Fourth Avenue, Gowanus–Something to Tell the Grandkids

"I don’t think we live in Park Slope," my roommate said to me one evening, sitting at the kitchen table in our new walk-up. "I think we live in Go-anus. I don’t even know how you pronounce that."

My roommates and I had recently moved into a three-bedroom near Fourth Avenue, assuming we’d entered the land of baby strollers and Tea Loungers. (After all, Fifth Avenue is one block away.) But our address–on the northwest side of the mini-highway–puts us outside Park Slope’s boundaries and firmly in Gowanus.

At least for now.

Park Slope is growing, spreading not only further south but also further west, into an industrial area which looks nothing like the boutiques-and-brownstones district closer to Prospect Park. In this advance, Fourth Avenue is the front line: a litmus test for the fungibility of Brooklyn’s neighborhoods.

The most recent example of the spread is the Argyle Park Slope, a condominium development at Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street (i.e. "the building that likes to pretend it’s in Park Slope," according to neighborhoods blog Curbed). The L-shaped structure is technically on the Gowanus side, yet the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group is promoting the condos based on their Park Slope location–notably at a sales office at 294 Fifth Avenue at First Street, in Park Slope proper.

The 60-unit building, which is still in construction, has been on sale for $734 per square foot since October. It’s 70 percent sold. Dan August Cordeiro, the senior managing director of Corcoran Sunshine, estimates that about half the buyers are current Park Slope residents.

"We named our building the Argyle Park Slope because we think it is in Park Slope, which is mostly a residential neighborhood," Mr. Cordeiro said. "And with Gowanus, people think of the industrial uses or maybe the artistic uses."

But if we think it’s Park Slope, does that make it so?

"There are no ‘official’ neighborhood borders," said Craig R. Hammerman, the district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6, which encompasses both areas, "but Fourth Avenue is widely recognized as the border between Gowanus and Park Slope. Neighborhoods are self-defined entities."

Definition comes from the look and the feel; from physical boundaries like expressways and parks; from retail, residents, and dwellings. In 2005, the whole area was rezoned to allow increased commercial and residential development along Fourth and to preserve the character of the brownstones. Buildings along Seventh Avenue are now capped at 70 feet, while on Fourth Avenue development is permitted to 120 feet.

Many of the newest constructions are not retail: the Novo condos, the Crest On Second Street, and the Hotel le Bleu. And the shops along Fourth? There’s a U-Haul storage facility, a Staples, a car wash, a deli or two.

"As you can see, we’re the only business on Fourth Avenue," said Craig Sorrenti of Staten Island, who owns Victoria’s Gourmet Deli and Pizza at Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street. "I mean, in this general location."

How does he feel about the new development? "It’s great for business," Mr. Sorrenti said.

When Michael Brennan, a 43-year-old painter, moved to Eighth Street and Fourth Avenue three years ago, he said, no one would deliver to his address.

"Fourth Avenue is the dividing line between Park Slope and Gowanus," declared Mr. Brennan. "Unless you talk to a realtor. A realtor would tell you something else."

Like other residents, he takes pride in the Gowanus label; he doesn’t object to the changes in the neighborhood, but he still prefers its less pretty parts.

"Without insulting my neighbors, it’s a little less high-strung on this side," Mr. Brennan said. "My building is right on the edge of the industrial zone, and I wanted to be closer to these kinds of spaces. As you walk up the hill, each block gets nicer and nicer and nicer."

"It’s one block," Mr. Cordeiro said, "so I don’t think it’s that big of a leap for people. People are buying on Fourth Avenue because it’s a block from Fifth Avenue."

And pretty soon they’ll be buying on Third Avenue–or at least that’s the plan. For Mr. Cordeiro, Third Avenue is "the new frontier."

Fourth Avenue, Gowanus–Something to Tell the Grandkids