A 1913 advertisement for Mathews’ Model Flats refers to the buildings as “the house that has made Ridgewood famous.” The ad emphasizes that Mathews’ flats are the “best located, best built, and [have the] best sanitary arrangements.” It further details the reasons for the company’s success: building in Ridgewood near current and proposed transportation, buying land by the acre, buying materials direct from the manufacturer and in large quantities, selling direct to the homeowner without speculators.
Newspaper articles indicate that the six-family brick flats-houses in the Ridgewood North Historic District sold for $11,000, while other buildings in the area were less affordable. An article in the Real Estate Record and Guide published in late 1909 list prices of two- and three- story brick rowhouses at $9,000 to $12,000 and tenements buildings selling for $16,000 to
$17,000, depending on size and location.45
Since there was a great demand for affordable
housing, apartments rented immediately upon completion, and there was often a waiting list for Mathews Model Flats apartments, so they also retained tenants. The combination of a low upfront investment and constant rental income allowed the Mathews Company to brag “never a single foreclosure” to prospective buyers, regarding the soundness of investing in a model flat.
The buildings were so successful that they became the model for future development; the “Mathews Model Flats” were endorsed by the Tenement House Department. In a letter dated January 23, 1918, a commissioner of the Tenement House Department recommended “Mathews Model Flats” to J. Rogers Flannery, Director of Housing as a solution to the shortage of housing for U.S. Government shipyard employees. The letter explained that the model had been adopted as a standard in Queens for both the Mathews Company and other builders. 46
In addition to being innovative in plan, the tenements are striking in appearance. (Figure 5) Built after 1905 when fire codes in Ridgewood began requiring masonry construction for attached rows, the buildings have load-bearing masonry walls constructed of light colored Kreischer brick. Using mainly buff- and amber-colored brick, the buildings have fine detailing, including corbelled, projecting, recessed, contrasting and geometric patterned brickwork, brick pilasters, and contrasting brick or carved stone string coursing. With mainly flat facades, the mid- block buildings are recessed from the street wall of the corner buildings, (Figure 6) adding further interest to the row, while 66-22 to 66-42 Forest Avenue feature curved and angled projecting bays. (Figure 7)
Although simple in form, the Mathews flats buildings are decorated by Romanesque- and Renaissance-Revival-style details. These two styles had gained popularity in residential architecture in the late 19th century, especially in the design of New York and Brooklyn rowhouses, and while the design of Romanesque Revival style residential buildings had waned by the turn of the century, the use of the Renaissance Revival style continued until 1920. Rooted in 11th and 12th century Romanesque style of architecture, the Romanesque Revival style is characterized by arched and heavy forms, polychromatic materials, and contrasting textures,
45 The model flats that had ground floor commercial space were more expensive. The prospective homebuyer, with a fairly modest, $2000 cash down payment, could purchase a Mathews Flats building. While living in one apartment, the rent from the other five flats would generate sufficient income to cover the interest on the first and second mortgages, taxes, water and insurance, as well as some maintenance expenses. “Growth of Queens,” Real Estate Record and Guide (December 25, 1909), 1200; “Our Neighborhood the Way it Was” (October 2, 2008); No title, Ridgewood Times (April 19, 1913), 8.
46 The letter describes the Mathews flats as the “best example” of the “character of house which would give the maximum of living accommodations in space, light, air and ventilation, as well as convenience for creature comforts, and the maintenance of the best sanitary conditions for the minimum expense in rent, and yet, giving a fair and satisfactory return to the builder and subsequent owner.” Unpublished letter from Tenement House Department to Hon. J. Rodgers Flannery, dated January 23, 1918 (Gustave Mathews, Passport Applications, January 2, 1906 - March 31, 1925 (M1490), 1918 - 1919, Roll 0651, Certificates: 51000-51249, 10 Dec 1918-10 Dec 1918 available on-line: www.ancestry.com).