Surrounding Area

Marine Park and its neighboring communities of Midwood and Mill Basin were among the last major sections of New York City to harden into cityscape before the Great Depression and World War II. An aerial photographic mosaic of New York City compiled in 1924 reveals the still-vast extent of agriculture in this area on the eve of development. These fields had been under cultivation since about 1640. Indeed, the relative youth of this part of New York City must be set against its very long history as a cultural landscape—a place that sustained not only European newcomers but the Canarsee Indians who hunted, fished and camped here for more than a thousand years before them.

Spurred by the promised park, development of the uplands around Gerritsen Creek was well underway by the time Marine Park finally opened. All through the 1920s, demand for housing in New York surged with the roaring Jazz-Age economy. This unleashed an unprecedented building boom throughout the city. In deep-south Brooklyn, developers snapped up vast holdings of rural land, including those of the Lott family. Once municipal water and sewer infrastructure was extended to the area, circa 1927, they began erecting block after block of modest, well-crafted homes for the city's expanding middle class.

Marine Park initially developed as a rapid-transit suburb, a place apart from and yet intimately tied to the great city via a matrix of trolley, bus and subway lines. It offered the best of both worlds—village charm and urban amenity leavened with the natural beauty of Jamaica Bay. Later—especially after World War II—it was the Belt Parkway that fueled growth in the area, with its lure of easy weekend access to Long Island's beaches and parks. Developers large and small and mostly long forgotten wove this long-rural place into the fabric of New York City. Their work was largely uncoordinated but drew nonetheless from a common set of principles regarding architectural style, scale, materials and site treatment.

One of these developers was Fred Trump. Trump erected thousands of homes in the outer boroughs during his long career, including the charming brick rowhouses on the south side of Fillmore Avenue between East 32nd and East 33rd Streets. Another maker of Marine Park was William M. Calder, a self-made Brooklyn builder who won a seat in the United States Senate in 1916 (where he sponsored, of all things, the legislation that created daylight savings time). Calder erected thousands of homes in Park Slope and Windsor Terrace and was among the first to build in Marine Park. He was a tireless advocate of the park itself—and with good reason: "It is an axiom," he wrote in a leaflet promoting his two-family homes at Coyle Street and Avenue T, "that the building of a park is certain to increase the value of the area adjacent to it." Calder was certain that this area would become "one of the choicest residential sections of Greater New York." He wasn’t wrong.

If we know little about the developers who created Marine Park, we know even less about the architects they employed. An exception is Philip Freshman, designer of the Tudor-revival townhouses on East 33rd Street between Fillmore and Avenue R. Freshman was part of an unsung generation of workaday architects—many of whom were Jewish, Italian or Irish—relegated to the margins of a profession dominated by patrician, Ivy-league men, but that nonetheless built much of outer-borough New York City. Freshman was especially well versed in the Tudor revival style—a popular choice for residential architecture all through the 1920s. It remains, along with Dutch-colonial revival, the dominant architectural style of Marine Park today.