It’s been a while since we’ve seen a prime Park Slope brownstone with all the trimmings, and 920 President Street is massive and lavish and on a park block. One of a row of 14, the Neo-Grec/Romanesque Revival house was built in 1899 by architect and developer Patrick Sheridan, according to the designation report.
It has every over-the-top high-Victorian detail of the period, including a grand entry, two staircases, insane amounts of wood work, and elaborate built-ins. In addition to the usual parlors, there is a library, an original bathroom (with corner marble sink, hex porcelain tiles, stained glass window and claw foot bath), an original sink in one of the passthroughs, and wood mantels with colorful original tile.
The floor plan shows a triplex over a duplex duplex over a triplex, with the owner’s kitchen located in the extension on the parlor floor and bedrooms on the garden floor. The kitchen isn’t pictured, except for a glimpse through a door and on the floor plan; it looks a little skimpy but nice, and the room has stained glass windows and other original details. We spy a few missing tiles in the original bathroom, but nothing that wouldn’t be easy to fix. The triplex’s kitchen is located on the hidden fifth floor, which has been opened up.
The house appears to have been in the same family since at least 1969. Do you think they will get their ask of $4,999,995?
In 1936, the Republican Party called on millionaire industrialist Frank Donald Coster of Connecticut to heed the call of destiny and throw his hat in the ring as a candidate for President of the United States. Most people would be flattered by the honor, but Mr. Coster humbly declined. Secretly, he was probably exploding with both pride and horror. Proud that a man of such humble beginnings as himself would be considered for the honor, proud that he had fooled so many, and abject horror at the thought of the public exposure. Had Coster succumbed to their flattery, he would have become the first Italian-American to run for President. It’s up for debate and historians to determine if he would have been the first con man and thief to run for such high office.
Frank Donald Coster was but one alias in a life of changing names and occupations for this man who had started out in life as Filippo Musica, an Italian-born son of a barber who brought his family to the United States from Naples in 1884, when Filippo was a child. The amazing story of the family’s early life in Little Italy, then Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is replete with scams and plots to get rich by cutting corners and cheating. The Musica clan preferred to get their money by conning banks and other big money. They always put a respectable face on their endeavors, and they were good enough at it to amass, lose, and regain several sizable fortunes between the beginning of the 20th century and the end of the Great Depression. (more…)
The advent of a potential blizzard causes me to pause my story of the Musica family. They’ll be back on Thursday. Meanwhile, please consider the following:
Whenever anyone talks about snowstorms in New York City, the Great Blizzard of 1888 is always mentioned. The photographs of Victorian era folk standing next to eight foot snowdrifts are iconic pieces of New York City history. We’ve had snowstorms that have dumped more snow down on us in a single storm than that one did, we’ve had plenty that managed to shut down the city, several of them in the last ten or so years. But the storm of 1888 remains legendary. It was known as the Storm of the Century, the Great White Hurricane, and it brought not only huge piles of snow, but also death, destruction, property damage, and propelled the cities of the East Coast into the modern age.
The storm caused so much damage because of the amounts of snow and the heavy winds that blew it into tall mountains that covered everything. It was a classic Nor’easter that roared ferociously up the coast and vented its fury on Washington, Philadelphia, New York, and on up into Boston, the rest of New England and beyond, catching every town and city on its northeastern path to Canada. These were the days before Doppler radar, storm tracking equipment and 24/7 weather alerts. It was also not a typical winter storm. Winter was almost over, you see, and the people in the Mid-Atlantic States were getting ready for the arrival of spring. After all, it was March 12th, 1888. (more…)
If you go on line to the Brooklyn Public Library’s Brooklyn Eagle archives and enter “trolley accidents,” in the search function, there are 644 entries under that topic, from 1891 to 1950. Granted, not all of them are about trolley accidents in Brooklyn, and some of them are repeated stories about the same incidents. Some are just general mentions or stories about changes needed or implemented, but no matter how you want to cut it, trolley accidents were a rather common occurrence.
Like any mass transit conveyance, trolley cars had mechanical failures and human failures. People were often careless; ordinary citizens of all ages, and employees alike. The trolley companies, and there were a lot of them, all were trying to make a profit, and corners were sometimes cut. In the days before stringent safety laws and strong labor unions, all kinds of things went wrong, often maiming and killing people in the process.
I could tell stories about all kinds of accidents and tragedies that took place in the course of the trolley’s long history in Brooklyn, but I find the period when the trolley and the car had to share the road to be the most interesting. As a transportation of the past literally collided with the transportation of the future, we can reach some insight into our present day transportation situations. (more…)
Public transportation in Brooklyn began with stage coaches, called omnibuses. They ran along the major streets, and had fixed routes. They began running around 1827, and helped expand the borders of the bustling town of Brooklyn by taking passengers outwards away from the harbor and Heights. They were pretty reliable, but small. The average omnibus could only hold 15 passengers, and that’s with several of them hanging on to the sides and riding on top or with the driver. A passenger would signal the driver to stop by pulling a cord which was attached to the driver’s leg. Could this be one of the origins of the phrase “pulling my leg?”
As demand for better and larger forms of public transportation, other than trains, grew, the horse drawn trolley cars were developed. Some bright entrepreneur looked at a railroad car, the track, and the poor horse, and put them all together: enter the horsecar. Brooklyn’s network of horsecars began in 1854. They were already running over in Manhattan, and had been since 1832. Since the cars ran on metal wheels along a fixed track, and not bumpy cobblestone streets or muddy side streets, it was much easier for the horse to pull a larger load. This was a great improvement over the omnibuses.
There were limitations, of course. The horses were still pulling heavy loads, and most only lasted about five years before they were done and broken. They needed a lot of food and water to fuel them, and so added to the pollution on the streets and had to be cleaned up after. And they were slow – at best clopping along at a human’s fast walk. Still, they allowed people to commute from places like the town of Bedford, in Central Brooklyn, for example, to the ferry in a reasonable time. This created a commuter class that could live further and further away from Brooklyn Heights and downtown, and still work in Lower Manhattan. (more…)
A look back at the biggest stories of 2014, in no particular order:
1. Property prices and rents continue to climb and surpass the highs of 2007, with prices in “prime” Brooklyn now exceeding $1,000 per square foot. The Pierhouse condos in Brooklyn Bridge Park, pictured above, sets records with average prices per square foot (in contract) at $1,850. A four-bedroom penthouse there is in contract for $11,180,000. The median for all types of homes in the borough stands at $587,515 at the end of the third quarter, a 4 percent increase over the year before and a record for Brooklyn, according to Douglas Elliman. It is also 8.8 percent above the high before the financial crisis — and Brooklyn is the only borough where sale prices are now higher than they were before the crash. At the same time, a lot of high priced houses (asking over $10,000,000) FAIL to sell. (Truman Capote’s old rental, 70 Willow Street, continues to hold the record for priciest townhouse at $12,500,000, set in 2012.)
2. The price gap between “emerging” and “prime” Brooklyn narrows. A narrow but nicely renovated house at 242 Gates Avenue in Bed Stuy, not far from the Clinton Hill border at Classon, sells for $3,000,000, topping the previous record of $2,250,000 (22 Arlington) by $750,000, while equivalent townhouses in Park Slope continue to sell for between $3,000,000 and $4,000,000. The median sale price of a townhouse in Crown Heights, Bed Stuy, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Bushwick leaps 86 percent in one year to $1,850,000, according to a third quarter market report from Corcoran.
3. The construction boom that took off last year advances to Bed Stuy, Bushwick, PLG, and Flatbush. Brookland Capital leads the pack — in sheer number of projects with more than 40 in the pipeline. Walks through Bushwick over the summer and fall reveals two or three construction or renovation projects on just about every block.
4. National retailers and other big firms replace mom and pops in Williamsburg. Apple finally inks a lease for its first Brooklyn outpost, on Bedford Avenue. Starbucks, J.Crew, Madewell, Urban Outfitters open; Dumont, Moon River Chattel, and Northside Pharmacy close. Glasslands and Death by Audio prepare for their last shows. (more…)