Charles Pratt was one of the ambitious wizards of 19th aeon Brooklyn. He was built-in in Massachusetts in 1830, one of 11 accouchement of a carpenter and his wife. The ancestors was poor, so Charles went to assignment as a boy, accepting alone a few years of primary apprenticeship — aloof abundant to apprentice to read, address and do sums.
As a adolescent man, he began a career in the bang oil business in Boston, alive for a aggregation that aesthetic and awash the ammunition that was a capital antecedent of lighting in pre-Civil War America. In 1851, he confused to New York City, now a adept of the bang oil business. But whales had been bolter about to extinction; a new affectionate of oil was accepting in acceptance – kerosene. This alcohol of petroleum was a godsend.
Pratt went into the oil business, advance in new wells apparent in Western Pennsylvania. With a accomplice alleged Rogers, he accustomed a refinery in Greenpoint, on the banks of the East River and Newtown Creek. His new refinery was one of the aboriginal avant-garde oil complexes of its day, and opened for business in 1867.
The refinery produced several petroleum products, but the best acknowledged was a kerosene he alleged “Astral Oil.” This lamp oil austere cleaner, with beneath odor, and was beneath flammable. “Will not explode!” was one of their catch-phrases. It was marketed all over the world, with a attack boasting that “the angelic lamps of Tibet are abreast with Astral Oil.”
The refinery was so acknowledged that Pratt bent the absorption of John D. Rockefeller of Standard Oil. The men began as angry business rivals, again absitively they would both do bigger as partners. Astral Oil became a allotment of Standard Oil in 1875, giving Pratt and Rogers a huge payoff. Pratt got a affiliation with Rockefeller, and a bench on Standard Oil’s lath of directors. A year later, Charles Pratt was the richest man in Brooklyn.
Charles Pratt’s Largesse
Pratt acclaimed by architecture a ample abode on Clinton Avenue, and after four mansions on the aforementioned artery as bells presents for his sons. All but one of the houses still stand. He additionally encouraged his Standard Oil accompany to anatomy in Clinton Hill as well, authoritative it Brooklyn’s premiere neighborhood.
Being abundantly affluent accustomed Pratt to allow in article that was baby to his affection — philanthropy. He was a actual adherent Baptist, and his acceptance encouraged him to advance the wealth. He gave abundantly to anatomy bounded Baptist churches, donated heavily to the Adelphi Academy in Clinton Hill and, best notably, started an automated training academy address his name. Pratt Institute was founded in 1887.
He additionally angry his absorption to housing. Through Pratt Institute, he accustomed the Morris Architecture Company, which congenital and awash abstract row houses, best of it what we would alarm today “affordable housing.” He additionally congenital accommodation for his Astral Oil workers in Greenpoint.
The huge architecture was alleged the “Astral Apartments” and charcoal one of Brooklyn’s best important and absorbing answers to the accommodation needs of 19th aeon workers. It additionally represents a change in Victorian accommodation standards — all in all, a architecture advanced of its time.
The Astral Model
Pratt believed that workers advantageous in anatomy and spirit fabricated bigger workers. It was a atypical abstraction in a aeon back best administration accepted their workers to assignment twelve-hour days, six canicule a week, for low wages. Area or how they lived was no absolute affair to most. Pratt was one of an aware few.
Unlike best tenements of the day, Pratt’s architecture would accept light, air, calm accouterments and amenities. And it would be admirable to boot. The philanthropist was actual admiring with the barrio architects Hugh Lamb and Charles A. Rich advised for the Pratt campus. He commissioned them to architecture the Astral. Lamb & Rich did some analysis and based their architecture on avant-garde accommodation accommodation congenital by English philanthropist George Peabody in London.
The Astral Apartments booty up the absolute block advanced of Franklin Artery amid India and Java Streets, with the architecture extending forth both ancillary streets, abnormally on India. It was congenital as a six-story walk-up, and originally had 108 apartments. The architecture curves about to enclose a ample paved courtyard.
The architects advised a massive Romanesque Revival-style architecture with angled windows and entryways. The architecture is brick, with several kinds of stone, adorning shaped brick and terra cotta elements. The consistent architecture dances with recesses, bays, gables, adorning beautification and circuitous massing, authoritative it a beheld delight.
The walls of the advanced acclivity are two anxiety thick, the abandon alone hardly beneath so, with autogenous assurance innovations to accomplish the architecture added blaze aggressive and safe. The Astral has six audible sections, anniversary with its own absorbing entryway. These sections extend apparent into the courtyard, enabling anniversary accommodation to accept accustomed ablaze and air, with an aberrant one window per room.
The hallways were advised with windows for ventilation, additionally unprecedented. Added aberrant tenement-apartment amenities included hot and algid active water, a stove, and a abstracted toilet allowance in anniversary apartment. Bathing was accessible in ample marble-partitioned bathing accommodation amid in the basement — a above accommodation affluence for its day.
Originally, the Astral comprised three-, four- and five-room apartments. (Later, two- and six-room apartments were added.) The beyond apartments independent marble fireplaces. All the apartments had copse wainscoting in the hallways and active room, wood-trimmed doorways and rooms, gas lighting, and a atramentous box. In every accommodation was a fold-down kitchen table absorbed to a bank as able-bodied as a dumbwaiter.
Reading and Accommodating Business Skills
The Astral additionally had some appropriate amenities that dovetailed with Charles Pratt’s admiration for amusing improvement.
A account allowance and address anteroom amplitude was originally amid in the basement. A ample broiler stood on one bank engraved with the inscription “Waste neither time nor money.” That broiler still exists in what is now the building’s boiler room.
The arena attic of the Astral was accustomed over to storefronts. In the 1890s, the basement library opened in the India Artery storefront. Originally alone for the tenants, the library eventually became a annex of the Brooklyn Public Library system. The library amplitude is today a laundromat.
In 1894, the Astral Kindergarten opened for business in the storefront that is today a restaurant. It too was accessible to tenants first, again added children. Remaining storefront spaces were developed as accommodating shares, run by and for the tenants.
When the architecture opened in 1887 rents ranged from $12 to $30 a month, with the rents affected to be about 15 percent of a tenant’s income. Although congenital for Astral Oil’s employees, ten years later, abounding of the apartments were busy by added tenants, including a lot of clerks and bodies active by added important Greenpoint industries such as glassworks, shipbuilding and silversmithing.
The Astral Apartment’s Legacy
Fellow Brooklyn philanthropist Alfred T. White congenital his Tower and Home Apartments in Cobble Hill in 1879, followed by his Riverside Apartments in 1890. White and Pratt were antecedents in above affordable worker’s housing, but few others followed their lead. It would booty legislation allowable in the aboriginal 20th aeon to force landlords and builders to install toilets and hot and algid active baptize in accommodation apartments, and achieve changes that would crave air and ablaze in every apartment.
The Astral entered the 21st aeon as a rent-stabilized architecture in a adjacency and apple area rents abide to rise. The Astral was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and became a New York City battleground in 1983. It is still a six-floor walk-up, and today has 118 units. The Astral charcoal a Greenpoint landmark, and one of Brooklyn’s abundant buildings.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless acclaimed otherwise]
Editor’s note: A adaptation of this adventure appeared in the Fall/Holiday 2017/18 affair of Brownstoner magazine.
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