During the 1920′s, Bensonhurst went from a rural farming community to a medium-density urban neighborhood, almost in the blink of an eye. In their rush to create much-needed housing for the masses of upwardly mobile immigrants beginning to leave Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the builders of our current streetscape did a tremendous, unprecedented job.
The homes they put up, which were often multi-family houses, were designed by anonymous architects, or maybe just an experienced contractor. What’s certain is they were built solidly, with thick retaining walls of layer after layer of brick. They had lower ceilings and usually not many of the architectural embellishments of the earlier Victorian era, but the fact that they still stand today, close to 100 years later, is testament to the quality of their craftsmanship.
One of the most common types of homes built in Bensonhurst during the 1920′s was a semi-detached brick house, separated from one of its neighbors with a side driveway. I’ve classified the semi-detached, probably four family brick houses in these photos, with the help of a currently unavailable article by Brownstoner’s Montrose Morris, as Mediterranean Revival. However, they really are an eclectic collection of different styles. There’s some Renaissance Revival, a little bit of Romanesque, or maybe some Italianate corbels, even some Dutch and Tudor influences.
Most have shared driveways, usually with a car port in the back and eight to nine foot ceilings. This might be a stretch of the imagination, but the shared alleyway between two houses which leads to the carport might evoke the experience of entering a Mediterranean courtyard. At the time of construction, the car port and driveway were new conveniences and the lower ceiling heights, in contrast to older homes, helped keep winter heating costs low- central heat also being a relatively new addition to middle class homes. This is the Mediterranean as seen through the modern, middle class lens of a colder climate.
Most don’t have the terra cotta and stucco that can be seen on homes in Italy, Spain, Florida and California, or even the Spanish-tiled beauties of Ocean Parkway. But they do give off a certain vibe that evokes the greenish-blue Mediterranean Sea. Even if they look more like they came from the semi-detached suburbs of London.