04/22/14 10:30am

Turn of the century Wall Street, LOC 1

There have always been laws regarding stealing from other people, and in the late 1800s and early 1900s, those laws were in full effect in the courts. The jails and prisons were full of thieves. More and more, it seemed like the ranks of those who helped themselves to other people’s money and possessions were not just from the expected lower classes, but were their so-called “betters.” One could no longer believe that the thief in the night always came from poverty and the slums; in these dangerous days, it seemed that the biggest and boldest thieves sat next to you at the opera, in church, or smiled at you from across a desk.

For some reason, an upscale apartment building on Decatur Street in Stuyvesant Heights became home to three men who became the wolves among the sheep of Brooklyn society’s pasture. 88 Decatur Street was home to J. Edgar Anthony, Benjamin F. Chadsey and Charles A. Bliven. They never lived there at the same time, but there must have been larceny in the water, because all three of them, the first two lawyers, the other a stock broker, made the news for all the wrong reasons. Although the circumstances of their cases were different, all three men were guilty of the same offence: they all coveted clients’ money, and siphoned some off for their own use. And then they all got caught.

Please see the links below for the first episodes of the story. Today’s tale is about our last miscreant, broker Charles A. Bliven. The first two men hailed originally from upstate New York, but unlike the other two men, Mr. Bliven’s life story was not told to the papers. Anthony was from the Utica area, Chadsey from near Albany. From a cursory look at family research and the proliferation of stories on this case in upstate papers, Bliven was an upstater too. There seemed to have been a great deal of Bliven family members in the Capital District/Mohawk Valley area. And the mark, in this case, was from Troy. It really was a small world. (more…)

04/17/14 4:00pm

11th-street-wood-frames-123013

Preservationists Elizabeth Finkelstein and Chelcey Berryhill will teach a class next week on how to research the history of any wood frame, stone or brick townhouse or apartment building in Brooklyn. Making use of digitized, online resources as well as other repositories in Brooklyn and Manhattan, “Research Your Historic Brooklyn House” will cover how to research the history of a building and find what it looked like originally and who lived there. Renters and homeowners both welcome.

Particular attention will be paid to finding historic photographs to show to an architect or contractor for an exterior restoration. The class costs $25 and takes place at 67 West Street, Studio 612, in Greenpoint at 7 pm Wednesday, April 23. For more information or to buy tickets, go to The Wooden House Project.

Kings County Penitentiary, 1906

On a chilly day in late November, 1905, thirty-six year old Benjamin F. Chadsey was taken to the Raymond Street Jail in Brooklyn. He had been brought back to New York from Indiana after being on the run for two years. In 1903, he faked his suicide, and disappeared on the evening before he was to go to trial on a charge of grand larceny. Chadsey had been one of Brooklyn’s up and coming legal talents, an aggressive and arrogant pitbull of a lawyer who loved his fancy clothes and his diamond jewelry. That was all showmanship, because he was also highly efficient and had a large private practice with a lot of clients. He was also a rising star in the jungle of Brooklyn politics, and was called upon often to stir up the Republican faithful with his gifts of oratory and persuasion. Benjamin Chadsey was the last person anyone would expect to be dishonest, or to run from his troubles. But here he was.

The man who had once sported bespoke suits with diamond stickpins and fingers glittering with diamond rings was now standing in handcuffs before a judge, surrounded by the police and District Attorneys who had to go out to the suburbs of South Bend Indiana to get him. The private detective, J. Edward Orr, who had tracked Chadsey down once before in San Francisco had found him again. But this was not the old Chadsey they knew. The man standing before them was sickly looking, emaciated and gaunt. He had shaved his signature moustache and would have looked years younger, had he not been looking over his shoulder for the last two years.

The judge stared down on him without a lot of pity. The charges against Chadsey were serious, but had he not skipped bail and disappeared, he probably would have been let off easy. Wealthy and well-connected men convicted of much larger thefts usually did not suffer the same consequences as those of lesser breeding. But faking your death, and thumbing your nose at the same authorities you once ate dinner with and invited to your home makes for bad feelings, and Brooklyn’s legal world was more than happy to throw the book at Chadsey. For the time being, though, they tossed him back in jail. (more…)

04/17/14 9:00am

Brooklyn is slated to lose a number of its wood frame houses to development this year. Often these houses are some of the oldest in the borough, although they may not look like much, at least from the outside.

Just like so many other aging wood frames in Brooklyn, this little house on Chauncey Street in Bed Stuy, above, is meeting the wrecking ball soon. Demo applications were filed last week to knock down the two-story home at 201 Chauncey, as well as a shed and row of garages on the property. We don’t know the home’s exact age, but our columnist Montrose Morris noted that it is at least as old as 1880, but probably older, in this Building of the Day post. There’s no word on what will replace the house, but we’re betting it will be an apartment building. An LLC bought the 50 by 108.5 foot lot in February for $1,400,000 — seven times its last sale price in 2004.

Now that warmer weather has set in (apart from yesterday, of course), the applications for demo permits have ticked up in the building department. A large number of the houses marked for demo are wood frames.

We wondered if that’s because they tend to be in worse condition or less expensive than their brick and stone counterparts. Preservationist Elizabeth Finkelstein of The Wooden House Project attributed the trend to rising real estate values in working-class neighborhoods, some of which happen to have a large concentration of frame houses.

“I think the wooden houses right now are especially vulnerable because of the trend in people moving to places like Bushwick and Greenwood Heights,” she said. “People can’t afford to buy in Brownstone Brooklyn anymore, so they’re moving to frame-heavy neighborhoods. Developers follow. While Park Slope and Cobble Hill have been expensive for a long time, homeowners in Bushwick have only recently been able to cash out. I think they’re taking advantage of the market, at the expense of some of these houses.”

A few examples we have covered recently are 111 Clarkson and 50-54 Clarkson Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, 664 Jefferson Avenue and 447 Decatur in Bed Stuy, and, of course, the six 19th-century wood frames at 233-301 11th Street in Gowanus, which will be replaced by a large apartment building at 470 4th Avenue.

Next up are houses from Crown Heights to Bushwick, including: 1480 Pacific Street, 1168 Greene Avenue, 45 Cedar Street, 726 Monroe Street, 341 Sackett Street, 539 Van Buren and 1255 Decatur Street. The house at 1480 Pacific, which was a Building of the Day in February, is part of the proposed Crown Heights North III Historic District expansion.

With the notable exception of Brooklyn Heights, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the first to be landmarked, Landmarks has not typically designated areas with lots of wood frame houses, although some were included in the historic districts of Greenpoint and Wallabout, which are both primarily wood-house neighborhoods. Partly this is because wood frames tend to be highly altered and covered in siding, which can make them ineligible. But there is hope, said Finkelstein.

“Greenpoint is an interesting example of a neighborhood that was landmarked while much of it was still covered in siding (I’m actually surprised the LPC did this). Many of the houses still are, but you can see the positive effect landmarking has had on some of the wooden houses on Milton and Noble streets.” Although, she added, the LPC focused on the most brick-heavy part of Greenpoint and called that the historic district. “So while the historic district does contain some wooden houses, they still brought their brick bias with them.”

Another possible explanation for the demise of wood frame houses: They are sitting on more land and have more FAR. This is certainly the case with 201 Chauncey Street.

– Cate Corcoran and Rebecca Baird-Remba

Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark

19th century steamship, hasselisland.org 1As the cynical and world-weary people we can be today in 2014, it doesn’t really surprise us when those who are entrusted with much, or are held up as paragons, fail spectacularly. Sadly, we see it almost every day. But 100 years ago, life was simpler. Back then, (and now, as well, to be honest), people expected certain criminal activities like thievery and dishonesty from the classes and groups they felt were beneath them. But they held the upper classes to a higher standard, one of dignity and success through hard work and privilege. Therefore, when one of their own was suspected of, or caught doing wrong, the stories fascinated the newspaper reporters and their editors, as well as the general public. The fall of a prominent lawyer, or a banker, was news for days.

We met Benjamin F. Chadsey last time, the scion of an important Albany area family, and an up and coming lawyer here in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 20th century. He lived here in Brooklyn with his wife at 88 Decatur Street, in an upscale apartment building in Stuyvesant Heights. Like another occupant of the same apartment house, J. Edgar Anthony, the topic of our first story from this building, young Chadsey was also an attorney who worked in estates, wills and trusts. Mr. Chadsey had a fine reputation in the law, and was a rising star in the world of Brooklyn Republican politics. Benjamin Chadsey, it was said, could persuade you to vote for anyone, and his silver tongue was put to use at political rallies all across the city. He was soon on a first name basis with some of New York’s most important Republican political figures.

Unfortunately, Chadsey was arrogant enough to think that he knew best in the matters of his clients, as well as the voters, and had been playing loose with some of his client’s money. He had been administering the estate of Daniel M. Collins, a wealthy Brooklyn Heights jeweler. The deceased Mr. Collins’ wife suspected that her brother-in-law and Chadsey had conspired to cheat her out of her inheritance, and that Chadsey had grossly overbilled her for services rendered. The widow retained another lawyer, and filed suit. A judge agreed, and had chastised Mr. Chadsey, and ordered him to pay back about $900 in overcharged fees. That may not seem like much in today’s money, but in 1902 it was around $20,000 worth, certainly enough for most of us to file suit. (more…)

04/10/14 10:45am

Benjamin Chadsey, NY herald, 1902

88 Decatur Street, in Stuyvesant Heights, was one of a group of four small upscale apartment buildings making up a complex called the Lindsley Apartments. Advertised as a luxury alternative to row house living, the apartments were home to many respectable professionals and their wives and families. Over the years a host of people lived here, their names and activities making the newspapers when they married, attended social functions, or died. This is normal for any apartment building, but 88 Decatur coincidentally, was home to three individuals who, in their day, managed to sell newspapers for different reasons.

Three of the tenants here were independently, and at different times, charged with crimes that made reporters glad to get up in the morning. One day these upscale citizens and respected professionals’ names were in the paper for their successes, the next, for their sins. Greed and the love of money were the downfall of them all. Part One and Two of this series was about a lawyer named D. Edgar Anthony. He lived here at 88 Decatur with his wife and child in the mid-1890s, before moving on by the beginning of the 20th century. Seven years later, another lawyer was living in this building with his wife. His name was Benjamin F. Chadsey, and his tale is next.

One could joke that there must have been something in the water at 88 Decatur to drive a lawyer to crime, but that would be unfair to the house. If there was anything in the water, it flowed upstate. Like D. Edgar Anthony, Benjamin F. Chadsey also came from upstate New York. Anthony was from the Utica area, but Chadsey hailed from Clifton Park, outside of Albany. His family was quite prominent in the area, and he grew up and was educated there. He got married, passed the bar, and was working in Brooklyn. This did not go well with family life or with his wife. In 1896, she successfully filed for divorce, and stayed in Troy.

Now single and free, Chadsey was living in Brooklyn, and becoming very well known in Brooklyn’s legal and political life. He was one of the shining stars of local Republican politics, and was known as a smooth tongued orator who could convince you to vote for anyone or anything. He was also getting a reputation as a slick lawyer, and was rising in the world of Brooklyn law. Chadsey was apparently slick in other ways as well. He was a fancy dresser and a dandy, and became well known for his love of diamond jewelry. (more…)

04/09/14 11:30am
Screenshot of Brooklyn Public Library's new Brooklyn Eagle archives

Screenshot of Brooklyn Public Library’s new Brooklyn Eagle archives

Two important online research resources for historic buildings in Brooklyn have drastically changed in the last few weeks. The Brooklyn Public Library has digitized the complete morgue of the the Brooklyn Eagle, adding 1903 to 1955, when the paper stopped publishing. Previously they had digitized the archive from 1841 to 1902, but never got around to finishing the digitization. It was always frustrating, and forced a search from other sources.

The library has partnered with Newspapers.com to provide researchers with a new way to access the Eagle. It went up last week. I’m not up to snuff with all of the tools it offers, and it’s going to take me a while to get used to it, and I’m going to miss the quirks and foibles of the old system. But if the search function is improved, that will be worth the learning curve. Above is a screen shot of the new format.

Over at the New York Public Library, they are beta testing their new online format for their visual collections, including their maps collection. (more…)

04/09/14 11:00am

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A new building permit has been filed for the little frame house at 664 Jefferson Avenue, rumored to be one of the oldest houses in Bed Stuy. Unfortunately, the house was too far gone from water damage to be saved, according to Brownstoner readers who saw it in person.

A stop work order was issued this month for interior demo without a permit in December. A demo permit was approved in January, but has not yet been issued. The house, which is not landmarked, is just down the block from the newly expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District.

The new building applications calls for a new four-story building with seven units. They are likely to be condos, since the developer is Boaz Gilad, who specializes in them. As soon as a rendering is available, we’ll post it.

Brookland Files Demo Permits for Two Wood Frames in Bed Stuy [Brownstoner] GMAP

04/08/14 10:45am

88-94 Decatur st. D.Edgar at trial, 1897, NY Herald

David Edgar Anthony was in college at Syracuse University when he decided he wanted to be known as “D. Edgar Anthony.” He was a local boy, his parents had moved to Syracuse from New York City, where David Anthony Senior had been a successful and prosperous dealer in hats and furs. D. Edgar’s announcement to his fellow students came as no surprise to those who knew him, and it didn’t endear him to them any more than the rest of his personality did. D. Edgar was not well liked. “That man Anthony was one of the cheekiest fellows I ever knew,” one of his former classmates would tell the Syracuse Daily Standard. “There was brass enough in his makeup to make a Krupps cannon. He was just the man to get on in the world, for nothing would dismay him and he was as cold blooded as a lizard.”

The former student was talking about D. Edgar’s decision to dump his wife of many years, and the mother of his only child, and take up with a much younger and wealthier heiress. Last time we read about the Anthony family, and how the married D. Edgar had fallen in love with an heiress who had a back story like a Dickens novel. Young and beautiful Jeanette Ballou was the daughter of millionaire Wells Ballou. She was born as a result of a secret marriage between Wells and one of his servants. The story can be found in Part One, here. The background helps explain what came later.

To make a long story short, our lovebirds are successful in both getting Miss Ballou out of jail, getting a separation and divorce from Ida Anthony, and marrying in their own secret ceremony. The new Jeanette Ballou Anthony was pregnant, and also fighting for an inheritance from her grandfather, one the Ballou family did not want her to have. She needed a good lawyer, so she called upon D. Edgar Anthony. He was the relentless lawyer Jeanette needed to handle the family. He won the case.

The new family moved to 88 Decatur Street, a fine apartment in the upscale neighborhood of Stuyvesant Heights. But D. Edgar soon had his own problems. He was working as a receiver for the National Mutual Insurance Company. His expertise was in wills, estates and trusts. It was his job to move money into client’s accounts, and manage trusts. Unfortunately, he got creative, and when asked to move several amounts of money around in 1894, managed to skim some off the top and deposit the funds into a separate account, writing personal checks from that account. He got caught a year later, and ended up in the notorious Tombs prison in lower Manhattan. (more…)

04/03/14 10:45am

Ludlow St Jail, Manhattan, boweryboys.com 1

88 Decatur Street is a handsome small apartment building in Stuyvesant Heights. It is one of four similar buildings built as a group in 1889, designed to house well-to-do folk who did not want an entire house, but wanted attractive and suitable apartments in an upscale neighborhood. The building was a Building of the Day last month. In researching some of the people who lived there for the story, I found a remarkable thing: 88 Decatur Street was a hotbed of intrigue and controversy.

Sometimes, when researching a building, there may be one person or family who does something outstanding or newsworthy, good or bad. But here, I found three individuals, who all lived here between 1895 and 1906, who were quite newsworthy indeed. They were three supposedly upstanding, upwardly mobile and respectable gentlemen, with careers in law and finance. But all three ran afoul of the law, got caught, and had big, splashy trials with lots of drama. Who can resist drama? Well, there certainly was plenty here. So without further ado, let’s begin with a tale of love, loyalty and larceny.

D. Edgar Anthony was a lawyer. By 1995 1895, he and his wife and child lived here at 88 Decatur Street. He hailed from upstate Utica, and it was there that he first made the news in a scandal that would have made any opera librettist swoon with envy. The best stories are always true stories, and this one was a classic. Sometime in the 1860s, a wealthy Utica man with the wonderfully theatrical name of Wells Ballou died. As the family mourned and looked forward to the reading of the will, a former servant appeared at the door with a two year old girl. She announced to the family that she was the legal wife of Wells Ballou, and the child was their daughter. (more…)

04/01/14 10:45am

441 Willoughby Ave, sspellen 5

The huge French Gothic Revival mansion on the corner of Willoughby and Nostrand Avenues has always been a tantalizing mystery that I wanted to solve. Who built it? Who lived there, and what’s the story of the large mansion in an otherwise middle class area? Generally, row house neighborhoods grow up around large houses like these, but this time, the mansion was built much later. So much later that part of the neighborhood was being reclaimed by industrial use. This is not the usual pattern for wealthy people. Why build there, at that time? In Part One of this story, we found out that the house was built for Jacob Dangler, a successful meat packer and manufacturer of provisions; today we call his products cold cuts. He built the house for his family in a location that was only a short walk from his factory, and for him, that seemed to have made all the difference.

Dangler was born in 1851, and raised in a town in the Alsace-Lorraine, a western state in France that has been disputed territory for France and Germany for centuries. He came to America as a teenager, worked hard, saved his money, and was extremely successful. By the turn of the 20th century, he was more than able to afford to commission his dream house. Although culturally German, the French side of his upbringing seems to have come out in his choice of architecture.

He was also a very religious man, a devout Lutheran, so perhaps those traditional Gothic elements were very deliberately incorporated in this large French Gothic house. The architect of this structure remains unknown, pending physically digging through dusty records in the Department of Buildings, but it may have been Theobald Engelhardt, the premiere architect of the Eastern District, and the architect of many of Dangler’s other building projects. Whoever it was, they designed a large house worthy of any wealthy family. The Dangler family had been living nearby on Myrtle Avenue, but by 1902, this was their address when their names made the papers. (more…)

03/27/14 10:45am

441 Willoughby Ave, GS,PS

The house sits on the northeast corner of Willoughby Avenue at Nostrand Avenue, seemingly empty, sprawling behind a chain link fence. It’s on a large lot, and the house itself, a golden brick and limestone French Gothic pile, is totally incongruous with the much more modest brownstone neighbors on the block. A block away and across the street is the Bedford Stuyvesant branch of Home Depot, and for thousands of people visiting the store, or waiting for the Nostrand Avenue bus across the street, this house may be a fleeting mystery, glanced at when passing through the neighborhood. Even those who don’t care about these things wonder what it was, or how it came to be there. Was this a rich family’s mansion? Who were they? Why did the house sit here, and what’s it being used for now? Is it abandoned? Empty? Has anyone ever been inside?

Well, I’ve been asking those questions for more than thirty years. I saw this house on my first trip down Nostrand Avenue coming into Bedford Stuyvesant, when all of Bed Stuy was a mystery to me, and I’ve long been curious about its former and current inhabitants. Since I fantasize about rescuing houses the way some people rescue stray animals, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to live there, rattling around in that huge house like a rich old recluse, while the neighborhood around you changes over the years. Did anyone actually do that? It turns out the answer to that is no.

I’ve also wondered about how much money it would take to restore a mansion like that, and what are the chances that will happen? How would it look with the porch opened up again, with the windows repaired and the stained glass transoms recreated? How much would it cost to replace the slate roof? What about landscaping around the grounds and the chain link fence replaced by a proper black wrought iron fence, perhaps one with an ornate gate, as befits this French fantasy? And inside? Who knows? This house is a whopping 58×85 feet, with over 12,000 square feet of house. Who the heck lived here?

That question was relatively easy to answer, and given that the house is in the Eastern District, on the far northern side of Bedford Stuyvesant, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the man who commissioned the house was of German ancestry, as were most of the wealthy men in this part of town. This was the home of Jacob Dangler and his family, and he was a very successful purveyor of meats and provisions. At least that’s how his empire and long career started. (more…)