Memory Lane: The man Who Gave Borough Park its Name
It is hard to believe, but Borough Park was once off-limits
to Jews, and the Boro Park club did not allow Jews membership.
William Reynolds was a developer like no other. A very ambitious individual: he was the youngest elected State Senator in New York history; he developed neighborhoods all around the city.
In 1895, William has just completed developing hundreds of homes in Prospect Heights (including a mansion that he built for himself), and was ready for his next challenge. He found it in the Old Dutch town of New Utrecht—in which hundreds of acres of farmland were being developed. He purchased the land, and divvied it up into 4,000 lots. Some of them he sold to others developers, and then set to work on the rest, developing them himself.
He was not the absolute first developer; in 1887 Electus B. Litchfield (owner of Litchfield Mansion in Prospect Park) had created a small cottage community called Blythebourne—with a few small houses on a few streets.
Reynolds built around it. Blythebourne was a bit too English-sounding for Reynolds, so the ex-senator called his community Borough Park. He also ensured that the community was served by a train station on the Brooklyn, Bath, and Coney Island West End line. The community had a small town feel, with detached suburban houses with wide front porches. Reynolds’ blocks had a mixture of large higher end homes in the popular Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles of the day, but was mostly blocks of smaller wood framed suburban homes, very similar to nearby Flatbush. He even used the same architects. He had one of them build him a house on 49th Street and 15th Avenue.
He used many ploys to generate excitement for his homes—such as the time in October of 1901 that one of his homes was won by Robert L. Huter, the barber of Blythebourne, as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports: “Barber of Blythbourne wins a $6,500 house, Mr., Huter who wields a razor for Borough Park men Takes Reynolds’ First Prize.
“…because of fate’s favoritism at a real estate lottery geld in the Borough Park Club House last night…. It was about one year ago last night that senator William Reynolds, president of the Borough Park Company, made an announcement that nine valuable prizes in real estate would be offered to those purchasing one or more lots… the first premium, the richest stake of all, was one of senator Reynold’s best houses on Fifty-second street between Fifteenth and Sixteenth Avenues. It was up-to-date according to the most exact interpretations of the word, and its twelve rooms are outfitted with everything that a modern detached dwelling must have.”
Reynolds understood that any successful development must have commercial space, so he preserved the stretch of 13th Avenue between 50th and 51st streets, and erected a club there. This was a place that many functions were held, and where Reynolds held court. Jacob Fishman notes in the Chicago Sentinel that the inhabitation of Jews in Boro Park was delayed by about a decade, until Boro Park capitulated and allowed Jews to live there.
In an article in Brooklyn Life, in 1903, Reynolds himself expresses his surprise that this neighborhood took off. “I never had any idea that anybody outside of New York and Brooklyn, with the possible exception of a few people in towns no farther away than Newark, would ever invest in Borough Park, and then only with the idea of sooner or later occupying a neat maisonette provided with suitable stale accommodations in our pretty park.
“These were only some of my misconceptions…four years ago there were only about twenty houses in Borough Park…. while now there are over seven hundred...and about one hundred more in the course of construction. The prices have bounded to 100%-200% higher (skyrocketing real estate prices evidently are more than one century old). When I opened Borough Park, I reserved the parcel of lots along the railway, which gives us twenty-six minutes communication with Park Row, for five-cents, without change of cars...”
Well, Boro Park Club went on to become a yeshivah, quite a departure from the desires from the man who originally built it.