Building of the Day: 235-245 Greene Avenue

235-245 Greene Ave, SB, PS 1

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Row houses
Address: 235-245 Greene Avenue
Cross Streets: Grand and Classon Avenues
Neighborhood: Clinton Hill
Year Built: 1894
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: Yes, part of Clinton Hill HD (1981)

The story: The interest in yesterday’s House of the Day prompted a more historical look at this group of houses. They, and an adjoining apartment building on the corner of Grand Avenue, are the only landmarked buildings on this block. The 1981 Clinton Hill Historic District’s lines were extended solely to include these six houses, so they must have thought they were important. Personally, I think they could have included some many of the houses across the street as well, especially the flats buildings. I would imagine they did not because there were so many empty lots and non-contributing buildings on that side of the street.

Although the name of the architect was lost, the records show that seven houses were built for a developer named Elbert Snedeker in 1894. Snedecker was a very successful builder and contractor, and had worked on some of New York’s more memorable buildings, including the old Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan, the Garfield Building on Court Street, the Oriental Hotel at Manhattan Beach, and the Central Congregational Church on Jefferson Avenue in Bedford. He was also a founding member of that church. None of those buildings are standing today.

His success in his field led to an early retirement filled with other pursuits. He was one of the organizers and the first vice-president of the Brooklyn Elevated Railroad, and was also a board member of the Montauk Fire Insurance Company and the Commercial Bank of Brooklyn. He died in 1906 of a stroke, at the age of 60, and is in the family plot at Green-Wood. He probably acted as contractor on these houses, and perhaps was even the architect. He certainly had the experience.

A quick look at the people and events that took place on the row shows upscale folk such as doctors, lawyers and wealthy widows living on the street when the houses were first built. John Pyburn, who had been the Police Commissioner of Brooklyn when Hugh McLaughlin was boss, lived in 241. They advertised for servants, and went away in the summers. They also had fancy weddings. But by the mid ‘teens, many of the houses were advertising rooms to let, and sometimes entire floors. Times were changing.

245, the House of the Day, had the most interesting history. In the late 1920s to at least 1942, the house was the J.B. Wheeler Funeral Chapel. John Wheeler and his wife Margaret lived and worked here for at least thirty years. She and her children carried on the family business past his death, and at least until hers, in 1946. There are no newspaper entries for this address after that date.

The houses are quite attractive, and make a fine unified group, hiding the fact that they are very narrow, only 15 feet wide. They were built in an ABCDCBA pattern, the center building being the one with the arch across the second floor. The architect makes good use of that arch to create a focal point, visually. I also like the alternating roof lines, a dormer here, and a flat arched window there. There is a wealth of trim and ornament here, including stained glass transoms, terra cotta, and a very good use of texture in the utilization the rough cut stone around archways and at the ground floor levels.

Had the seventh house still been standing, at 247, it probably would have been a twin of 235, with a slightly curved roof, which would have closed off and hugged the row together between them. There is still a lot of good stuff in this rather battered row of houses. Hopefully the attention given to 245 will spur its rescue, and some TLC to this unique set of houses. GMAP

Elbert Snedeker, builder and developer. Brooklyn Eagle, 1906

Elbert Snedeker, builder and developer. Brooklyn Eagle, 1906

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

Photo: Nicholas Strini for Property Shark

TREES! Photo: Google Maps

TREES! Photo: Google Maps

8 Comment

  • Cate

    Perhaps 245 Greene’s use as a funeral chapel explains the open area with arches on the parlor floor. Also, that coffin-shaped niche in the chimney in the parlor is curious. Perhaps it was for a stove to heat the room.

  • Jimmy Legs

    hooray! thanks so much for this profile, i’ve always wondered about these houses. are there any like them elsewhere in the boro? i used to call them ‘the elf houses’ cuz they were small but ornate. when i first moved into 243 it was painted blue, but the paint was eventually removed after a disastrous repainting attempt occurred right before a thunderstorm. there was blue paint everywhere!

    i have the tax photo of 243, you get a good view of 245 and maybe even the missing 247. i’ll try to dig it up.

    • Montrose Morris

      Hi JL, there are lots of groups of narrow houses, a couple only blocks away on St. James, actually, but exactly the same? Who knows what will turn up on a trip down a street I’ve never been down before. There are certainly lots of those around. The more I think I know Brooklyn’s streets, the more I realize how much I don’t know.

      I’d love to see the tax picture. I hope you can find it.

  • “The 1981 Clinton Hill Historic District’s lines were extended solely to include these six houses, so they must have thought they were important. ”

    So, what’s up with this “unknown” thing again? Who else did Snedeker work with, at least?

    “snedeker “greene av” and 1890 – 1899 returned 152 hits” What’s a few hours of fun wearing your eyes out on RERG to a dedicated historian like you? Yr obdnt svt, Christopher

    PS Why isn’t there a way to get each posting sent by link to subscribers?