Alfred T. White built the limited-profit model tenements called the Riverside Buildings in Brooklyn Heights, New York, in 1890, using William Field & Son architects. The eclectic style brick apartment houses at the southwest corner of Joralemon Street were revolutionary when they were constructed, providing a humanitarian response to the deplorable living conditions suffered by the poor working families in New York.
Unlike the typical cramped and disease-ridden tenement houses at the time, the apartments were well-lit and well-ventilated. One of the most notable features are the open-air stairs and corridors articulated with ornamental iron railings, which were designed to avoid the prevalent problem of airless stairwells which spread odors, disease, and served as giant flues in a fire. The project had its own park, playground, bathhouse, and music pavilion, which was possible because the buildings only occupied 49% of the lot. The success of this complex, along with other similar projects by White, helped pave the way for the enactment of New York State's 1895 tenement legislation.
The complex originally consisted of 9 buildings forming a U-shape around the central courtyard. Four of those buildings, the western leg of the U, were demolished in the 1950's for the construction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. However the remaining buildings remain mostly unchanged.
Over 10 years ago a previous landlord illegally paved the backyard, destroying most of the courtyard garden and replacing it with parking spaces he wished to rent out on a monthly basis. The current landlord of the building is now under a court order to restore the Courtyard Garden to how it was before it was illegally paved over.
Instead of abiding by this court order, the landlord wishes to excavate the courtyard and build an underground parking garage. The parking garage would require the removal of 12 mature trees; it would introduce unhealthy noise and fumes into what is currently the only buffer between these buildings and the BQE; and it would potentially damage archeological resources. This is particularly inappropriate given Alfred T. White's original intent for these buildings to provide access to light, air, and a healthy living environment for the residents. For these reasons, the Riverside Tenants' Association opposes the garage plan.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the garage plan in November 2008. However the plan was then rejected by the Department of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR). The landlord is currently seeking appeal of this ruling.