Building of the Day: 417 East 19th Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally the Rene Dumarest home
Address: 417 East 19th Street
Cross Streets: Dorchester and Ditmas avenues
Neighborhood: Ditmas Park
Year Built: 1907
Architectural Style: Four Square
Architect: Benjamin Driesler
Other Work by Architect: Row houses, free-standing homes and other buildings in Victorian Flatbush, Park Slope, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights North and South, and elsewhere.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Ditmas Park HD (1981)

The story: The Landmarks Preservation Commission calls this house a Colonial Revival, but I think today, we’d just call it a Four Square, that uniquely American style of house that was a transitional style between Victorian Queen Anne and the Craftsman/Prairie style. It is basically a large cube, four rooms deep, usually with deep eaves, at least one central dormer, and a porch. They were built in both wood and brick, and are especially well suited for suburban lots like in Ditmas Park, where space was at a premium, but it was still possible to build a nice large house. This house was designed by Benjamin Driesler, one of Brooklyn’s busier architects at the dawn of the 20th century. He is credited for many houses in various parts of what we now call Victorian Flatbush, and was a huge architectural presence in nearby Lefferts Manor.

This is a fine looking home, and draws the eye when you are walking down 19th Street, but the real story here is the drama that took place in its walls. It may also be the inspiration for a popular teen novel. The house was built for the Dumarest family, and here lies our tale:

Rene Dumarest was a wealthy importer, in business with his brother, as Dumarest Brothers, with offices in Manhattan. In 1900, he married his wife, Rose, whom he had met while living in Esmaraldes, Ecuador, for business. In 1907, Benjamin Driesler was commissioned to build this large 23-room house, and the family lived here until at least the 1920s. But all was not well here, apparently.

In August of 1918, Rose Dumarest filed an order of separation from her husband, wanting a divorce and alimony. They had four children. Mrs. Dumarest charged that her husband had been abusing her since 1915, and was also involved with another woman. She said that he was physically abusive, and had struck her in front of their children, and pushed her down the stairs on one occasion. He then cut her allowance for her household expenses from $12,000 a year down to $50 a week, causing her to have to fire three of their servants working in the 23-room house, and pull their children out of private school, enrolling them in parochial school.

Mr. Dumarest countered that he was merely trying to curtail his wife’s spending, which was extravagant, and that in spite of the so-called abuse, she had stayed in the house, enjoying the fruits of his labors and raising their children. He also took umbrage over her slander of his female friend, about whom he said there was no hint of impropriety.

In the end, the courts decided for Mrs. Dumarest, and she received custody of the children. The oldest, six-year-old Louis, told the judge he wanted to be a priest when he grew up. But that was not the end of it. By 1920, Rene Dumarest had remarried, wedding the woman named Emma Rath, who had been named by Rose as the “other woman.” The couple had been married only three months when, as they left the Dumarest home, they ran into Rose and her oldest daughter, 19-year-old Marcella. According to Emma Rath Dumarest, Rose and Marcella verbally accosted them, spat on them, and called them names. She had Rose arrested and brought up on charges of disorderly conduct. The judge in the case took a look at the history and parties involved and dismissed the charges.

In 2005, author Ann Rinaldi wrote a book called “Brooklyn Rose” about Rose and Rene Dumarest, who were her great-grandparents. The book is geared towards the young adult market, and tells the tale of young Rose, a once wealthy girl from a plantation in South Carolina, who marries Rene, an older man and hated Yankee, a man she barely knew, but who would be able to rescue the family’s fortunes after the Civil War. He brings her to a mansion on Dorchester Road in Brooklyn, where she learns about life, love and responsibility. The book got great reviews. Wherever the actual facts lie in the family history, it’s a great house, with a great tale. Who knew? GMAP