Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Riverside Apartments

Red brick fortress like building with black metal balconies
Riverside Apartments
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Address: 2-34 Columbia Place

Alfred T. White commissioned the Riverside Apartments. White was a successful businessman that attained his wealth from the fur trade, although, he was trained as a civil engineer. His success came at a time when most working class families lived in some degree of squalor. He believed that the working poor had a right to dignified housing, so he set out to create a new model for worker housing. White’s mantra regarding his real estate developments was“philanthropy plus 5%”. The Riverside apartments featured amenities uncommon in tenement buildings at the time and were White’s contribution to elevating the living standard of working New Yorkers. Other tenement buildings commissioned by White include the Tower and Home Buildings in Cobble Hill.

Arched green door with steps on red brick building
Entrance & Arched Stairwell Openings
Double arched window like openings for stairwells
Arched Stairwell Openings with Terracotta Trim
Black metal balcony hallways with hanging plants
Perforated Metal Railings
Designed by William Field & Son in an eclectic Romanesque – Italianate style, the Riverside Apartments were built in 1890. The building’s architectural embellishments include arcaded loggias, perforated metal railings, brick patterns, corbeling and terracotta ornamental detailing. Architectural innovations for tenement housing featured in the design included a toilet in each unit, open stair towers to ameliorate foul odors common in closed tenement stairwells, and a spacious central courtyard with a band shell. In addition, the building’s design afforded residents more natural light and fresh air than most tenements from the period. According to the AIA Guide Alfred T. White’s buildings are the “original limited-profit housing, predating the City and State’s first “limited-dividend” projects (Stuyvesant Town) by 57 years”. However, there is another comparable building that comes to mind. The Astral Apartments in Greenpoint were built with a similar vision.

Aerial photo of Riverside Houses within Brooklyn Heights

Although the Riverside apartments take up most of a city block, there were once more of them. The complex was truncated by the BQE when four of the nine buildings were removed to make way for the thoroughfare. Also relinquished was the building’s central garden. The original affordable housing complex had a capacity of 280 families, utilizing forty nine percent of the lot for structures and the rest for open space. Apartment sizes had a range from two to four rooms. Rents were on a sliding scale with prices based on floor level and unit size.

  • Gray, Christopher "Streetscapes: The Riverside Buildings; A Model Tenement in Dickensian Style" New York Times 23 August 1992
  • White, Norval, Willensky, Elliot, and Leadon, Fran AIA Guide to New York. Oxford University Press, 2010
  • McCormick, Tim "History Buff: The Riverside Apartments" Brownstoner 22 August, 2006
  • McCormick, Tim "ARchitecture 101: The Riverside Apartments" Brownstoner 9 May, 2005

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