Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Semi-detached row houses
Address: 1406-1408 Dean Street
Cross Streets: Brooklyn and Kingston avenues
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: Somewhere between 1875-1880
Architectural Style: Second Empire
The story: Most of the neighborhood we call Crown Heights North today was considered to be a part of the larger community of Bedford, back in the late 1800s. Almost all of the land had been part of the huge Lefferts family holdings, belonging either to the Lefferts’ themselves, or families tied to them by marriage. After Judge Lefferts Lefferts died in the 1850s, his heirs began selling off the acreage, very aware of the fact that this was going to be prime land for housing development. The street grid had already been laid out, and it was only a matter of time before developers arrived.
One of the early sales in the area had been to George Elkins. In 1859, his wife Susan bought this land from a gentleman farmer who had, in turn, purchased his land from Judge Lefferts. Elkins and his family moved into the elegant Italianate country villa already standing on the site, built in the early 1850s. George then went into the real estate business. From his front porch, high on a rise, he could see all of Bedford around him, and he took his clients there to show them what could be theirs.
Elkins’ land included a large swath of Dean Street, spreading out around him, including land on Pacific Street, from Brooklyn to Kingston Avenue, and more. He also began selling off plots here and there, and perhaps the land that these houses stand on was once his. His house is just down and across the street, on this same block. For a long time, the Elkins house stood alone, but as he and others sold the surrounding land, more well-spaced suburban type villas began going up. They were followed by the beginnings of row house development, especially wood-framed attached and semi-detached houses.
The houses at 1406 and 1408 Dean Street were built sometime before 1880, probably in the mid-1870s. They first appear on city maps in 1880, and represent some of the earliest buildings in the area. The opposite side of the street is practically empty, with only the Elkins house surrounded by its large lot and a barn. Down the street, to the west of these twin houses, there was another set of probably similar houses, and the first row of brownstones in the entire neighborhood, built in 1876.
The twin houses were elegant wood-framed homes with fish scale shingles on the mansard roofs, and deep porches with wooden Italianate columns. The windows had wooden shutters and deep bracketed eaves just under the roofline. All of that detail is gone today, which is probably why the LPC did not designate these houses in their landmarking of Crown Heights North. In fact, they left them out of subsequent phases, as well, creating a tiny unlandmarked pocket that consists of only these two houses. In my opinion, they’ve included worse and less worthy, and should have included these two houses, especially since the rest of the block is landmarked.
At any rate, the houses were owned and occupied, for the most part, by people who did not appear often in the newspapers. The owners and occupants of 1406 were almost invisible. There was more going on next door. In 1900, No. 1408 was home to Augustus V. Healy, who was Superintendent of Sunday Schools at Tompkins Avenue Congregational Church. In 1903, the house was sold by G.A. Betts, and a photograph was placed in the Brooklyn Eagle, giving us the only clue of what these houses looked like originally. They were quite nice. The Betts family was quite prominent in Brooklyn real estate, owning and developing a large part of Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights, which probably warranted the photograph.
In 1910, the address made the papers because this was the home of one Cord Meyers. He was on trial for manslaughter, having run over and killed James Flood with his car. He had struck Flood on Bedford Avenue and Madison Street. It turned out that Meyers was partially blind and worked at the Industrial Home for the Blind on Gates and Tompkins. He had been employed in the broom making department and was 32 years old. When the story was printed in the Eagle, the case was on hold, as the coroner and investigators wanted to figure out how the whole thing happened before proceeding. Tragic, all around.
Today, both houses are shades of their former selves. No. 1408 is much more worse for wear than its neighbor, but does have a bumpout extension on the side.The wood frame exteriors are now covered with a really awful textured and patterned stucco.The tax photos from the early 1980s show that even then, No. 1408 still had its original window hoods on the top floor.They are gone now. But they do both have garages in the back, a valuable commodity nowadays. They sit on a generous 60 foot lot, and are a prime development site, because they are not landmarked. We’ll have to keep an eye out on these. GMAP
Thanks to R. Wexler for inquiring about these buildings. I’m glad there was a story after all.
(Photograph: Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark)