A Bed Stuy Neo-Grec Brownstone Gets a New Look

Photo by Susan De Vries

Editor’s note: This story is an update of one that ran in 2011. Read the original here.

Sometime in the early 1880s, developers began building on this block of Halsey Street. Across the street from this building, the new Girls High School would soon be rising, and the neighborhood was beginning its meteoric rise to becoming the next new up-and-coming upper middle class enclave.

This entire group of Neo-Grec-style houses dates to 1880 to 1883 and were designed by Isaac D. Reynolds. It’s a safe bet that when the row was built, 105 Halsey looked just like its neighbors: a four story brownstone with incised ornament on the lintels and doorways, and a tall stoop with a straight stairway. Judging from the style, in the late 1880s or early 1890s, the building got a shot of steroids.

105 halsey street bed stuy

105 halsey street bed stuy

A new dog-leg stairway, a classic Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne stylistic device, replaced the original stair, leading to a tricked-out Classical portico, with Greek fluted columns supporting a second story bump-out bay. The original Neo-Grec brackets are still tucked under the bay. A Renaissance Revival frieze decorates the front of the new bay, which is really a conceit, and adds no useful space to the room it is attached to, as it is large enough for a decorative table and perhaps a chair.

A fifth floor was also added by removing the original cornice and putting on a mansard roof with a double windowed dormer. My favorite part of the whole thing has to be the ram’s heads at the top of the stairs. Not quite as obvious as lions, but getting there.

The enlargement of the house may have been done for the Sherman family, who lived there from at least 1885 to 1890. John D.W. Sherman was a sports man, and the owner and manager of the Huntington Driving Park, a racetrack in Huntington, Long Island. Thoroughbred races took place there, as did harness racing. Mr. and Mrs. Sherman were quite social. He was a member of the Riders and Drivers Club of Brooklyn, and she was very active in a literary group called the Contemporary Club. They often met at the house at 105 Halsey for meetings and social events, including concerts, drama and poetry readings.

105 halsey street bed stuy

Both Shermans must have loved their horses, but it would prove tragic to Mrs. Sherman. In 1889, she was driving her buggy in Prospect Park, and lost control of her horses. Another carriage not seeing her coming up fast behind them turned into hers, and in the collision, the woman passenger of the other carriage was thrown and killed. An inquiry declared the incident a tragic accident. Soon after, in 1890, the Shermans moved from Halsey Street to a new suburban villa they named “Strathroy” on Ocean Parkway, in Flatbush.

The next owner was Albert Smith, a lawyer. He was a past president of the New York Board of Education. The announcement of his death, in March of 1903 also noted that he had once been a close friend of William “Boss” Tweed, until they had a falling out, upon which time he vocally opposed Tweed’s policies. He left behind a son and two daughters.

Today, the house is painted, but more than likely the entire addition was rendered in matching brownstone, and sets this house apart on the block, from the sidewalk on up. Remuddled? Victorian McMansion? A good way to add necessary space, as valuable 100 years ago as now? Or a stylistic mishmash, done with a heavy hand? You decide.

The house is included in the Bedford Historic District, which was designated in 2015.

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless otherwise noted]

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