The Astral Apartments were built between 1885-1886 and used as affordable housing for the workers of Astral Oil Works, a kerosene refinery. The Astral Apartment building is made of brick and terracotta in the Queen Anne Style. American Queen Anne Style refers to structures with “free Renaissance”, or non-Gothic Revival, characteristics.
Pratt, an American businessman and philanthropist who was a prominent figure of
the nineteenth century, founded the Astral Oil works. He was a pioneer of the
petroleum industry who formed Charles Pratt and Company with Henry H. Rogers in
1867. They later joined John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. He endowed the
Brooklyn-based art college the Pratt Institute.
idea of companies providing affordable housing to employees likely seems
unusual to most twenty-first century readers. This practice falls under the
idea of “welfare capitalism” that was relatively popular in Western Europe and
the United States in the nineteenth and early-twentieth century. The term
generally refers to capitalism that concentrates on including social welfare
policies in company practice, rather than focusing solely on profit. Similar
affordable housing complexes, and in some cases entire villages, were
relatively common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—examples of
these include boarding houses built for textile workers in Lowell,
Massachusetts in the 1820s and the village of Bourneville, England, set up by
the Cadbury family for their chocolate factory. Although the idea of a company
providing affordable housing to its employees is unfamiliar in the present-day,
practices of welfare capitalism are still present in modern-day companies
through employee benefits, charitable donations, etc.
the type of paternalistic welfare capitalism common in the time may have been well
intentioned, it still did not address many of the most prevalent problems for
working class employees of the time, such as long work hours, dangerous working
conditions, and lack of job security. For this reason, employees often resented
employers for the housing provided, particularly if it was in “company towns”, because
of the amount of company control employees felt was present in their lives.
Astral Apartment building is still residential, with commercial businesses
occupying the ground floor.