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Decorated Planters on Ralph Avenue, Brooklyn

Decorated Planters on Ralph Avenue, Brooklyn

Joseph Sciorra (May 22, 2013)
Joseph Sciorra
Planter at 1141 Ralph Avenue, Flatlands, Brooklyn, 2013.

A new cache of beach pebble flowerpots in East Flatbush.


During the winter I let the GPS take me on a different route through Brooklyn than my usual one from my apartment in Williamsburg to my parents’ house in Bergen Beach.

And I’m glad I did because I found a new set of decorated flower pots along Ralph Avenue in the neighborhood of East Flatbush. I waited until spring to explore this new find, stopping by this past Saturday to take a look.

1141 Ralph Avenue, looking towards 1143 Ralph Avenue.

A set of four row houses (built in 1935) on Ralph Avenue—1141, 1143, 1145, and 1149—were the site of an exquisite collection of mosaic planters. One block south at 1234 Ralph Avenue (built in 1955) and two blocks north at 947 Ralph Avenue (built in 1940, no photo taken), were two single houses with more decorated planters.

1234 Ralph Avenue.
Up until the 1960s, East Flatbush was a predominately Italian American and Jewish neighborhood. Today, the neighborhood is overwhelmingly African American, West Indian, and Haitian American. I spoke with homeowner Lawrence Legall who grew up at 1149 Ralph Avenue and he didn’t have any knowledge about the planters’ origins. All the current Ralph Avenue homeowners were using the decorated containers with a range of plantings, from petunias to succulents. At one location the planters had been painted white in a sort of Caribbeanifcation of the older Italian-American objects.

1145 Ralph Avenue (left) and 1149 Ralph Avenue (right).

The East Flatbush planters were similar to those in Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst in a number of ways: The rectangular planters had a double row of trim on the top as well as a diamond shaped center piece found in southern Brooklyn. One rectangular flower pot at 1149 was particularly interesting for his the oval shapes flanking the diamond.

1149 Ralph Avenue.

But the urns at 1141 and 1149 Ralph Avenue (between Beverly Road and Tilden Avenue) incorporated sea shells at the base and in the fields on the side, unlike anything found on the rest of the block or at the other end of the borough.

Another comparative point between the flower pots on East Flatbush and Dyker Heights is the absence of decorated planters among a set of row houses built in the same year. Of the seven houses built in 1935 Ralph Avenue between Beverly Road and Tilden Avenue, only four houses have decorated planters while two other units had undecorated cement planters. (The porch of the seventh house had been remodeled and the planters presumably removed.) Three out of five houses built as a unit in 1950 on 81st Street between 17th and 17th Avenues in Dkyer Heights have decorated planters.

I’m not sure what can be deduced from this simple observation. Did the contractor offer the mosaic planters for additional cost or were the houses owned by family members with shared tastes? It’s hard to say at this point.

As the summer approaches I’m hoping more of Brooklyn’s decorated flower pots will revealed themselves to me as if from a dream.

1143 Ralph Avenue

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