24 April 2012

The Gap in the Block

Across from P.S. 29, on Henry Street, in Cobble Hill, there's a row of residences. Taking up the south side of the block is a group of austere buildings composed of yellowing off-white stone. Composing the north end are a couple of old, wide, red-brick structures, some with ornate detailing, followed by two brownstones. And in the middle is a gap, about two and a half feet wide.

This is unusual. As most New Yorkers know, blocks are pretty tightly fit in New York. Space is at a minimum, so buildings stand cheek by jowl, with not a whisker of air in between them. You can find a few cute alleyways in Greenwich Village, but generally, such things are not common.

I've often wondered about this little gap in the block. Making it more curious is the fact that it narrows as it goes back. A person could pass through it at the front, but would be stopped about half way through. So this means the buildings on either side are oddly shaped and angle toward one another as they recede.

My general guess as to why this gap exists is that, back in the 1800s, you had one builder erecting the group of white houses to the south, and another building raising the brick edifices to the north. And whichever builder built last just didn't bother to consult the other's plans. So you ended up with a little leftover space.

I know something about the white building—412-420 Henry Street. They were created as a block back in 1888 by George B. Chappell in the Renaissance Revival style, and were sold to F.A.O. Schwartz, the toy king. I know that Joseph Cahill, a saloonkeeper, lived at 412 roundabout 1899. Today they're possessed by a collection of people, including local land baron Greg O'Connell, who owns 420, the corner building.

I recently started thinking about this block because, for the longest time, the gap was covered over by a simple wooden gate, a collection of boards slapped together and painted green-grey, with another bunch of boards nailed together horizontally above the gate. (You can see it still on Google maps.) It had a country look to it, something you've find on the shed out back. That was ripped away and replace by a less-charming, bourgeoise, black metal gate.


neil said...

I've often wondered about that when I drop my kids off at school. It looks like the gap at the front of the buildings is wider than the back. Looking at the satellite view, it seems that is the case: http://g.co/maps/sesqr

Anonymous said...

More likely, the first building finished did not ectend to the property line. The second builder couldn't extend his building beyond his property line to have the buildings meet.

Dave 'Paco' Abraham said...

Awesome find! Thanks for the info... I've posted the topic to the Cobble Hill Association blog as well and directed people to your site too. http://cobblehillassociation.blogspot.com/2012/05/baltic-street-anomaly.html

Francis Morrone said...

Anonymous is right, I suspect. It's also an odd block in that at the northern half the lots are slightly misshapen, which is why that space between 410 and 412 (built 40+ years apart) is irregular.