It's easy to see why Ditmas Park in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn has become one of the city's most desirable neighborhoods. Old railroad suburbs are often attractive and interesting places: Big, suburban houses stand close together on walkable streets, a layout from the days before automobiles. The railroad that serves Ditmas Park is the Brighton Line, also known as the Q train, which follows the right of way of the old Brooklyn, Flatbush & Coney Island Railroad, a surface steam railroad eventually purchased and rebuilt by the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company. The BRT decided to run the Brighton Line in an open cut through Flatbush. This hid the train from view in an area ripe for development as a high-class residential district at the turn of the 20th century.
The Ditmas Park Historic District stretches from Dorchester Road on the north to Newkirk Avenue on the south, and from Ocean Avenue on the east to the cut for the Brighton Line on the west. The area was developed beginning in 1902 by Lewis Pounds, later Brooklyn borough president and unsuccessful Republican candidate for New York City Mayor. No doubt Dean Alvord's magnificent Prospect Park South development inspired Pounds. But Ditmas Park is generally not as splendid as Prospect Park South. And that may have a lot to do with its appeal — the scale is homey.
That said, there are some truly grand houses in Ditmas Park, for example 1000 and 1010 Ocean Ave. (both from 1899), at the northwest corner of Newkirk. Designed by George Palliser, and as grand as any houses in the city, neither is in good condition, and 1010 is in desperate shape. But these aren't what we think of when we think of Ditmas Park. The homey, lovely bungalows of East 16th Street between Newkirk and Ditmas Avenues are what come to mind. On this block and just across Ditmas stand 13 bungalows, no two alike (there may be no two identical houses in all Ditmas Park), designed by Arlington Isham and built in 1908–09. Isham stands in relation to Ditmas Park as John Petit does to Prospect Park South — the designer of fecund imagination whose works set the tone for the whole area. Isham designed some of the earliest bungalows — a type of middle-class house invented in California (though the word comes from India) — on the East Coast. Overall he designed 40 or more houses in Ditmas Park. Yet we know next to nothing about him.
For me, it's not an Isham house that's my favorite in Ditmas Park, but a house by Slee & Bryson, at 463 E. 19th St., just north of Ditmas Avenue. Built in 1906, this is one of the best Colonial Revival houses in the city. The front porch is the first thing to grab you. It's big and beautiful; and like a lot of Ditmas Park porches, it swings around to the side of the house. This one, though, doesn't just swing around, it does so with an outward gesture like a dancer's jutting hip. This is a bravura touch, the better for being part of a house of such finely wrought details, like the stained glass windows and the prettiest balusters in Ditmas Park.