History Hidden in Plain Sight

Stark’s Flats


Why do certain buildings, however modest they may be in origin or design, endure? While others, grander in architecture and worthy of protection, are torn down? Fortunately, in this week’s story we won’t lament the loss of a building that was worth preserving, but instead, we will celebrate the history of dwellings with surprisingly humble roots.

“There was a dye factory just east of the W. Hempstead branch of the LIRR, which was on the ground at the time. Now, I’d say, it would be between Cottage Street and Satterie Avenue,” wrote Ernest H. Tempel (1908-1999) in the May 1982 issue of “Panorama,” the historical society’s monthly newsletter. “Most of the employees were deaf folks who lived in a row of cold-water flats behind the hotel owned by Adam Landgrebe,” — now Chase Bank. “The flats were two-story, the first floor was about four steps below the street, the second floor about four steps above the street. A man by the name of Stark built them out of cement blocks.”

The dye factory is long gone, but the “cold-water” flats, constructed in 1912, survived. George Stark (1842-1922) an immigrant from the Alsace region in France, and his son Leon (1883-1941) were the builders. Originally bricklayers by trade, the Stark’s became well-known mason contractors — their local building projects included the original Nassau Hose and Chemical Co. No. 2 on Brooklyn Avenue.

Rudolph Braunstein (1903-1994), a German immigrant who moved to Valley Stream the year the building was completed, was an original tenant. “Our first home was Stark’s Flat’s, behind the bank. At that time there were five units, each with an upstairs and downstairs apartment – 10 four-room residences. We occupied the upstairs flat on the easterly end, next to the Reising family,” recalled Braunstein in his April 23, 1993, oral history recording with Helen Dowdeswell. “The apartments were extremely cold and damp, and we were happy to move on to warmer quarters.”

In 1938, the flats were renovated for the sum of $10,000. Ten apartments were added, a total now of 20 units — two per floor. By 1949, the back of the building had newly installed fire escapes and stairs. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Avenue firehouse that Stark built was torn down in 1957 and replaced. Stark’s Flats, however, has aged well, a landmark of sorts – charming row houses in old-world Valley Stream.

Location: 17-25 East Hawthorne Avenue

Map: 1914, “Atlas of Nassau County.” E. Belcher-Hyde, cartographer