Building of the Day: 1511 Albemarle Road

Photo: Dzidek & Barbara on Panoramio.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

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.

When Dean Alvord developed Prospect Park South, Frank Freeman was one of the first independent architects to be commissioned to build houses there. He built two, both on Albemarle Road, the showcase boulevard of the project. The first house was this one, 1511 Albemarle, built in 1899, one of the first houses in PPS, period, built even before many of Chief Architect John J. Petit’s fine houses. The other house was at 1401 Albemarle, and was built for Frederick Burrell in 1900. This house was an enormous Colonial Revival, but was torn down in 1938 for the apartment building which still stands there.

1511 Albemarle was built for Nelson P. Lewis, a civil engineer who worked at various times, for both Brooklyn and New York City. He was a graduate of Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, and after working on railroads in Louisiana and Colorado, he came to Brooklyn, and worked for the Brooklyn Waterworks. The rest of his career was spent as a civil engineer and employee of either Brooklyn or the City of New York. He retired in 1920 as the chief engineer of the Board of Estimate. Civil engineering must have paid exceptionally well, or else he had family money, as building, and living in a very restrictive and exclusive neighborhood like Prospect Heights South was expensive. I’m sure hiring Frank Freeman was expensive too.

Freeman designed a Colonial Revival house that would have been a rather large, but ordinary gambrel-roofed house, except he put his own special twist on the style. He placed three totally out of context towers with hints of crenellated roofline on the house, one in the center, the other two on the right and left sides. The front tower become part of the front façade, and only becomes separate when it rises above the roofline. It, in turn becomes the support for a set of classical columns that support a second story porch, and become a part of the ground floor porch. The tower on the left becomes a polygonal bay, while the right does not extend all the way to the ground, and is therefore an oriel.

The entire arrangement is interesting, and is certainly jarring when compared to the other temple fronted Colonial Revivals in the neighborhood. Freeman seemed to note the prevailing design trends, and then deliberately mess them up. Considering his house was here before all of the rest of them, he was not taking cues from anyone else’s design, he was always his own man. When this house was designated a landmark, as part of the entire district, it was covered in vinyl siding and many of the design details were obscured. Kudos to the owner who restored the house to as close to the original as possible. GMAP

Photo: Dzidek & Barbara on Panoramio.

Photo: Dzidek & Barbara on Panoramio.

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