Building of the Day: 944-946 President Street

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 944-946 President Street
Cross Streets: Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1885-86
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Charles T. Mott
Other Work by Architect: Row houses in Park Slope and Upper West Side of Manhattan
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope HD (1973)

The story: This pair of houses shares one of the Slope’s most interesting entryways. Out of the hundreds of row houses in this area, you won’t find anything like it. Often, the most interesting designs come not from the more familiar architects covered here, but the ones who do a few buildings, at least in one neighborhood or borough, and aren’t seen again. Mr. Mott’s falls into that category.

Charles T. Mott was a New York architect, with most of his work on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, as well as summer homes for wealthy out-of-staters. We don’t have very much information about him, but we do know he was a member of the American Institute of Architects, and a member of the Architectural League. He was also a member of the Architectural Department at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Science, the forerunner of the Brooklyn Museum.

From what we can see of his work, he was an imaginative architect, quite comfortable with the eclectic influences that make up the Queen Anne style. His row of townhouses on West 73rd Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue in Manhattan, are great examples of his imaginative use of different periods of architecture influence. If you’d like to see more, please see Christopher Gray’s Streetscape column about this fascinating group of houses.

Back here in Brooklyn, he designed this pair, as well as the pair next door, numbers 940-942. They aren’t nearly as exuberant as his Upper West Side work, or even these houses, but they all blend in quite well with their neighbors. Both 944 and 946 have these unique side entrances, which allow for an inner courtyard between the buildings, enabling Mott to design side windows with a courtyard view. There are wonderful wooden balconies in the third floor windows of both houses, with fine wrought iron trim. Terracotta tiles are used throughout, as well as stained glass. These are really great houses.

Both houses belonged to Newbury H. Frost, a Brooklyn Heights financier and trustee of the Ridgewood Insurance Company of Brooklyn, as well as several other insurance companies. When he died in 1900, these two properties were auctioned off along with the rest of his estate. 944 then belonged to Charles F. Holm, a prominent lawyer, and director of the Mechanics and Trader’s Bank. The family was quite socially active, with a summer home in Sea Cliff, Long Island, and a membership in the Riding and Driving Club of Brooklyn, only a couple of blocks away. In 1906, he made the papers because one of his pair of horses broke out of its traces when he was having a ride down the Eastern Parkway. The horse ran all the way from Nostrand Avenue to Duffield Street, downtown, a two and a half mile run, before it was caught. That must have been embarrassing.

946 President was the long-time home of Carl and Augusta Schnabel-Tollefsen, giants in Brooklyn’s classical music world. Carl Tollefsen was born in England in 1882, and came to this country as a child of six. He was trained as a violinist found the Brooklyn Chamber Music Society, with his wife Augusta, who was an accomplished pianist with her own successful career as a soloist before they wed. They met when he was a member of the New York Symphony Orchestra. The Tollefsen’s ran a very successful music school from this address, teaching violin, cello and piano well into the 1950s.

They also collected important musical manuscripts and documents, with prize possessions including a letters from Rossini, Mendelssohn, and Brahms; manuscripts penned by Schubert and Beethoven, the latter in which he cautions the publisher to “be careful about the small notes.” In the 1940s, the collection was deemed one of the finest private collections of its kind in the world.

Carl Tollefsen also collected violins and other musical instruments. He had bows once owned by Corelli and Paganini, a viola de gamba from 1697, and a harpsichord, painted inside and out, that once belonged to Marie Antoinette, made in 1756. He was a supporter of the Early Music revival of the mid-20th century, and lent out his instruments for concerts and recordings, many at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 1969, the entire collection was purchased by the Lovejoy library of the University of Southern Illinois. This was a spectacular House of the Day in 2010. GMAP

(Photo: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark)

Photo: Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

Photo: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark

The Tollefsens in their home, with the Marie Antoinette harpsichord. 1952. Photo: Brooklyn Public Library

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