Name: Former Thomas Benton Ackerson House Address: 304 Marlborough Road Cross Streets: Beverley and Cortelyou Roads Neighborhood: Beverly Square West/Ditmas Park Year Built: 1903 Architectural Style: Colonial Revival Architect: Unknown, perhaps Benjamin Dreisler Other works by architect: Many other houses in Victorian Flatbush Landmarked: No, but part of a proposed Beverley Square West Historic District
The story: During the last decade of the 19th century, the old farmsteads owned by some of Brooklyn’s oldest Dutch families began disappearing one by one, bought by canny land developers who planned some of Long Island’s first commuter suburbs. Flatbush was the Promised Land, according to these visionaries, where a man could live with his family in a large house on a comfortably sized lot, surrounded by like-minded and amenable people, in a “country house in the city.” Most importantly, he could have the best of suburban life, while still able to commute to Manhattan or Downtown Brooklyn in less than an hour by a train located only blocks from his house. Who could ask for more?
It was a good plan. Flatbush was large, with room for many of these suburban neighborhoods, and by 1910, there were at least twelve separate named developments, creating the largest concentration of free-standing, so-called “Victorian” houses in the entire country. While some developers had only the time, energy and money to develop one neighborhood, which was certainly a task unto itself, one man managed to develop three. His name was Thomas Benton Ackerson, “T.B.” to everyone. Beverly Square West was one of his developments, and this house in Beverley Square West was his home. (more…)
Name: Private House Address: 759 East 17th Street Cross Streets: Glenwood Road and Avenue H Neighborhood: Fiske Terrace Year Built: 1906 Architectural Style: Dutch Colonial Revival Architect: A. White Pierce Other works by architect: Many houses in Victorian Flatbush, also row of Arts and Crafts cottages on Prospect Place in Crown Heights North Landmarked: Yes, part of Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park HD (2008)
The story: If the Dutch Colonial Revival style with a gambrel roof and flaring eaves is attractive, then why not up the attractiveness and have four gambrel roofs? You can’t over do a good thing, right? Surely this thought went through A. White Pierce’s head as he designed this delightful, yet immense house in the Fiske Terrace neighborhood, a part of the suburban enclaves we lump together as Victorian Flatbush.
All of the distinct neighborhoods that make up Victorian Flatbush have separate histories, but they do share many similarities. They were all the products of visionary developers who were trying to sell a suburban dream to their clients: a new neighborhood that was far from the crowded brownstone streets of Brooklyn or Manhattan, but not so far that it wasn’t part of the city, easily accessible by train or trolley car. These new neighborhoods were full of large homes with spacious lawns, and people like them – the elite who were screened by income and shared values, and often by religion and race.
Fiske Terrace was developed by husband and wife, George and Elizabeth Fiske, later joined by his brother Frederick. The Fiske brothers were wealthy, the sons of a stockbroker. Before going into the home development business, George was in the oil business and Frederick was a successful Brooklyn Heights merchant. George and Elizabeth moved from their home on Montague Street to Tennis Court, in Flatbush, the first of the planned suburban communities in Flatbush, near Prospect Park. George had just bought three pieces of prime property south of Tennis Court from the Van Pelt and Ditmas families, and by 1898, was talking to reporters about “Fiske Terrace,” the new development he was going to build on his rather considerable acreage. (more…)
Name: Originally T.B. Ackerson RE office, now Avenue H Station House Address: 802 East 16th Street Cross Streets: Avenue H Neighborhood: Fiske Terrace in Victorian Flatbush Year Built: 1905 Architectural Style: Vernacular Shingle Style cottage Architect: Unknown, could have been someone with the initials “R.H.B.” Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (2004)
The story: One of the great things about our huge transit system is that there is such variety in the stations that make up our subway systems. We’ve got recreated Beaux-Arts glass and steel canopies, old wooden elevated stations, elegant Heins & LaFarge masterpieces, stations that resemble European train stations, as well as the hundreds of plain old stairways leading underground. And then we’ve got a couple of country stations in neighborhoods that don’t match most people’s idea of New York City, or even Brooklyn. One of these is at the Avenue H stop in Fiske Terrace.
This station is the only MTA station that has been adapted to transit use from a structure used for another function. It is one of the few remaining wooded structures in the system, and also one of the few to be landmarked. It’s also the only surviving station from Brooklyn’s days of surface train transportation, when independent lines crisscrossed the city, before the underground tracks were built. It’s pretty unique, and we almost lost it. (more…)
Name: Private house Address: 1511 Albemarle Road Cross Streets: Marlborough and Buckingham Roads Neighborhood: Prospect Park South Year Built: 1899 Architectural Style: Colonial Revival Architect: Frank Freeman Other works by architect: Eagle Warehouse in Dumbo, Fire Headquarters Building Downtown Brooklyn, Behr Mansion and Crescent Athletic Club (now St. Ann’s School) in Brooklyn Heights Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Park South HD (1979)
The story: Canadian-born architect Frank Freeman is considered by architectural historians to be one of Brooklyn’s finest. Unfortunately, many of his exceptional buildings have been destroyed over the years, so it’s great that we have one more to add to the list of buildings in Brooklyn, that still are with us. Freeman was the one of the late 19th century architects who shaped the face of commercial and civic Brooklyn; his Eagle Warehouse, Fire Headquarters Building, Brooklyn Savings Bank, Margaret Hotel, Crescent Athletic Club, and Bushwick Democratic Club were all contributing factors in the look of the City of Brooklyn, a powerful look, indeed, helping to promote the prosperity and pride of the city.
Brooklyn’s citizens also had great pride in their personal accomplishments, and Freeman was also able to deliver on some great residential architecture. His greatest house is the Behr Mansion, on Pierrepont Street, a massive Romanesque Revival house bursting with architectural ornament in the form of terra-cotta dragons and other ornament, stained glass, wrought iron and fine wood. (more…)
Name: Private house Address: 197 Marlborough Road Cross Streets: Albemarle and Beverley Roads Neighborhood: Prospect Park South Year Built: 1901 Architectural Style: Queen Anne with Tudoresque details Architect: William H.C. Leverich Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Park South HD (1979)
The story: This house gives credence to the idea that a man’s home is his castle. And if that home was designed by the homeowner himself, well, that’s even better. There’s no better way to make sure you get what you want, than by doing it yourself. And that’s what William H.C. Leverich did here.
As per usual, I tried to find out a bit about the architect/homeowner, and he proved to be a puzzle in more ways than one. First of all, I couldn’t get a good sense on what he did for a living. He seemed to have his fingers in a lot of different pies. In 1886, someone of the same full name was listed as a paper manufacturer in Manhattan. He summered in Greenwich, Connecticut, and had a yacht called the Mosquito. That summer, someone stole it, and it was eventually recovered on Long Island. Turns out the thieves were two juvenile delinquents from good families who had gone joy riding. They had overturned the sloop, and were clinging to the bottom when they were rescued by another boat.
Perhaps that’s why Mr. Leverich decided to build another sailing sloop for himself. In 1897, he and a friend, F.C. Sniffen, began construction on a new boat. The two men both lived in Bushwick, at the time, and had designed and were building the boat themselves. They were building it in a barn on Gates and Bushwick Avenues, and it soon grew to be a magnificent sloop, crafted with care out of oak. When it was done, there was only one problem. It was too big to get through the barn doors. The newspapers had fun with this, and in the end, Leverich and Sniffen ended up tearing down the front of the barn to free the boat.Perhaps this sort of absent minded multi-tasking genius is the true William Leverich. (more…)
Name: Private house Address: 185 Stratford Road Cross Streets: Albemarle and Beverley Road Neighborhood: Prospect Park South Year Built: 1901 Architectural Style: Colonial Revival Architect: John J. Petit Other Work by Architect: 131 Buckingham Road (Japanese House) as well as many other houses in Prospect Park South. Also Saitta House in Dyker Heights, and other works in Brooklyn. Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Park South HD (1979)
The story: This house is one of John J. Petit’s most inventive takes on the Colonial Revival Style. Petit, as the head architect of Dean Alvord’s Prospect Park South development, was unsurpassed at mixing styles and motifs, and his houses in Prospect Park South are a lasting testament to this talent. Where else would one see a Japanese/Queen Anne/Foursquare? Or a block with Tudor, Mediterranean, classic Queen Anne and Colonial Revival Temple front houses, all within sight of each other, all somehow managing to work as a neighborhood whole?
The Landmarks Preservation Commission loved this house. Here’s what they said about the design: “John J. Petit’s imaginative juxtaposition of a symmetrical double-tiered veranda against the front of an asymmetrically-fenestrated dwelling block creates the mannerist effect of a complex, screen-like facade, whose two contrasting layers are unified under a flaring hipped roof. This visual ambivalence — similar in concept to much Post-Modernist design of the 1970s — is intensified by the application of richly-modeled Classical elements to the open porch framework, while the house itself is enclosed by spare, shingle planes with simply framed doors and windows.” (more…)
Name: Private Houses Address: 81 and 85 Rugby Road Cross Streets: Church Avenue and Albemarle Road Neighborhood: Prospect Park South Year Built: 1936 Architectural Style: Neo-Tudor Architect: Robert T. Schaefer Other Work by Architect: 799 18th St. and other houses in Fiske Terrace, Midwood and Ditmas Park. Other buildings in Flatbush and Long Island. Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Park South HD (1979)
The story: By 1905 Dean Alvord, the developer responsible for Prospect Park South, had grown bored with his very successful project, and was looking towards the next housing development on his list of successful transformations of former farmland into gracious upscale and exclusive neighborhoods. He sold his remaining lots, and moved on. Over the next twenty years, the remaining lots of PPS were built up. In the beginning of this second period of growth, some of the houses were quite large, but as time went by, they got smaller and more efficient. The days of huge mansions with a staff of servants to keep them running was ending, and people began to want houses that were much less high maintenance. The economy was changing as well, and by the 1930s, the Great Depression had taken most of the steam out of the building market.
If you look at the real estate ads in the Brooklyn Eagle and other local papers during the 1930s, you can see that the downturn in the economy had also reached the leafy confines of this exclusive and wealthy enclave. Some of the largest houses began to take in boarders, or rent out their upper floors as apartments. Even today, some are still permanently divided, large enough to provide adequate space for more than one family, even by today’s roomy standards. A few people couldn’t hold on at all, and sold their large homes and moved on. This was the case here. 81 and 85 Rugby Road was once home to one large single family house. The Brooklyn Eagle documents several ads searching for boarders, and then renters, then a buyer. (more…)
Name: Private house Address: 135 Stratford Road Cross Streets: Albemarle and Beverley Road Neighborhood: Prospect Park South Year Built: 1906 Architectural Style: Colonial Revival with Flemish detail Architect: George E. Showers Other Work by Architect: Other houses on this side of Stratford, as well as elsewhere in Prospect Park South Landmarked: Yes, part of Prospect Park South HD (1979)
The story: Developer Dean Alvord began planning his elite Prospect Park South neighborhood in 1899. Like many people with great vision, it seems the planning stages and beginning developments were a source of great attention to him, but in a few years, when the project started to slow down, and was more than three quarters finished, he began to lose interest, and he began turning that attention to the next project, the next hurdles to overcome. By 1905, only six years later, he sold all of his remaining interests in Prospect Park South, and turned his attention to the development of Laurelton, Queens, a community he built in much the same fashion he built Prospect Park South.
The forty-five vacant lots remaining in the area were sold to the Chelsea Improvement Company, who began putting up houses that were generally smaller and less impressive than Dean Alvord’s magnificent mansions. Some of these lots were developed by the team of George T. and Lizzie Moore, who built primarily on this east side of Stratford Road, as well as elsewhere in the neighborhood. They worked mainly with architect George E. Showers. This team was responsible for this attractive, medium-sized Colonial Revival, with a twist. (more…)
Quite a few of Brooklyn’s most prolific and successful architects have a German background: the Berlenbach’s; father and son, Rudolph Daus, William Schickel, and the most prolific of all; Theobald Engelhardt. To this list, we can add another; Benjamin Dreisler. His work appears mostly in Flatbush and Long Island, and he was a busy man, designing hundreds of homes in those areas, while also contributing to the architectural landscape of Brownstone Brooklyn. He also was quite active in Brooklyn’s architectural enclaves, leading architectural organizations, and contributing to the general public’s knowledge of just what it was an architect did. This is his story.
Benjamin Dreisler came from Bavaria, and was born there in 1849. He came to the United States in 1881. We don’t really know what he was up to until 1895, when his name appeared as a builder, with an office in Flatbush, on Avenue C and Flatbush Avenue. By 1896, his name starts appearing as an architect in the Real Estate Record and Builder’s Guide, which tracked the building trades in the New York City metropolitan area.
A great deal of Dreisler’s work was in Flatbush. Between 1899 and 1911 he designed sixteen homes in Dean Alvord’s Prospect Park South. His homes also appear in other parts of what we call Victorian Flatbush. In Midwood South alone, he designed 20 frame cottages, all typical of his suburban style, middle class housing work. In a newspaper advertisement, he wrote that he had designed over 400 such cottages across Flatbush, Long Island and New Jersey, all modest and modern suburban homes, reasonable in cost. A group of ten homes in Kensington was described as being for “clerks and other skilled workmen.” (more…)
How cute is this 1917 neo-Colonial style townhouse? It’s got a modern layout and tons of original details, including a wood-burning fireplace, a coffered ceiling in a bedroom, leaded glass transoms, a dining room built-in, bead board wainscotting in the renovated kitchen, and what appear to be the original multi-paned windows. We do wonder about the two bathrooms, though — there are no photos of those. Once-identical neighbors at 2106 and 2109 have both been featured as House of the Day. The house is landmarked, as part of the Albemarle-Kenmore Terrace Historic District. For $899,000, does it seem like a pretty good deal? 2108 Albemarle Terrace [Brown Harris Stevens] GMAPP*Shark
Name: Private House Address: 242 Rugby Road Cross Streets: Beverley and Cortelyou Roads Neighborhood: Beverley Square West Year Built: around 1901-1902 Architectural Style: Queen Anne Architect: One of four architects, perhaps John J. Petit Other Work by Architect: All with houses throughout Victorian Flatbush Landmarked: No, but most of Victorian Flatbush that isn’t, should be.
The story: The “Beverley Squares” as they are called, both East and West, are sandwiched in between Ditmas Park and Prospect Park South in that vast former suburban area we call Victorian Flatbush. It is a mystery to me why they were not landmarked long ago when both Prospect Park South and Ditmas received the protection of landmarking. Housing such as today’s BOTD is typical here in the Beverley’s, and is a celebration of the imagination and spirit of the turn of the 20th century’s architects and the developers they worked for. These particular neighborhoods were the brainchild of prolific developer Thomas B. Ackerson.
With savings garnered from his job at the Knickerbocker Ice Company, Thomas Benton Ackerson, who went by “T.B.,” started investing in real estate. With a little more than $85K, he bought ten acres of Flatbush land from the Lott family and began to develop two neighborhoods now known as Beverley Square East and West. He envisioned an upscale suburban development where no two houses were the same and every house had a lawn. He had great drive, got great help and managed to have 42 houses built in Beverley Square West which sold in no time. T.B. was on his way.
T.B. took his cues from the other developers around him, like Prospect Park South’s Dean Alvord and Ditmas Park’s Louis Pounds, and hired some of the same architects they used. John J. Petit, A. White Pierce, J.A. Davidson and Benjamin Dreisler designed all of the houses in Beverley Square. I was not able to sort out the mess of who did what, but one of them was the architect of this house. If I had to take a guess, it would be Petit who designed some of Prospect Park South’s most imaginative houses. (more…)
Name: Originally Reverend Frederick A. Wright House Address: 144 Westminster Road Cross Streets: Albemarle and Beverley Roads Neighborhood: Prospect Park South Year Built: 1910 Architectural Style: Colonial Revival Architect: Benjamin F. Hudson Other Work by Architect: Row houses, 15th St. Park Slope; other suburban houses in Victorian Flatbush, also Bensonhurst. Landmarked: Yes, part of PPS HD (1979)
The story: Many of the Colonial Revival Houses in historic Victorian Flatbush, especially in Prospect Park South, have been described in this column over the years as “being on steroids.” It’s a flip remark, certainly non-architectural, that just allows me to tell you that the building is not a strict interpretation of the textbook Colonial Revival style; it’s much more. The architect embellished, expanded and added all kinds of elements, including size, to his buildings, things that were never seen in the Georgian and Federal style houses of the mid to late 1700s, which were their inspiration. As developers and clients in the early 20th century sought bigger and bigger homes — like the McMansions of today — architects were wont to keep adding. The better ones did it well, and many of these houses are still highly admired today. But once in a while a purist arrives, and we can see what the Colonial Revival was all about. (more…)