Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Row houses
Address: 521-539 Third Street
Cross Streets: Seventh and Eighth Avenues
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: late 1880s-early 1890s
Architectural Style: Queen Anne, with Neo-Grec elements
Architect: Unknown, but perhaps E. H. Mobrey
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD (1973)
The story: There are many fantastic houses in Park Slope, and this group remains one of my favorites. For an architecture geek like me, the most frustrating part is that we’re not sure whose work this is. Neither the LPC, nor the diligent folks from the Save the Slope research committee were able to shed definitive light on the architects of these homes. They are unlike any others in the neighborhood, or the rest of Brooklyn. It’s the griffins. I just love the griffins.
The surrounding Queen Anne houses were built between 1889-1891, so it’s not unreasonable to think these date from the same time. The group next door, numbers 511-519, was built by architect/developer E. H. Mobrey, and is a mixture of Neo-Grec and Queen Anne elements. There are similarities between those houses and these, and Mobrey is on record as selling number 523 in this group, in 1895, so they may be his design, or he could have just developed them all.
Mobrey, or whomever the architect was, had some great ideas. The push and pull of the square bay and the entrance give the group a rhythm. The use of Neo-Grec-style flat brownstone panels and doorways matches other houses on the block and in the neighborhood, and adds gravitas. Way up top on the cornices, the shell ornament above the bay alternates with the plain cornice above the doorway. The ornate animal and human heads on the bay’s brackets are striking, and then you have the griffins flanking the stairs. It’s all very balanced, with strong elements adjusting with plain, so each level is different and quite good. Top that off with stained glass transoms, some great carved bandcourses, the hefty dog-leg stairways, and the fine cast iron fencing, and you’ve got a really fine group of houses.
These were marketed for the well-off who were making Park Slope one of the most desirable upscale neighborhoods in Brooklyn, during the Gilded Age, and the homes were sold to brokers, doctors and the like. In 1926, 523 belonged to Mrs. Lee, wife of Naval Commander Robert C. Lee . She was the daughter of former US Senator William M. Calder, who had just ended his term. One night in 1926, Mrs. Calder, a Mrs. Harlow, and Mrs. Lee went out on the town for a dinner and theater night.
They were dressed to the nines, with diamonds, pearls, and fancy watches, and were being driven by the family chauffeur. Late that night, after the theater, the car returned to 523 to let Mrs. Lee out, when three men with guns pushed their way into the car. Two of them sat in the back with the ladies, while one sat up front with the chauffeur. They ordered the chauffeur to drive all over Brooklyn, eventually taking them through Prospect Park. They kept the car driving for over an hour while the gunmen threatened the ladies, and robbed them of all of their jewelry and money. At Union and 8th, they ordered the women and the chauffeur out of the car, and drove off, later abandoning the car at President and 4th Avenue.
The police were called, and a massive search went on for the car and the thieves, who got clean away. The ladies lost over $15,000 worth of jewelry, including diamond wedding bands, earrings, necklaces and brooches. Weeks later, the robbery was not yet solved. The initial story made the front page of the New York Times. If only the house’s massive stone griffins could rise and protect. GMAP