Edward J. McGuire was a very successful builder, developer and business owner. By the early 1900s, he was the president of the Brooklyn Builders Supply Company, which had its warehouses in Gowanus, and was humming with industry, as the building boom in Brooklyn continued full steam. In one of McGuire’s development projects, he had taken seven lots on the southern side of Dean Street, between Brooklyn and Kingston Avenues, and hired architect Axel Hedman to design a group of elegant limestone row houses. Like many of Hedman’s row houses, these were high end single family houses in the English basement style, with a short stoop, a balustered porch, and all the bells and whistles of the day. McGuire was so pleased with the work he moved the family; his wife Matilda and son Edward Jr., into the first house in the group, 1327 Dean Street, and Matilda’s two sisters moved into the house next door.
McGuire, like many wealthy men of his day, was involved in all sorts of activities. His wealth and business success naturally drew him into banking, and he sat on the trustee board of the Brevoort Bank for Savings, which was on nearby Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street, and was a former director of the Church Lane Savings Bank, also in Brooklyn. He was very active in Democratic politics, and was also very active in Irish and Catholic activities; as a Grand Marshall of the Knights of Columbus, and the president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. He was also a founding member of the congregation of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, a magnificent church which would stand on the corner of St. Johns Place and Brooklyn Avenue in 1916. Mr. McGuire was wealthy and well-known.
The house the McGuire family lived in was the first house in the Hedman designed group on Dean Street. Next door were two semidetached mansions on a large open lot. Across the street was the Elkins house, the oldest standing house in the neighborhood, surrounded now by row houses and a flats building. The rest of the block was a combination of row houses, flats buildings, and a couple more large free-standing and semi-detached homes. It was an eclectic block, and these limestone houses stand out in a neighborhood of darker and older, although not by much, row houses. There is a gap between the McGuire house and the house next door, and that is important to our story, because that’s how the thief got to the back of the house.
One day in March of 1916, Mr. and Mrs. McGuire were going out for the evening. Mrs. McGuire’s sisters lived next door, and so was convenient baby-sitting, and they took their son next door to his aunt’s. Elizabeth and Mary McQuilkin had never married, and loved their nephew, and were glad to take him in. They promised to put him to bed, and his parents set out for the evening. Mrs. McGuire was wearing many of her jewels.
The evening progressed, and as darkness fell on Dean Street, and the live-in servants got an evening off as well, a wily burglar went into action. He crept around to the back of the McGuire house and using a glass cutter, made an opening in the kitchen window, popped the lock, opened the window and slipped in. As he cased the parlor floor for loot, he took the precaution of putting a piece of furniture in front of the front door to prevent anyone from coming in, as well as to warn him of the McGuire’s return.
While he was in the house, Elizabeth McQuilkin and young Edward were going into the house, so the child could be put to bed. When she tried to open the door of the darkened house, the door would only open a bit, hitting the furniture the burglar had put in front of the door. She knew something was wrong. She was able to get her hand into the opening and flick on the hall light, and she saw the furniture blocking her way. Elizabeth told the boy to go next door and have her sister call the police. There was a burglar in his parent’s house.
With the police on the way, Mary McQuilkin stayed on the phone with them, while Elizabeth watched from her window. Row house party walls can convey sound very well, and with an ear to the wall, the sisters could hear furniture being moved and someone moving around the house in search of valuables. As the ladies watched, the burglar came out of the house with a bag of loot. Elizabeth was ready, and as he walked away down the street, she slipped out of her house and followed him.
As she reached the corner, a friend happened to drive by, and she flagged him down, and they followed the crook down the street. They encountered a patrolman, Officer Edward Cummins, and he piled into the car as well. With an acute sixth sense for danger, the burglar began feeling paranoid, and started walking faster, finally breaking into a run, as he saw the car following him. He ran into an alley on Dean Street near Albany Avenue, and began scaling fences to get away. Officer Cummins took to the street, and the pursuit was on. He scaled a few fences himself, and finally cornered the man in an alley.
A fight ensued, and in the process, the thief grabbed an iron bar or a piece of wood and brought it down on Officer Cummin’s arm, breaking the bone. Cummins was down. Fortunately, before he could get out of the alley, reinforcements arrived, and after a futile battle, the thief was arrested. He had on him a man’s fur coat, a diamond ring, a gold pendant on a chain, six silver stick pins, a pair of gold cuff links, a watch fob, a gold stick pin and a box of cigars.
When the prisoner was taken back to the station and fingerprinted, it turned out he was a career burglar who went by the appropriate name of Harry Gold. His real name was Herman Liebowitz. He had been sent to Elmira State prison in 1903 for burglary and again in 1908 for unlawful entry. He was going away again, this time with an added sentence for assaulting a police officer. He wouldn’t be breaking into houses for a long time. The McQuilkin sisters were hailed for their plucky detective work, and Officer Cummins was on the mend in Swedish Hospital.
Edward and Matilda McGuire came home to an excited Edward Junior, who had had his own part in this adventure and was a very tired child. The experience did not sour the family on the house or neighborhood. They lived here past the elder McGuire’s death in 1935, well into the 1940s. So did the McQuilkin sisters. Mary died in 1941, and her funeral took place in the McGuire home after a requiem mass at St. Gregory’s Church. GMAP
On October 4, 2013, the McGuire house at 1374 Dean Street will be one of the nine homes and two churches featured on this year’s Crown Heights North house tour. (Sneaky how I segued into that, isn’t it?) We hope you’ll come on out and see why the neighborhood is getting such attention these days. It’s beautiful and full of houses with great stories, past and present. Tickets and information are available on line at www.crownheightsnorth.org. The tour begins at the historic and quite gorgeous St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church, the church that Edward McGuire helped found. You can’t miss its Italian campanile tower rising over St. Johns Place and Brooklyn Avenue. It, like much of the neighborhood, is landmarked for a reason. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating the architecture, culture and beauty of Crown Heights North.