Wednesday, October 8, 2014


In Brooklyn, as I’ve written before, I lived in a row of 12 houses flanked by “prewar” buildings.  These buildings were an outdoor museum of the skill of masonry.  Every time I went to the store or the subway, I passed magical designs of brickwork that will never be replicated. 

There was a building, reminding me of the fairytale Rapunzel, that had small, decorative circular castle turrets with bricks extending perpendicular to represent steps.  There were buildings with yellow and brown bricks making X’s.  One building had red, brown, and gray bricks placed randomly for a tweed look. 

There was an amazing art deco building with a design of ceramic tiles that still held their color, and between the sections of tile, the bricks were laid at 45 degree angles.  Bricks were graded at the top of the facade, resembling style of the Chrysler building, and the rooftop was decorated with curved wrought-iron cresting.  At either side of the front entryway, there
were large brick and glass cylinders that lit up at night.


Some of the buildings had corridors of pavement leading to the front door or into courtyards where young children could play.  The corridors allowed tenants time to leave the city behind before they reached the front door.  Buildings that opened directly onto the sidewalk had big lobbies providing the same sense of departure from the clamor.

A few buildings had grand names – The Belvedere, Patrician Court and the like. 

The pre-war buildings were not only beautiful on the outside; the same sense of elegance, although faded, was evident inside.  The interior apartment doors opened into foyers, or in the case of smaller apartments, a hallway.  Again this created space between the outside world and the home.  They had hardwood floors, some with parquet borders.  And big sash windows – although a lot of buildings had replaced these with aluminum slide windows.

Because they were rent-controlled, the landlords generally didn’t take good care of them.  Very often elevators were broken.  Pipes leaked.  Lobbies that used to have elegant furniture were empty.  The linoleum floors were cracked and there were 50 coats of lumpy paint on the doorways and interior.     

But the exteriors remained extraordinary, and I could imagine bricklayers laboring all day on hanging platforms, hauling bricks and mortar up on pulleys.  This was before unions, so their wages may not have been worthy of the job they did.  And yet, they must have been proud when they finished their work and saw a monument to their artistry and meticulous skill.

Post by Alana Cash

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