For a few years, I lived on one of the many blocks occupied by yellow brick row houses, here in Astoria. The block pictured above is 44th street between 30th and 31st avenues, for the curious. It’s the same block that Robert Deniro shot part of “A Bronx Tale” on. These are “barbell tenements” essentially, six railroad units on three floors with an air shaft in the middle.
This particular stretch of Matthews Model Flats in Astoria is just over a hundred years old (1911), as is a lot of the building stock in an area which I’ve been told was once called “the German Section” – “back in the day”. Model tenements are what they were built as, the affordable housing of its time, and while walking my little dog Zuzu one morning I began to ponder those bricks.
Those yellow bricks, with the little specks of glittery iron in them.
Everywhere you go, from Ridgewood to Maspeth to Astoria – you see those yellow bricks. Realizing that I had never thought about where bricks come from led to a bit of primary research about the history of brick manufacture in these United States, but don’t worry, that’s not what this post is about.
The first bricks in the English colonies in North America were probably made in Virginia as early as 1612. New England saw its first brick kiln erected at Salem, Massachusetts in 1629. The Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam imported yellow bricks from Holland, which imparted a Dutch character to the architecture of the city. The excellent quality and abundance of local clays in the colonies made it unnecessary to import bricks from across the Atlantic. Brick-making centers developed in Fort Orange (what is now Albany), New York; near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as along the Raritan River.
This is a more evolved form of the Matthews Flats, found over in Maspeth.