Editor’s note: This is an update of a post that originally ran in 2014. See the original here.
I used to live on Jefferson, between Marcy and Tompkins, and walked past this house just about every day for more than 17 years. I remember the first time I saw it, on my first trip to my soon-to-be-home, and thought, even then, “What happened to this poor house?”
Underneath the added brick porch and parapet, behind the strange top floor dormer window, and the yellow paint job, it was pretty easy to see that there was a nice brick and stone Queen Anne under here, what was once a showpiece of a house, on one of the nicest streets in the Bedford neighborhood.
The house at 267-269 Jefferson Avenue was built by developer John Saddington in 1890. He was a local Bedford developer who built many of the houses on the rest of this block, as well as on other blocks in the neighborhood, especially Putnam Avenue, right behind here. Most of the time, Saddington utilized the talents of his favorite architect, Frederick D. Vrooman. Although much of the rest of the block was either for sale, or developed when the pair designed other houses on this block, this lot remained out of reach. An 1888 map of the neighborhood shows a carpenter’s shop on this location, a very large lot that reached from 261 to the corner.
This house was built in 1890 as a stand-alone. The property always had the lot next door as a carriage house or garage. It appears as such in the next map available, from 1904. The outlines of the house, with the corner tower bay and the bump-out bay on the side of the house can be clearly seen. The house was home to at least two other owners before it came into the possession of the family of Dr. Sidney H. Gardiner, in 1907.
Sidney Herbert Gardiner was a prominent medical doctor in the County of Kings, at the turn of the 20th century. He was Canadian, born in Ontario in 1862. He bounced back and forth across the border to receive his education; going to college in Syracuse and returning to Canada to Queen’s University for his medical education. He eventually moved to Brooklyn, in 1880, and set up his practice. For many years he was a surgeon at Long Island College Hospital, and was also a gynecologist at the Eastern District Hospital.
Dr. Gardiner married Elizabeth Bennett in 1891. She was the daughter of George C. Bennett, the founder of the Brooklyn Times newspaper, and the sister of Charles G. Bennett, who was a New York State Congressman. The couple had three daughters. By the time the girls were young ladies, the family was a familiar name on the Brooklyn Social Register and circuit. The girls were very popular, and the family’s summers at their vacation spots in New Jersey were always written about.
Dr. Gardiner was also an inventor. He received a patent for an arm brace he designed in 1897. It was a rib cage of aluminum straps that immobilized the arm in a lightweight exoskeleton. The design was so good that it was ordered in bulk by the United States Navy, and was first used during the Spanish-American War. The sale of this device assured the doctor and his family of a very comfortable lifestyle.
The family came to Jefferson Avenue from their home at 1085 Gates Avenue, where they lived for many years. In 1912, Dr. Gardiner established a private sanitarium in the area; it was on Jefferson at Franklin Avenue. The new home was still within walking distance. The private sanitarium was Gardiner’s proudest achievement, and he had looked forward to growing this part of his practice and helping others recover from debilitating surgery and other maladies.
But in May of 1914, Dr. Gardiner suffered an attack of appendicitis. He was very familiar with the affliction, and diagnosed himself. But like many doctors, he had a fool for a patient. He was busy in his operating room the day he had the first attack, and he waited until the next day to have his colleague perform the operation, against the recommendations of his fellow surgeons. He was finally operated on, and was very slow to recover. After two weeks, while recovering here at home, he slipped into a coma and died from sepsis.
His wife, Elizabeth was inconsolable, as were his adult daughters. Dr. Gardiner had been a high level Mason, and the member of several other fraternal organizations, as well as the Medical Society of the County of Kings. He was also a member of Calvary Protestant Episcopal Church in Bushwick. His funeral was at the Aurora Grata Cathedral, on the corner of Bedford Avenue at Madison Avenue.
Elizabeth Gardiner did not stay at the house very long after his death. She held on to the house, but moved to the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn Heights for a while. Eventually she moved back to the house, then moved to the Mansion House at 137 Hicks Street in the Heights, and finally to Manhattan and then Montclair, New Jersey. She died there in 1939.
The house had many owners after the Gardiners. Hardly any of them are mentioned in the papers for any reason. At the time of the circa 1940 tax photo most of the original detail was still there. It originally had a wraparound ironwork porch. The style of the porch and upper terrace now looks like it was done in the 1940s or 50s. They were certainly there when I lived in the neighborhood, beginning in 1983. The upper dormer window has had several incarnations since then, as well. Some facade work and restoration was done in 2015, but the porch remains.
I hope someday someone tears down the porch and restores the house to as close to its original appearance as possible. It’s a beautiful house, and hey, it has a garage!
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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