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The Astral, 180 Franklin Street

Between Java Street & India Street

Carter Horsley
Reviewed by Carter Horsley
Carter Horsley Carter B. Horsley, a former journalist for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Post. Mr. Horsley is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com.
 

This imposing, landmarked, 6-story apartment building at 180 Franklin Street sits between India and Java streets in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. The structure was erected in 1885 and became one of the most important buildings in the borough. 

It has 117 rental apartments. 

It was erected by Charles Pratt (1830-1891), the founder of Astral Oil, which became famous for their "less flammable lighting oil" and then, the founders of the Pratt Institute. He also generously endowed Adelphi Academy in Brooklyn and Amherst College. 

It was designed by Lamb & Rich, whose other developments in the city include the townhouses on Henderson Place in the Yorkville section of Manhattan and collegiate buildings at Barnard here and also at Williams, Smith, Colgate and Amherst colleges.

Bottom Line

A major landmark in the history of housing in the city, this very handsome, multi-entried, Queen Anne-style, red-brick apartment building is, according to its landmark designation by the city, "one of the most important 19th Century apartment houses in New York City." It is also one of the earliest model housing projects for the working class, boasting features which were a radical departure from the contemporary standards set for workers' housing. As such, it represent a significant step in the development of the American housing movement.

Description

According to the building's 1980 landmark designation report, the building's stairwells divided it into six parts, each fitted with "buttoned" windows that were removed in the summer. 

Other design features, according to the report, were "dumbwaiters in the halls at each floor for hoisting heavy goods, coal and wood; a large lecture room with an impressive fireplace located in the basement and supplied with books and newspapers; and ground floor stores in the corner units...organized on a co-operative basis to reduce apartment rents." 

The report includes the following description: 

"The dominant element of the main façade is a projecting central entrance section that rises the full height of the building. Its battered base of rough-faced stone is pierced by a half-circle arch with wide stone voussoirs and is surmounted by a brick bandcourse with a terra-cotta plaque inscribed "The Astral."

"Above this base rises a deep, four-story high, round-arched recess which indicates one of the stairwells and is one of the most dramatic architectural elements of the façade. The entire central section is crowned by a stepped gable."

"Three sided projecting window bays over the corner stories rise from the second to the sixth floor and were originally crowned by gables....Above the entrances, the four stairwell windows...have brick round arches with stone imposts carved with ornate Byzantine-inspired floral designs."

"The second and third levels have unusual segmental arches with dog-toothed entrados, brick corbel shoulders, and brick splayed lintels that carry the sills of the windows above....The façade is further enhanced by brick and stone bands at the second floor and brick and terra-cotta cornice at the fifth. The sixth floor is given distinction by the use of pulled and recessed headers and stretchers in imitation of the tiles used by Shaw and others on some of their Queen Anne English country houses. A corbeled cornice crowns the building and is topped by an iron railing with brick and terra-cotta newels. The corner stores are designed with cast-iron storefronts and alternating bands of rough-faced stone and brick at the piers."

Apartments

Apartments have large windows, northern ash hardwood floors, Italian tile kitchen backsplashes, Caesarstone quartz kitchen countertops, washers and dryers, and gloss white tile bathrooms. The building has some fire escapes.

Apartment 417 is a two-bedroom unit with a 16-foot-long living room with a 9-foot-wide pass-through kitchen. 

Apartment 119 is a two-bedroom duplex unit with a 16-foot-long living room, a pass-through, 9-foot-wide kitchen and two bedrooms on the upper level and a 16-foot-wide recreational space on the lower level. 

Apartment 502 is a one-bedroom unit with a 16-foot-long living room and an 8-foot-wide kitchen. 

Apartment 510 is a studio unit with a 16-foot-wide living room and an open,12-foot-long kitchen. 

History

The architects of this building were influenced by Henry Roberts, the architect of the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Laboring Classes in England, whose Model Houses for Families of 1850 in the Bloomsbury section of London influenced the design of the Astral, which had a scullery with a wash tray and sink with hot and cold water, a range, a coal box, an ash chute to the cellar and a window for ventilation. Its rear courtyard and the roof were allotted for drying clothes and the basement contained the bathrooms. 

Many photographs of the building's exterior and interior can be found at Scouting New York's website .

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