Forgotten NY Profiles Willowtown, Calls Merz Masterpiece a “Monstrosity”

Forgotten New York is one of our favorite sites. And we were pretty jazzed to see them feature Willowtown this week. However, we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the shade being thrown at Willowtown’s most beloved modern structures. Numbers 40, 44 and 48 Willow Place were designed by architects and Heights Heroes Joe and Mary Merz, but to Forgotten New York they’re just “modern monstrosities”. Too each is own, eh?

Forgotten NY: It’s the lone survivor of #42, 44, 46 and 48, on the west side of Willow Place. As you can see it hasn’t received nearly the same amount of TLC. Modern monstrosities hem it in on both sides.

Here’s some background from the Willowtown Association website:

In the early 1960s three new cement-block houses were built on empty lots on Willow Place that were city-owned and put up for auction–40, 44 and 48. These first modern houses in the neighborhood were designed by Joe and Mary Merz, both architects who have resided in No. 48 since 1965. No. 40, a double-width house, was designed for the attorney Leonard Garment, who went on to renown in Washington, D.C., as President Nixon’s special counsel.

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  • ClaudeScales

    The framing of the photo makes the Merz townhouses look “monstrous,” like two muscular guys flanking a delicate lady who’s fallen on hard times.

  • Eddyde

    Aw who cares, the piece was probably written by a 27 year old dipshit from Iowa.

  • Jorale-man

    I think what’s interesting about the houses is that, yes, they are blatantly out of step with the aesthetic of their surroundings and could never be approved nowadays. But on the other hand, their mid-century modernist design has come in fashion again thanks to things like “Mad Men” and are probably as desirable as the historic homes on that block. Now if only someone would put some TLC into the Greek Revival home in the center.

  • Johnny Cakes

    Art is in the eye of the beholder. Art inspires comments. These buildings are artistic because people are still commenting on them. Bravo!

  • stuart

    I agree with Johnny, these houses have aged well and are probably more stylish now than when they were first built.

  • ujh

    One cannot deny that No. 42 looks “foreign” between the modernist buildings flanking it, particularly as No. 42 is set back from the sidewalk and breaks the uniform position of the buildings along the rest of the street. It would be helpful to know whether the Merzes’ designs were approved before the BH Historic District designation, and whether the Merzes could have tried (or did try) to buy No. 42 with the possibility of tearing it down and filling the space with another house similar in style to what they created on either side. I, for one, have always been fascinated by their buildings.

  • Johnny Cakes

    What fascinates me the most about the Merz buildings is that all the architectural elements seem to be in perfect scale and balance. The windows, doors, and position of everything seems to be in perfect harmony together.

  • Andrew Porter

    Forgotten New York is an excellent site, done by a local who posts excellent material about various parts of NYC. The actual piece talks about, and shows, many other buildings on that block. Must have been a slow news day here.

  • Andrew Porter

    Obviously they were done years before BH received the designation, otherwise construction would never have been permitted.

  • MonroeOrange

    wow Eddyde…i didn’t know you wrote the piece!

  • ClaudeScales

    40 Willow was completed in 1965; I would surmise the others are roughly contemporaneous. Brooklyn Heights was designated a National Historic Place in January of 1965, and a New York City Historic District in November of that year. Construction was therefore well underway before the historic district designation.

  • Martin L Schneider

    The Merz’s gained needed financial support from the fabled Mrs. Darwin James, heir to the Underwood Typewriter fortune. She was interested in preserving the particular quality of the Heights as both a liveable and aesthetically pleasing neighborhood. Saving the empty lots from an absentee developer was essential.
    The plan called for two related single family homes, one for him and the larger one for a neighbor, Len Garment, who at the time lived on Monroe Place. The Garments were sold on Joe as an imaginative and sensitive architect and went for his plan from the beginning.
    These homes have proved to be valuable additions to the Heights and ultimately worked out to be completely harmonious with the special nature of Willow Street.
    Too bad about the ghostly and derelict condition of the house in between which hasn’t seemed to discourage incoming buyers at all.

  • Andrew Porter

    One of the modern houses was owned and occupied by Ronald Clyne, famous for his many album covers for Folkways Records, who started out doing covers and artwork for science fiction fanzines in the late 1930s. Clyne died in the 90s, I believe.

  • Bornhere

    There is some confusion here: 42 Willow Place was built in 1899 and still stands; but it is not the set-back, columned house — 42 is just to the north of the the Merz house on the “right,” as you look at the picture above. Forty-two is painted a sort of beigey-yellow, before which it was painted yellow-yellow.