Building of the Day: 109 Rugby Road

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Francis E. Delbon House
Address: 109 Rugby Road, between Church Ave. and Albemarle Rd.
Neighborhood: Prospect Park South
Year Built: 1919-24
Architectural Style: Prairie School, with Neo-Georgian details
Architect: J. Sarsfield Kennedy
Other buildings by architect: Bay Ridge’s Gingerbread House, Prospect Park Picnic House
Landmarked: Yes, part of the PPS Historic District (1979)

The story: In a neighborhood largely made up of massive East Coast style Queen Anne, Tudor and neo-Colonial houses, this house embraces a very different aesthetic. The house was built for Francis E. Delbon, who invented a shoe last, and was the founder of Delman Shoes. He wanted a 14th century Italian villa, but what he got was a Prairie School house, with extras, influenced by early Frank Lloyd Wright, Purcell & Elmslie, and other Midwestern architects. It’s got the low, horizontal massing, the multiple windows, the roof with deep eaves, the general shape and materials often used in Prairie School domestic architecture. Then it’s got all that neo-Classical detail, in the Roman brick construction of the pathways, the terrace and its columns, and the large portico with the broken pediment. It’s really quite unusual, and one’s idea of what it will look like when you are coming down the street from one direction, is absolutely turned around, when approaching from the other. J. Sarsfield Kennedy is another of those architects who left behind interesting and enduring work, but no personal information. He had a practice in Brooklyn between 1909 and 1925, and his buildings pop up in Manhattan, in Brooklyn, and on Long Island, where he designed a large rambling home in Westhampton. He also designed a comfort station and the Picnic House in Prospect Park, as well as the bases of some park statuary. The Picnic House utilizes the same Flemish bond brick design as the house. Kennedy would have been unknown to all but architectural historians, but for his most famous house. He is best remembered for his iconic and totally fantastical Arts and Crafts Gingerbread House in Bay Ridge, built in 1916. That building put him on the map, and was his most highly regarded building. He obviously enjoyed playing with conventional form and giving a client what they asked for with a twist. It would be interesting to find more work from this intriguing architect.

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