Walkabout: The House at 804 Jefferson Ave.

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By the late 1800′s the eastern part of what is now called Bedford Stuyvesant was a suburban oasis. The growing upper class community of Stuyvesant Heights was developing to the southwest, and busy Bushwick was right across the nearby border of Broadway. From details gathered in various stories about people living in the area, much of what was called the Eastern District or the 25th Ward, was not developed, although the street grid was laid out, and homes were large and on spacious lots, and were often used as summer retreats, and some people lived here year round. Row houses and flats buildings were not being built here yet, and wouldn’t be until the very late 1890′s. In 1881, the 2 story frame house of one Charles Rumpf caught fire, and was heavily damaged. A year later, Mr. Rumpf obtained a large plot of land next door to his, and sometime soon after the large stone mansion now at 804 Jefferson was built.

It was a large sturdy stone and stucco Second Empire style house, at least three and a half stories high, with a deep wrap around porch, a center tower with a turret roof, and a nice sized yard to the right of the house, all on a 75′ x 100′ lot. Charles Rumpf was a successful silk merchant, the NY representative for the Lyon manufacturer Alexander Girard. He lived in the house with his wife, the former Susan Disbrow, the daughter of a wealthy Brooklyn merchant, and their three children, Walter, Ellen and Suzanne. In 1887, the New York Times reports that the house was burgled, and one Peter J. English was apprehended for the crime, but never convicted. He should have waited a year. In 1888, the Rumpf’s celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary at their home at 804 Jefferson. The Brooklyn Eagle was there, and called Charles one of the wealthiest and most public spirited of the citizens of the Twenty-fifth Ward. They threw a great party, too, with a wealth of food, drink, an abundance of flowers and an orchestra. Guests gave them gifts of rich crystal, and Charles gave Susan a diamond necklace shaped like a heart, with a center of rare cut crystal. The cream of the Eastern District was there, and the couple were the talk of the society column the next day.

Charles Rumpf was quite active in community and society events. He and his wife summered with other wealthy Brooklynites in Asbury Park, New Jersey. He was a board member of the Brooklyn Institute, the forerunner of the Brooklyn Museum, and was an active participant in local affairs. By the end of the century, the neighborhood was growing up around the Rumpf mansion. In 1896, he signed a petition advocating against the opening of a saloon on the nearby corner of Jefferson and Ralph Avenues. But a year later, on February 1st, 1897, he died of a long illness. His funeral was held at the house, and was attended by many of his friends, and representatives of the silk trade, and condolences were sent from both America and Europe. He was buried in the family vault in Tarrytown.

His wife and children stayed in the house for several years afterward. Suzanne, the youngest daughter, was quite the debutante, and was written up in the society pages of the Eagle for a costume party she threw here, as well as her attendance at other such events. In 1901, she married Charles Newman Roe at the house, and the family disappeared from the papers entirely after that.

By 1914, 804 Jefferson belonged to Mrs. Mary Loefler. She made the news when her 12 year old nephew, George H. Loefler, ran away from his mother and her new husband, and wanted to live with her. Mrs. Dorothy Anderson had been divorced by her first husband, Henry Loefler Jr, the boy’s father, and eventually remarried a man named Anderson. The boy’s father died in 1906. None of this would have made the New York Times, except that young George was heir to a $300,000 fortune left to him by his grandfather, a successful building contractor. In open court, the Polytechnic Institute student testified that his mother and stepfather were mean to him, didn’t feed him properly, wouldn’t let him play with his friends, and took him to saloons where he drank ginger ale while Anderson drank beer and ate free bar food. The Andersons lived down the street from Mrs. Loefler, at 900 Jefferson Ave. After several days of deliberation, the court determined that the boy had to go home with his mother.

While the initial story, as covered in the Times, was quite long, the judge’s decision was reported in one small paragraph in the paper, several days later, buried along with young George’s hopes. Mrs. Loefler, the aunt, as well as the house at 804 Jefferson disappear from the papers. Unfortunately George Loefler’s troubles continue. He must have had a miserable teenage life. In 1921, George, now living in Richmond Hill, Queens, appears in court trying to annul his marriage. He was 19 years old, and had married Harriet Quall in 1918, when he was 14 and she was 21. He asserted that he had been tricked into marrying her and had been a minor at the time, and that he wasn’t the father of their two year old child. The judge somehow upheld the marriage. Several months later, Harriet obtained a degree of separation, and requested that her alimony be raised from $45 to $100 a month, and that George be ordered to buy her a $4,000 roadster. The judge decided not to grant this but gave her $250 a month alimony, a huge sum at the time. Poor George. We don’t know what happened to him, but hope he escaped with the rest of his money and managed to have a happy life, probably far away from New York.

The fate of 804 Jefferson Avenue is equally depressing. There is a great deal of time between 1921 and 2010, and real estate records are not always available, and do not tell the tale of what really happens in a house. As far as I can tell, the house remains a one-family for quite a while. The 25th Ward goes from German and Irish to Russian Jewish, then African American. Because the area is relatively isolated from the subway and a lot of the urban blight that afflicted Bedford Stuyvesant, the house stays intact on a quiet block of rowhouses and churches. Someone paints it a garish black and white. It is listed as a five family at the time of its first foreclosure. In the 1990′s the house is purchased by someone who intended to run a group home of some kind, and renovations are started, and then stopped, and the house again goes into foreclosure. Neighbors tell me they hope something good happens to the building soon, as it is now a blight on their block, and they are afraid of fire. The ceiling in the front room, visible from the street, has fallen into the room. The house is partially sealed, but still open to the elements, and could easily be accessed. The basic structure of the mansion looks sound, the porch is in remarkably good shape, and the grounds are spacious. The Rumpf Mansion is in need of some deep pockets and vision to bring it back to life. Charles Rumpf, silk merchant and good citizen of Brooklyn would be very happy to see the house he loved restored to its former glory. Any takers?

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