Clinton Hill Historic District
The Clinton Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
Clinton Hill is a residential area located in north-central Brooklyn. The Clinton Hill Historic District encompasses all or part of thirty-two blocks. The boundaries incorporate 1120 buildings; 1063 contributing historic structures, this includes the entire Clinton Hill Historic District as designated by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as 118 additional buildings. The Clinton Hill Historic District includes a very large percentage of the buildings within the historic community of Clinton Hill. The boundaries have been determined by the nature of the surroundings and by the borders of Brooklyn neighborhoods. The Clinton Hill Historic District is bounded on the west by Vanderbilt Avenue which separates the Clinton Hill Historic District from the Fort Greene Historic District; on the east by Pratt Institute, a high-rise apartment complex, an area of deteriorated residential and industrial buildings that are generally of little architectural or historical interest, and Classon Avenue, which separates Clinton Hill from Bedford-Stuyvesant; on the north by streets lined primarily with frame houses that have been altered and high-rise apartments and by Myrtle Avenue, a commercial strip which separates Clinton Hill from Wallabout; and on the south by heavily commercial Fulton Street which separates the Clinton Hill Historic District from a small strip that is known as Clinton Hill South. The buildings in the Clinton Hill Historic District are generally residential structures built between c.1840 and 1930, including freestanding mansions, row houses, and apartment buildings. There are also buildings relating to the residential use of the area such as churches, schools, a former home for elderly women, carriage houses, and stores.
The earliest surviving buildings in the Clinton Hill Historic District are frame structures dating from the 1840s when suburban villas began to appear in this still rural area. The only true Greek Revival style buildings in the Clinton Hill Historic District are the unusual pair of extremely wide (25 feet) clapboard houses at numbers 448-450 Waverly Avenue, probably erected during the 1840s. These extremely simple three-story buildings have had some alterations over the years but retain many original elements including simple window enframements and a severe cornice on number 450 and the embellished entrance with pilasters, sidelights and a transom on number 448.
The Gothic Revival style was also popular during the initial development of Clinton Hill in the 1830s and 1840s. Number 384 Clinton Avenue is a rare surviving example of a Gothic Revival style residence in Clinton Hill. Built c.1854, the structure exhibits typical features of the style including asymmetrical massing, pointed arches, trefoil bargeboard on the entry pediment, and drip lintels on the upper floor windows.
Beginning in the late 1840s, the Italianate started to replace the earlier styles in popularity. The earliest building in Clinton Hill to display Italianate details is the freestanding Joseph Steele House at 200 Lafayette Avenue, erected c.1854 (a New York City Landmark). This building is a transitional structure combining the rectangular forms of the Greek Revival with more sculptural and three-dimensional details characteristic of the Italianate style, such as a sloping roof, bracketed cornice, and stoop balustrades.
Italianate style row houses are found throughout Clinton Hill and typical examples would be numbers 95-103 Gates Avenue (built c.1866-67), with their round-arched doorways deeply recessed beneath segmental-arched pediments supported on foliate brackets, and numbers 367-385 Grand Avenue (built in the early 1870s by Thomas Skelly, with their repeating motifs of rusticated basements, parlor floor balconies and triangular pediments. This type of house was often built in long rows to create rhythmically massed and unified blockfronts, with each row providing the illusion of a large Italian Renaissance palazzo divided into smaller, single-family palazzi.
In addition to the row houses, the Clinton Hill Historic District, particularly Clinton Avenue, contains numerous freestanding Italianate villas such as the brick and stone mansion at 447 Clinton Avenue built c.1850 and the asymmetrical wooden house at 86 Cambridge Place with its square Tuscan tower. The Italianate style remained popular in Clinton Hill well into the 1870s.
A variant of the Italianate is the French Second Empire style, most strongly identified with the decade of the 1860s. Many of the forms and details common to the typical Italianate row houses were used on these buildings, but they are distinguished by full-story mansard roofs. Typical examples of this style are the structures at 211-217 Lafayette Avenue, built about 1868-70, with brownstone fronts over rusticated basements and mansard roofs with slate-shingled, flat-topped dormers. Other characteristic features are seen on numbers 213 and 215 Lafayette Avenue; they include round-arched entrances with pediments on foliate brackets, parlor-floor windows with raised pediments and table sills, and bracketed roof cornices.
The French Second Empire style mansions which are located on Clinton and Washington Avenues are freestanding masonry structures with rectangular massing, crowned by mansard roofs with slate tile shingles and dormer windows. Number 457 Clinton Avenue (c.1869), with its arched windows and tall corner tower, is the finest of these mansions, but also notable are the Lambert Heyniger House (c.1869) at number 324 Clinton Avenue with its round-arched doorway with a heavy stone enframement and the Henry McCoun House (c.1873) at 275 Washington Avenue.
In the 1870s a new style, the neo-Grec, replaced the Italianate and Second Empire in popularity. While the basic forms of the neo-Grec rows were very similar to that of the Italianate rows, the detailing of these buildings became sharper and more angular and geometric.
As in the transition from the Greek Revival to the Italianate, the transition from the Italianate to the neo-Grec was a gradual one. In the mid-to-late-1870s transitional buildings, such as those at numbers 1-9 Cambridge Place (c.1873) and numbers 205-229 Greene Avenue (c.1874) were built. These houses have the Italianate massing with more stylized foliate brackets and some simple incised details.
The Charles Pratt House at 232 Clinton Avenue (1874) is a freestanding example of the transitional Italianate/neo-Grec style dwelling. Designed by architect Ebenezer L. Roberts, the house has the heavy blocky massing typical of freestanding Italianate houses. The neo-Grec influence is evident in the pseudo-keystones on the porch entablature and the enframements and pediments, which are incised with simple singular forms.
Some fine examples of neo-Grec row houses can be found at numbers 57-67 Cambridge Place (1879), numbers 423-425 Washington Avenue (1881), and numbers 151-161 Willoughby Avenue (1885), all designed by architect Amzi Hill. Those on Cambridge Place have projecting bays which add to the angular quality of the buildings, as well as finely carved, stylized forms in their pediments and window enframements.
Although most streets within Clinton Hill were built up by 1880, development of the area did not cease. Older houses were demolished to make way for new mansions and rowhouses in the latest styles. In the 1880s and 1890s these popular styles included the Romanesque Revival and Queen Anne.
Some of the finest residential examples of the Romanesque Revival style are located in Clinton Hill. These include the facing rows at numbers 285-289 and numbers 282-290 DeKalb Avenue, designed by the prominent Brooklyn architect Montrose Morris in 1889 and 1890, respectively. These houses exemplify American Romanesque Revival design with textural contrasts provided by a combination of rough-and smooth-faced stone and brick, round arches, towers, stained glass and dwarf columns. Other fine examples of the Romanesque Revival are the pair at numbers 177-177A St. James Place, designed in 1888 by Mercein Thomas with stone and terra cotta-trim in red brick, brick arches, and corbelled cornices supporting slate-shingled mansard roofs, and the group at numbers 206-210 St. James Place, designed by Benjamin Wright in 1870.
Two of the finest mansions in Clinton Hill are the Romanesque Revival style residences on Clinton Avenue designed by Brooklyn architect William Tubby. Tubby was responsible for the Charles Millard Pratt residence of 1893 located at 241 Clinton Avenue which is constructed of orange brick trimmed with orange sandstone and features an arched porte-cochere and Byzantine style carving. Three blocks south of the Pratt Mansion is the Charles Schieren Residence, a massive red brick and sandstone structure designed in 1889.
The Queen Anne style was used on buildings during the same period as the Romanesque Revival. The finest Queen Anne style buildings in the Clinton Hill Historic District are the Cornelius Hoagland Mansion at 410 Clinton Avenue, designed in 1882 by the Parfitt brothers and the pair of row houses at 396-398 Washington Avenue, designed by Adam E. Fischer in 1887. The Cornelius Hoagland Mansion reflects contemporary English trends in its asymmetry, its monochrome red brick facade and its freely used classical details such as garlands, dentils and sunflowers.
By the 1890s these earlier styles were being replaced by Classical- and Renaissance-inspired designs. As always this shift was gradual and a number of fine rows of transitional buildings can be found in Clinton Hill. The rows designed by R.H. Robertson and A.J. Manning at numbers 215-221 Clinton Avenue (1891) and numbers 112-122 Willoughby Avenue (1891) are particularly good examples. Both continue to employ the textural contrast and round-arched openings popular in Romanesque Revival buildings but also include Classical details such as egg-and-dart moldings and garlands.
After the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and into the early years of the twentieth century, designs based on Classical and Renaissance prototypes were highly favored all through the United States. Examples of this Beaux-Arts style in Clinton Hill can be seen in the mansions designed by Mercein Thomas for Morgan Bogart and William Berri in 1901 at numbers 463 and 465 Clinton Avenue. These buildings show typical neo-Renaissance styling in their limestone facades ornamented with cartouches, foliate piers, and Classical moldings.
Related to these Beaux-Arts influenced designs are the long rows of similar houses arranged to create a uniform Classical streetscape. One such grouping exists in Clinton Hill and can be found at numbers 203-207 St. James Place and numbers 218-234 St. James Place, designed in 1905 by Axel S. Hedman. These nine tenement buildings are grouped (three on one side of the street and six on the other) to form continuous units with their limestone and brick facades arranged symmetrically. The terra-cotta trim and other details are of Classical derivation and include keystones, pediments, urns, and a Gibbs surround.
Early in the twentieth century Colonial Revival styles such as neo-Georgian and neo-Federal became popular for urban residential design. Architects designing in the Colonial Revival style used ornamental detail associated with eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century architecture, but adapted these forms for contemporary purposes. In such houses as the Julius Liebman residence at 384 Clinton Avenue, designed by Herts & Tallant in 1909, and the row of houses at numbers 445-447A Washington Avenue, designed in 1922 by Brooklyn's leading exponents of the Colonial Revival style, Slee & Bryson, the Georgian and Federal forms are combined with decorative elements such as Georgian splayed lintels, Federal paneled lintels, Georgian pedimented doorways, and Federal round arches and fanlights, but these historical details are scaled to the needs of modern residences.
As early as the late 1880s elegant apartment buildings began to appear in Clinton Hill. Among the earliest of these are the "Vendome," a transitional Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne style building at 363 Grand Avenue designed by Halstead P. Fowler in 1887 and the "Clinton," designed in 1897 by Edward Betts at 275 Clinton Avenue. The apartment house trend continued into the twentieth century and marks the final phase of development within the Clinton Hill Historic District. After World War I several of the larger houses in Clinton Hill, particularly on Clinton and Washington Avenues, were replaced by six-story apartment buildings, many designed in the same styles favored for single family residential buildings. Notable among these are 429 Clinton Avenue (Slee & Bryson, 1916), a neo-Italian Renaissance style building with a rusticated stone base and crowning loggia, the "Yorkshire," a building at 295 Clinton Avenue which displays neo-Gothic forms, and 420 Clinton Avenue (Boris Dorfman, 1928) and 430 Clinton Avenue (Slee & Bryson, 1922), a pair of neo-Federal style red brick buildings.
Clinton Hill contains one of New York City's largest concentrations of private carriage houses and stables. These buildings contained horse stalls, storage for carriages and gear, and residences for coachmen and other servants. In Clinton Hill they are primarily located on Waverly and Vanderbilt Avenues, behind the mansions on Clinton and Washington Avenues. Many of these buildings are distinguished in their own right and many were designed in the same style as their adjoining mansion.
In response to the residential growth of Clinton Hill, the mid-nineteenth century saw a large number of churches of many denominations erected in the Clinton Hill Historic District. Today there are five church edifices in the Clinton Hill Historic District. They range in style and date from two Early Romanesque Revival style buildings; the Washington Avenue Baptist Church (now the Brown Memorial Baptist Church) at the corner of Washington Avenue and Gates Avenues, designed by Ebenezer L. Roberts in 1860, and the Orthodox Friends Meeting House (now Apostolic Faith Mission), built in 1867-68 at the corner of Lafayette and Washington Avenues, to the neo-Gothic style Cadman Memorial Church on Clinton and Lafayette Avenues, built in 1923. The most significant religious structure in the Clinton Hill Historic District is the Emmanuel Baptist Church (National Register listed, 1977), designed by Francis H. Kimball. This excellent example of neo-French Gothic design, built in 1886-87, is the largest and most ornate Baptist church in Brooklyn.
Two other notable institutional buildings are located with the Clinton Hill Historic District, the Adelphi Academy, established in 1863, and the Graham Home for Old Ladies. The earliest portion of the Adelphi Academy was erected in 1869 on Lafayette Avenue, just east of St. James Place. The building was enlarged twice and in 1886 a new structure, designed by Charles Haight, was erected on Clifton Place. This structure is among the finest examples of Romanesque Revival style design in Brooklyn. The Graham Home for Old Ladies, also known as the Graham Home for Aged, Indigent and Respectable Females, was housed in a German-inspired Early Romanesque Revival style building at 320 Washington Avenue, designed in 1851 by Brooklyn architect J.G. Glover.
The Depression of the 1930s halted all construction in the area and, with the exception of the redevelopment of one-and-one-third blocks for Navy Yard housing during World War II, there has been relatively little later construction. As a result, the Clinton Hill Historic District retains its historical architectural character to a large degree. The diversity of building types and styles creates a rich architectural and historical heritage.
The Clinton Hill Historic District is architecturally significant for its distinctive collection of well-preserved nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture, including what scholars consider some of the finest examples within the five boroughs of New York City. Clinton Hill retains one of New York's largest concentrations of intact row houses from the post-Civil War period, including numerous examples of the Italianate, French Second Empire, Neo-Grec, and Romanesque Revival styles, reflecting a continuum of development which spanned many decades. The earliest surviving houses in the Clinton Hill Historic District date from the 1840s and significant buildings continued to be constructed until 1930. This is one of the few neighborhoods in New York City that developed and redeveloped as an affluent area. Prominent buildings survive from the 1840s and 1850s when Clinton Hill was a suburban retreat, from the 1860s-1880s when it was home to middle-class families who lived in row houses, from the 1890s-1910s when some of Brooklyn's wealthiest citizens built mansions on the main streets, and from the 1890s-1930 when apartment buildings replaced some of the larger mansions. Clinton Avenue, which was developed as a street for very wealthy residents, still retains much of its ambience and is one of the few grand boulevards in the United States to survive relatively intact. Many great turn-of-the-century mansions were built there, often designed by Brooklyn and Manhattan's leading architects, including Montrose Morris, William Tubby, Parfitt Brothers, Ebenezer L. Roberts, George Morse, Babb, Cook & Willard, and Herts & Tallant. These residences were the homes of some of Brooklyn's most prominent citizens, such as Charles Pratt, a partner in Standard Oil, coffee merchant John Arbuckle, lace manufacturer A.G. Jennings, and baking soda magnate Dr. C.N. Hoagland. These mansions and the substantial row houses which were built here reflect the architectural aspirations of Brooklyn's middle- and upper-middle-class urban residents at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. In addition to these residences, the Clinton Hill Historic District contains fine carriage houses, apartment buildings, churches, and other institutions that complement the homes and contribute to the area's architectural richness. Because of the outstanding quality of its architecture and the variety of building types and styles, Clinton Hill has a distinctive character and is an outstanding historic district within the City of New York.
Corby, Jane. The Hill Section of Brooklyn. Reprinted from the Brooklyn Eagle, 1939.
Dolkart, Andrew Scott. The City of Churches: The Protestant Church Architecture of Brooklyn 1793-1917. Unpublished Master's thesis, Columbia University School of Architecture, 1977.
Everdell, William R. and Malcolm MacKay. Rowboats to Rapid Transit: A History of Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn: Brooklyn Heights Association, 1973.
Howard, Henry B., ed. The Eagle and Brooklyn: History of the City of Brooklyn From its Settlement to the Present Times. Brooklyn: Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1893.
New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Research files: Clinton Hill Historic District, Fort Greene Historic District, and Park Slope Historic District.