President, 7th, 8th Ave, Composite

A look at Brooklyn, then and now.

One of the fun parts of writing this particular column is matching a vintage photo or postcard to its present-day site. Sometimes a perfect match is possible, and other times, the scenery has changed so much, it’s impossible to tell exactly where a building or event was located. The clues or markers that place or date a photo just don’t exist any longer. But that’s not the case here.

The historic photograph was taken in late February or early March of 1906 on President Street, between 7th and 8th avenues. This is the north side of the street, closer to 8th Avenue. The men are tearing up the sidewalk area to lay down new sidewalks and curbs.

My vintage photo had a caption, President Street, 1906, which narrowed down the street and date. A bit of research turned up public notices in the Brooklyn Eagle announcing road and sewer work throughout the borough, as well as the “regulating, grading, curbing, flagging and laying cement sidewalks” on many blocks, as well.

The paving and road work were spread out with great planning, so traffic, both vehicular and pedestrian, could get around without too much difficulty. The notices began appearing at the end of February, 1906, and continued through March. One by one, block by block, the city infrastructure was improved. (more…)

Yale Law School. SSPellen 1

This is the story of wealth, hurt feelings and stubbornness in a Brooklyn family, and the greed that surrounded the entire affair. In Part One, we met the Brasher family, millionaire residents of Park Slope. Widowed Mrs. Brasher did not like her only daughter Louise’s choice of husbands, and cut Louise and her daughter out of her large will.

Part Two is the story of the trial to break the will. At the end, Louise Bain lost, and unless the decision could be overturned by the Appellate Court, Louise and her family would never see a cent of her parents’ money.

When the case went to the jury in 1920, they pondered long and hard, pouring over the lengthy will, plus the four codicils, and days of testimony. At last they thought they had found a Solomon-like solution. Hidden deep in the original will was a bequest for Louise, after all. She was left a trust fund of $50,000 out of the $1,200,000 estate.

The jury voted to give that to her, plus $10,000 for attorney’s fees, and a $10,000 bequest already in the will for her son, William Clayton. They decided after 12 hours of deliberation to throw out the codicils which would have left Mrs. Louise Bain with nothing.

But when they made the announcement in court, they inadvertently set in motion a clause in the will that totally disinherited Mrs. Bain. The clause stipulated that she would get nothing if she contested the will. How they all missed that is inexplicable, but now Mrs. Bain could not legally receive any money.

The jury was devastated. (more…)

4th avenue and 9th street subway station park slope 22015

For the fourth year in a row, City Council Member Brad Lander is organizing info sessions and voting for participatory budgeting. Lander has committed $1,500,000 from the city budget to make five public works projects a reality, and residents of the 39th District will decide how the money will be spent.

There are 13 proposals on the ballot, including an art installation for the 4th Avenue-9th Street subway station (pictured above), a storytelling garden at the Park Slope Library, new technology for local arts nonprofits, an A/C for the cafeteria at P.S. 124 in Park Slope, and street greening projects in Windsor Terrace and Gowanus. (more…)

119 Henry St. Bain story, SB, PS

In Part One of our story, we met Louise Bain, who was disinherited by her wealthy Park Slope mother, Martha Brasher. In this installment, which takes place in 1920, the daughter tries to overturn her mother’s will.

Mrs. Bain sued, trying to break the will. She and her attorneys argued that her mother was not in her right mind when she cut her out of the will. They also argued that Mrs. Brasher’s lawyers had too much influence, as they were executors and beneficiaries. 

The Church Charity Fund, which received half the estate, teamed up with the lawyers for the executors to prove Martha Brasher sane, Louise Bain a horrible daughter, and the will valid.

All sides put forth a good case for their points. The trial lasted a week before the jury received the case. After long deliberation, they returned with a verdict upholding the will. Mrs. Bain lost. Then the story takes a strange turn. (more…)

434-bergen-street-1-032415

The striking infill going up at 443 Bergen Street in Park Slope — a sliver of a Passive House with a solar panel covering most of the facade — is still under construction. From the outside, not much appears to have changed since we checked it out in May. Construction was supposed to wrap last summer, according to the construction fence, so we assume they’ve been busy finishing the interior.

The solar panel — which some commenters said is more style than substance since it would catch more energy on the roof — dominates the house. There is also some raw-looking wide wood cladding, windows, and a little bit of stucco.

We wouldn’t want every house in Brooklyn to look like this, but here we think it’s an interesting contrast with the surroundings. We also like the stepped massing at the top, and the overall navy-white-wood color scheme — it’s jaunty. Click through to see more photos.

Passive House Condos Nearly Finished on Bergen Street in Park Slope [Brownstoner]

(more…)

58 7th Ave, BCM, KL, PS

The other day I featured 58 7th Avenue, the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music Building, as our Building of the Day. As I mentioned there, the house was originally built for William M. Brasher and his family, in 1881. Brasher had a factory down the street at 20th and 7th where he manufactured oil cloth. This material was used for many different purposes, and was the 19th century’s equivalent of vinyl coated fabric. Cotton duck fabric was soaked in linseed oil, which formed a waterproof fabric that could be used for tents, tarps, clothing, tablecloths and floor cloths. Brasher operated his factory during the Civil War period, and as you can imagine, he made a ton of money selling oilcloth to the government. Long story short – he was rich.

William Brasher and his wife Martha had only one child, a daughter named Louise. William died in 1912, leaving his tidy fortune, the house, and the yacht to his wife, Martha. She spent many subsequent years making other people miserable. She sued several people, and was sued in return. Aside from her servants, her lawyers probably saw her, and loved her, more than anyone else in her life. She hardly ever left the house, and did not socialize.

The Brasher’s daughter Louise had grown up and married Captain Bertram B. Clayton. He was a West Point graduate, and served in the Spanish-American War. He subsequently served a term in Congress, and was made a Colonel in the 14th Regiment of the New York National Guard. Their headquarters was the Park Slope Armory. Martha Brasher was very proud of her new son-in-law, and her new grandson, William, who was named after his grandfather. But her daughter’s marriage was not a happy one. (more…)

north flatbush avenue bid

Instead of helping the small businesses she was supposed to boost, a former director of the North Flatbush BID allegedly stole $85,000 from them. Sharon Davidson was charged Monday with making unauthorized withdrawals over a period of three years from funds reserved for promoting 150 businesses in Prospect Heights and Park Slope, The New York Daily News reported. She pled not guilty.

“North Flatbush” refers to the street, not the neighborhood, by the way. We wonder how the situation is affecting the business owners there.

Brooklyn BID Director Charged with Stealing $85K for Wild Shopping Spree [NYDN]
Photo by North Flatbush BID

58 7th Ave, BCM, Jim Henderson for Wiki

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Originally William M. Brasher home, now Brooklyn Conservatory of Music
Address: 58 7th Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Lincoln Place
Neighborhood: Park Slope
Year Built: 1881
Architectural Style: Victorian Gothic/Queen Anne
Architect: S. F. Evelette
Other Buildings by Architect: 312 Clinton Avenue, Clinton Hill
Landmarked: Yes, part of Park Slope Historic District (1973)

The story: William M. Brasher was a major manufacturer of oilcloths during the mid to late-19th century. He operated a factory on 7th Avenue at 20th Street for many years. He did quite well with these alternatives to rugs and carpets, enough so that he could afford to build a fine mansion on the corner of 7th Avenue and Lincoln Place, in Park Slope. The large house was designed in the popular Victorian High Gothic style of the day. The house also has strong elements of Queen Anne styling, as evidenced in the massing of the different parts of the house, the mixture of materials used, and how they were assembled on the façade and interior.

The architect of this project was a little-known architect named S. F. Evelette, who had his offices on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. Not finding his first name, the only other building I could find for him is 312 Clinton Avenue, a four story brownstone in the Queen Anne style. The house was built at a time when the creation of Prospect Park and the neighborhood’s convenience to Flatbush Avenue and public transportation was causing it to grow rapidly. The blocks closest to the Park were already becoming home to some of Brooklyn’s wealthiest people. (more…)


For the past few years, virtually nothing asking above $10,000,000 has sold in Brooklyn, though many have tried. And now all of a sudden, a bunch are moving.

A reader writes:

I walk past 105 8th Avenue several times a week. Several weeks ago I noticed that the “for sale” sign — which had been hanging in front of the property for quite some time — was gone. But the frame that held it up was still in place. I assumed that harsh winds and Seasonal Affective Disorder might be to blame. But as I was walking by late last week I noticed a truck parked outside, and workers were removing the contents of the basement — stuff that looked like it had belonged to the school. And a few days later I noticed that the frame that used to hold the “for sale” sign was gone too. Has this property finally sold? Inquiring minds…

We checked it out, and the former school is in contract, according to the listing!

We wondered if this day would ever come. The Tracy Mansion at 105 8th Avenue has been on the market since 2012, when it was initially asking $25,000,000. It was quickly reduced to $18,000,000, and most recently was asking $13,000,000.

It’s a very grand house, but not in the best condition after being used as a school for decades. You can see extensive photos of every nook and cranny, including bathrooms, on this post about the house on Big Old Houses, one of our favorite blogs on the planet. There is potential here, but it’s going to cost a lot to completely redo, just as the Warrens did with their incredible mansion in Clinton Hill, which was also used as a school.

More confirmation the market is moving higher in prime areas of Brooklyn?

105 8th Avenue Listing [Halstead]
105 8th Avenue Coverage [Brownstoner]
Photo by PropertyShark

Update: The Tracy Mansion closed Monday for $9,500,000, a Halstead spokeswoman let us know. The buyer is local and is not a celebrity. From what we understand, the buyer is an owner-occupant, not a developer or investor. We have updated the headline. It’s quite a price drop from the initial ask of $25,000,000, although close to the new record for the neighborhood. It is the widest house in Park Slope, she said, but a fixer-upper. What do you make of it?

This post courtesy of Explore Brooklyn, an all-inclusive guide to the businesses, neighborhoods, and attractions that make Brooklyn great.

More Walking Tours: Bay Ridge

The Park Slope Historic District, consisting of 33 blocks in the northern part of Park Slope, is one of the most architecturally and historically rich areas of Brooklyn. It’s mostly residential, consisting of brownstones and other ornately decorated buildings, all built from 1862 to about 1920. The neighborhood and its tree-lined streets are a wonderful place to take an aimless stroll on a sunny day.

In 1973, The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the area as a historic district, citing its “cross-section of the important trends in American architecture of the time, [including] late Italianate, French Second Empire, neo-Grec, Victorian Gothic, Queen Anne and exceptional notable examples of Romanesque Revival houses, the finest in the City and among the most outstanding in the country.” In 1980, the historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

For this walk, we’ve chosen a route that takes you past the most notable buildings and down the prettiest blocks. Take your time, bring a camera, and enjoy being in one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Photo courtesy of NYC-Architecture.com. (more…)

15 prospect park west park slope 112014

It’s quite the morning for Park Slope townhouse news. Now the mansion at 17 Prospect Park West, which Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany once called home, is in contract. It was asking $14,000,000. We don’t know what it’s in contract for, of course, but if it’s more than $12,500,000, it will eclipse 70 Willow Street and set a record for all of Brooklyn. Curbed was the first to report the deal.

Is This The New Most Expensive Home in Brooklyn? [Curbed]
17 Prospect Park West [Elliman] GMAP
17 Prospect Park West Coverage [Brownstoner]

250 garfield place park slope 22015

With townhouses in “emerging” areas of Brooklyn closing for double what they were two years ago, the gap between, say, Bed Stuy or Crown Heights and Park Slope has been narrowing. We have been wondering if and when prices in Park Slope would shoot up. Well, now it looks like they will.

The Park Slope brownstone with a mostly modern renovation by CWB Architects at 250 Garfield Place, above, a House of the Day in February, is in contract after 23 days on the market. We won’t know, of course, what the final sale price is until the transaction closes and appears in public records, but usually a brief time to contract indicates a price at or above ask. If it does go for ask, $7,500,000, that would pencil out to about $1,802 per square foot, an extremely high figure for Brooklyn. (PropertyShark puts the house at 4,160 square feet.)

The pending sale is significant because, until now, most top-of-the-line row houses in Park Slope could be had between $3,500,000 and $4,500,000, a figure that has not changed much in the past five years or so. True, a handful of Park Slope houses have sold for more, but typically those fell into the “mansion” category in one way or another. And despite quite a few listings asking over $10,000,000 in the last few years, that barrier has proven a tough nut to crack for most, even for double- or triple-size properties with gardens and garages, such as 646 2nd Street, the former residence of writers Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss. (It’s still available, by the way, and asking $13,000,000.)

The house at 250 Garfield isn’t the only high-ticket Park Slope house to be snapped up this month. The house at 930 President Street, asking 5,850,000, also has a signed contract, after 47 days on the market, according to StreetEasy. However, a House of the Day twice, it was on and off the market with different agents and listings (and a slightly lower price) in 2013 and did not sell.

Curbed was the first to write about the two sales.

Do you think Park Slope prices are poised to shoot up this spring? Is $7,500,000 the new $4,500,000?

250 Garfield Place [Brown Harris Stevens] GMAP
House of the Day: 250 Garfield Place [Brownstoner]