It’s almost impossible not to be charmed by Brooklyn’s tucked-away alleys and tiny streets. From Barwell Terrace in Bay Ridge to College Place in Brooklyn Heights, the picturesque and low-scale nature of the tiny streets give every explorer the feeling they might be stumbling upon a hidden gem.
Temple Court is a secluded little lane lined with neatly maintained wood frame houses in Windsor Terrace, just a short distance from Prospect Park. It stretches only a block long, running between Seeley Street and Terrace Place. But, while it is viewable from Terrace Place, the only pedestrian or vehicle access is via Seeley Street.
Temple Court was laid out in the town of Flatbush in the 1880s and by 1888 a Sanborn map shows the street filled with wooden houses. The little dwellings were described as new in 1888 advertisements placed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle by William J. Tate, a Brooklyn real estate man. He pitched the two-story frame dwellings as “a good chance to own your own house instead of paying rent.”
Wood frame buildings don’t always survive in the city, and in February of 1893 the street was hit with two fires. The first fire, on February 14, started at 12 Temple Court when, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a fire left burning in the stove to dry some fresh paint ignited the house and damaged two adjoining houses. It was reported that all were owned by a Mr. Robbins and unoccupied at the time.
Fire broke out again on February 22 and this time 13 houses, mostly on the west side of the street, were destroyed. The wooden structures were “built in a very flimsy manner” according to the Eagle and the fire spread quickly. While no reports of injury were recorded, the houses themselves, some occupied by renters and some by owners, were considered a complete loss, with a reported value of $1,500 each.
The results of the fire investigation came out in March of 1893 with a verdict of faulty construction. The houses were built on wood piles, lacked stone foundations, had flues that were encased in wood, and the attics of the entire stretch of houses were “entirely open from one end of the block to the other.”
Despite the fire, the replacement houses were also constructed of wood — although presumably of better construction. Some houses were rebuilt fairly quickly, others several years later. By 1905 a Sanborn map shows just two empty lots on the street.
In the 1920s, the street made a bit of a splash when a former resident made it in Hollywood. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle declared “Brooklyn Girl Makes Good” in 1923 when teenaged Betty Morrissey made a bid for stardom with a role as Fifi in Charlie Chaplin’s “A Woman of Paris.”
Betty and her mother had left for sunny California the year before, but the intrepid Eagle reporter hoofed it over to Temple Court to chat with her former neighbors for their opinion. Nothing scandalous was shared — neighbors agreed she was a nice, popular girl, with one self-described “great pal” of Betty’s proclaiming “I’m sure that all the people in Temple Court are delighted to hear she has made good.”
Betty would work with Chaplin again in three more films, including “Gold Rush” in 1925. She ultimately appeared in about a dozen films, mostly in smaller parts. She showed off her Charleston skills in “Skinner’s Dress Suit” in 1926 and appeared in her first talkie in 1931 with Claudette Colbert and Frederich March in “Honor Among Lovers.” She left the pursuit of stardom behind soon after when she married a military man. She did return to New York, but died young at age 36 in 1944.
Today there are 25 houses on the street and the majority are still single family homes. Four of the houses, Nos. 16 through 22 Temple Court, have brightly painted cornices with applied ivy-patterned trim. A fifth, 24 Temple Court, has a similar treatment but with a floral swag. A circa 1939 tax photo of 18 Temple Court shows the trim has been there since at least that time.
With their quirky little details and pocket-sized front gardens overflowing with flowers, window boxes and flag poles, all of the houses make for a charming Brooklyn visual.
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
- The Charming “Old English” Hidden Terrace of Bay Ridge
- Row Houses With a Twist: The Concrete Houses of Windsor Terrace
- The Little Fortress Watching Over Windsor Terrace Since 1896