Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Originally the John S. Eakins house
Address: 1306 Albemarle Road
Cross Streets: Corner Argyle Road
Neighborhood: Prospect Park South
Year Built: 1905
Architectural Style: Shingle Style Queen Anne/Colonial Revival
Architect: John J. Petit
Other buildings by architect: Many other houses in Prospect Park South, including 131 Buckingham, aka “the Japanese House.” On Albemarle Road alone: 1203, 1423, 1501, 1510, 1519, and 1522 (no longer standing)
Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Park South HD (1981)
The story: Prospect Park South is a neighborhood with one outstanding house placed next to another, so to use too many superlatives in describing them sounds almost redundant, but let me just say that this one is still one of the best of the best. Like many of “the best” in the area, it was designed by John J. Petit, who was the chief architect of Prospect Park South, developer Dean Alvord’s exclusive suburban enclave, begun in the last year of the 19th century. Petit was an inventive master of mixing styles, materials and ideas together to produce buildings that are almost impossible to characterize, but are always quite good.
This grand home is in the Victorian Queen Anne style, with a masterful massing of shapes and building materials. Yet Petit also incorporates many features of the newly popular Colonial Revival style both outside and inside, making the house a hybrid of both styles. It’s typical Petit. The wraparound porch is one of the longest, if not the longest, in the neighborhood, and the shingled turret on the side of the house helps anchor the house to this prime corner. In fact, Petit’s use of the plot itself is one of the greatest features of the house. The exact same house placed in a midblock lot would have still been impressive, but here, on the corner, it is simply magnificent.
All this splendor was designed for the man who commissioned the house in 1905, a couple of years after Petit had finished the Prospect Park South project and moved on to other developments in Flatbush. He came back to design the house for John S. Eakins, a “manufacturer of colors,” as the Brooklyn Eagle described him. Eakins owned the J.S. & W.R. Eakins Company, a dye manufacturing company. He and his wife, son and daughter were the first owners of this large 12-room house. The family had moved here from their home on Hancock Street in Bedford. In 1907, daughter Elsie married her beau from the old neighborhood, Frederick James Van Vranken, here at the house.
John Eakins died in 1915, after living here for around 10 years. His wife and family, including the Van Vranken’s, lived here until Amelia Eakins, his widow, died in 1930. They are both in Green-Wood Cemetery. The estate sold the house to Cary D. Waters in 1931. Waters was the president of the Charles J. Tagliabue Manufacturing Company, makers of test instruments for petroleum and petroleum products. They manufactured and sold instruments with names like the “Saybolt Colorimeter,” and the “Tag Closed Flash-Point Tester.” Considering the amount of products derived from petroleum, they had an ever expanding market for their goods.
Cary Waters was born in Norwich, N.Y., in Chenango County. I grew up two towns over from there, and always find it interesting to see what this rural area’s native sons and daughters become. Waters did extremely well. He was very active in Brooklyn’s social, philanthropic and business life. He served four terms as president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce between 1936 and 1940. He was also on the board of the East Brooklyn Savings Bank and the Chemical Bank & Trust Co. He belonged to many of Brooklyn’s elite clubs, and was a generous supporter to many established Brooklyn charities, including the Flatbush Boys Club and the YMCA. He was also the president of the Prospect Park South Association, the neighborhood homeowner’s association, which is still going strong.
In 1941, Waters was awarded the Downtown Brooklyn Association’s Medal of Honor for his service to Brooklyn. He died a year later of a heart attack, here at home in 1306. He was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery after a huge funeral service at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church on Montague Street. The house changed hands again. By 1946, it belonged to the Chief Assistant District Attorney of Brooklyn, Edward S. Silvers.
Prospect Park South, as a wealthy neighborhood full of large expensive houses, was a natural target for thieves. The local precinct had its hands full with trying to patrol this large neighborhood, especially in the summers, when most of the people decamped to their summer homes, the Eakins and Waters families among them. This house got hit three times, once for each of the above owners.
In the summer of 1920, a gang of three burglars under the age of 20 went on a robbery/wrecking spree in the neighborhood, breaking in during the day when the owners were all out of town. At least five houses were both robbed and wrecked, as the thieves stole jewelry and small household items like silver. They often tore up the places they robbed, and destroyed property. They were eventually caught in the act, while robbing the Burrell house, just down the block, spotted by an observant caretaker and gardener at another property. The Eakins family was also robbed by the same thieves. Some of the stolen loot was found in their homes.
In the summer of 1935, another robbery spree occurred. By now, the neighborhood had a private security patrol, but they didn’t catch these guys for a while. Again a number of homes were hit, including the home of Cary Waters. Three thousand dollars worth of jewelry and goods were stolen. And again, in 1946, thieves struck once again, this time robbing the home of the Chief ADA. That took nerve. This robbery was not part of a neighborhood invasion, but Chief ADA Silver lost $1,500 worth of jewelry and cash.
By 1979, when the neighborhood was landmarked, this house had been through several more owners since the Silvers’. The house was covered in aluminum siding, which certainly detracted from its overall beauty, although even with that, it remained an impressive house. The present owners have done a ton of great work to the property, including removing the siding and revealing and restoring the original clapboard and shingles. The house is also repainted a beautiful grey, much closer to what it may have looked like when it was photographed by the Brooklyn Eagle during the time it was sold by the Eakins estate to Cary Waters. That photo is below, and is, unfortunately, very grainy and fuzzy.
The house at 1306 Albemarle was a topic of great discussion and admiration on Brownstoner when it was for sale in 2007. After it sold and the new owners got settled, “Mrs. Albemarle” shared some of the renovations in the kitchen and elsewhere with us here on Brownstoner for many months in 2009. They removed a doctor’s office and restored the original kitchen, among other things. Unfortunately, those pages are no longer available. The house was also used as a set for Boardwalk Empire, the HBO television show, and especially now, with its restored exterior, is photographed and admired by all who come into the neighborhood. The story of this grand house continues. GMAP
(Photograph: Beyond My Ken for Wikipedia)