Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Private house
Address: 1 South Portland Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner DeKalb Avenue
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1878
Architectural Style: Italianate palazzo
Architect: Edward Kendall
Other Work by Architect: mostly works in Manhattan, including buildings in the Soho Cast Iron District and the Robert and Ogden Goelet mansions on 5th Avenue.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene HD (1978)
The story: This impressive brownstone house is the only free-standing mansion in the entire Fort Greene Historic District. Like many of its neighbors, it is a refined and elegant building, in keeping with the spirit of much of Fort Greene’s housing stock. By the 1840s and 50s, development in the city of Brooklyn was spreading eastward, away from the Heights, and Fort Greene was developed as an upper middle class enclave, laid out on wide streets named after elegant streets and neighborhoods in London. South Portland is named after Portland Place, an upscale street that connected Regent Street and Regent Park Terraces, one of London’s finest areas.
South Portland is often considered the most beautiful street in Fort Greene, and this house is one of the contributing factors. The architect, Edward Kendall, designed a mansion worthy of the best Brooklyn Heights streets, or the tonier parts of Manhattan. He actually chose a design that was a bit passé by 1878, but fit into the existing streetscape of South Portland and DeKalb like a glove. This palazzo is restrained and elegant in design, with subtle details, such as gorgeous steps, a glass transom, elegant French windows, stained glass windows and beautiful ironwork. On top of that, its side windows and expansive bay faces Fort Greene Park, and the other side sports a beautiful conservatory oriel and a generous side yard.
Edward Kendall was one of the more prominent members of the Manhattan architectural world in mid-19th century New York. He was Boston born and educated, and came to NY in 1868. Among his better known works were mansions on Fifth Avenue for brothers Robert and Ogden Goelet, and several cast iron fronted buildings in Soho. He was also the president of the NY City chapter of the AIA, and between 1891 and ’92, was president of the national organization.
The first resident of 1 South Portland was Colonel Nathan Turner Sprague. He bought the house in 1879, but didn’t live in it until 1883. He was a very successful farmer and sheep breeder in Vermont, and a member of the Vermont state legislature. He came to Brooklyn in 1883 to establish his bank, the Sprague National Bank, which stood on the corner of Atlantic and Fourth Avenues. He would later be a founder of the City Savings Bank of Brooklyn, which was on Fourth and Flatbush, just up the street from his other bank. He sat on the boards of several other banks, including another one he owned back in Vermont, and he had financial interest in a water company and other utilities in New England. Sheep farming can certainly pay off.
Once settled into his fine home, Mr. Sprague lost no time becoming a citizen about town. He joined the Montauk Club, and sat on the boards for several charities, including the Brooklyn Dispensary, and was a member of the nearby Hanson Place Baptist Church. He also was a trustee of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, and supported libraries in Brooklyn and Vermont. He was married three times, outliving two of his wives. He died at his home in May of 1903, of dropsy. He’s buried in Vermont.
Today the house is a two family, certainly large enough for anyone’s needs, at over 7,500 square feet. It remains one of Fort Greene’s finest homes, on one of the neighborhood’s most beautiful blocks. GMAP
(Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark)