked by them almost daily for most of my life.

The photograph shows a row of semi-detached houses on Fillmore Avenue between East 36th and East 37th Streets. This style is repeated throughout the neighborhood. Some of the homes seen here feature wooden balconies; others are more plain. The streets in the photo are not yet paved, but instead feature a planted median in the center of the street, designating directions of traffic flow. To the east of this block, the land is for the most part undeveloped, with the exception of Public School 207 which is under construction at the time of this photograph, completed one year later in 1926. The area looks immensely barren, which makes sense as this was the former farmland belonging to the Lott Family, a presence in the area since 1720. But one thing in this photo is still evocative of the neighborhood today – the young boys walking side by side along Fillmore Avenue.  Today many children, adults and grandchildren, armed with their canine companions, take this same stroll to access the main entrance of the neighborhood’s eponymous park.

 

1929-Map2

Rows upon rows of wooden tract houses in Marine Park are shown on a 1929 map (yellow = wood)

My neighborhood was developed for residential use after the sale of the Lott House farm property around 1923 and in conjunction with the development of the park of the same name, on land donated to the city by Frederic B. Pratt and Alfred Tredway White in 1917 and the Whitney family in 1920. In the early 1920s, this very flat and fertile land (this was the original Dutch town of Flatlands, after all) was almost entirely undeveloped, let alone subdivided.

What interests me most about this photo is that it captures a very critical time in the development of Marine Park. Had it been taken just three years prior, the scene would have looked vastly different. At the Brooklyn Historical Society I was able to uncover two maps of the neighborhood drawn a few years before and after the photo, from 1922 and 1929. Just look at the change!


1922map

In 1922, Marine Park was practically unchartered territory. The few wooden structures on this map belong to the Lott Homestead.

 

1929-map

The same area in 1929  - look at all those wooden (yellow) houses!

Today, the exterior of these homes bear no trace of the wooden exteriors so prominently featured in the 1925 photograph. In fact, I have yet to locate a house such as this within the neighborhood that retains its clapboard siding. For the most part, they have been replaced with aluminum or vinyl siding, or something resembling stucco. It is amazing how so many areas of Brooklyn have retained their wooden exteriors – but why none here? Most likely as the wood began to weather and deteriorate, it was replaced with a more durable and perhaps less expensive cladding material. Still, I wish that at least one of these houses would have retained its original appearance.

 fillmore2

The same street today

fillmore1

An alternate view – gotta love the trees!

Today, most (if not all) of the balconies have been removed. The original shutters are gone as well. The road has been paved and today accommodates heavy traffic — it serves the main bus route that connects passengers with the local public junior high and high schools as well as the B/Q line at Kings Highway. The trees that were planted in the 1920s are well in bloom — a wonderful thing unless, of course, you are trying to take detailed photographs.

I’m thrilled to have uncovered this wonderful photo of some of Marine Park’s first structures, many of which still exist under layers upon layers of siding and stucco.