Building of the Day: 131 Buckingham Road

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The BOTD is a no-frills look at interesting structures of all types and from all neighborhoods. There will be old, new, important, forgotten, public, private, good and bad. Whatever strikes our fancy. We hope you enjoy.

Address: 131 Buckingham Road, between Church Ave and Albemarle Rd.
Name: Frederick and Loretto Kolle House, aka the Japanese House
Neighborhood: Prospect Park South
Year Built: 1902-1903
Architectural Style: Japanese ornamented Queen Anne
Architects: Petit and Greene
Landmarked: Yes, Prospect Park South Historic District (1979)

Why chosen: In 1899, developer Dean Alvord purchased 50 acres of Flatbush land for residential development. Prospect Park South was designed to be a high class suburban enclave, a rural park for the rich. He re-named the numbered streets with English sounding names, like Albemarle, Buckingham and Marlborough, laid out park malls, planted lots of trees and put up brick gateposts at the entrance to PPS. There were restrictions and rules regarding the prices, sizes and setbacks of homes, and buyers could use his architects, or bring in their own. Alvord’s main architect was John J. Petit, of Kirby, Petit & Green. They may be best known for their designs for the buildings of Dreamland, the huge amusement park in Coney Island, although they also had other impressive buildings in their portfolio. Petit and Alvord had worked together before, and PPS would be Petit’s greatest legacy. Along with architects Carroll Pratt and Slee & Bryson and others, Petit designed PPS over a period of years, in a potpourri of building styles, mixing Colonial Revival, Craftsman, Queen Anne, Tudor Revival, Spanish Mission, Italian Villas, a Swiss Chalet, and this Japanese house, probably the most photographed and famous house in Victorian Flatbush. Petit built this house on spec for Alvord, with no specific buyer in mind. He researched Japanese architecture, and was aided by three Japanese artisan/builders who oversaw the building, interior and garden. The house ended up costing more than any other house in the development, and Alvord wanted to play up the novelty and the uniqueness of the house as an advertising tool. It was a successful campaign. The house is a large stucco covered box with Japanese brackets, bargeboards and an upturned roof. Chrysanthemums decorate the façade, and today the house is quite striking in the colors chosen to highlight the Japanese details, although period postcards show a more subdued use of color. The interior carried the Japanese theme further, with hand painted Japanese designs and carvings on the fireplaces and ceilings. The dining room had leaded glass windows with a dragon design. The first owner of the house was Dr. Frederick Kolle, a prominent radiologist and plastic surgeon, and his wife Loretto, a motion picture script writer and novelist. The house has been faithfully cared for over 100 years, and is still one of the most striking and beautiful houses in an area of very impressive houses.

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Postcard from 1913.

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