Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Former carriage house, now condos
Address: 31 St. Felix Street
Cross Streets: Dekalb Avenue and Fulton Street
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: Unknown, new addition: 2004-5
Architectural Style: Romanesque Revival
Architect: Original building unknown; 2004 addition: Jorge Concepcion, project manager
The story: St. Felix Street begins at Dekalb Avenue and ends three blocks later at Hanson Place. The street and its surrounding neighbors began to be developed in the 1840s. A look at the Brooklyn Eagle shows lots selling all throughout the early 40s, and then houses for sale later in the decade. The longer block between Dekalb and Fulton Street was always a mixture of row houses and service buildings. Over the next 40 years, some of the buildings were replaced or made larger, but the block stayed that same mixture of homes and service buildings.
This building has a confusing history. Confusing, because there is information out there about it that I couldn’t verify. I found many references to the building as being a firehouse. One was a list someone had drawn up of old Brooklyn firehouses. It listed this address and building as Engine 226. But the real Engine 226 is on State Street in Boreum Hill. It’s always been there, even when it was Brooklyn Fire Department Engine 26. (It was also a BOTD, coincidentally.) When this building was converted into condos, the owner also called it a former firehouse, and so has every real estate ad since. I don’t think it was.
If you look at the insurance maps of the 19th century, the building is never labeled as a firehouse. It clearly shows up in the 1880 map, and several subsequent maps, where it is not labeled at all, or is called a carriage house. See the wonderfully clear map from 1887 below: carriage house. It looks as if it’s a rather huge carriage house, labeled as two stories, but not a firehouse. It must have been a very impressive carriage house, too, because the maps didn’t often label service buildings. Someone really liked it.
The 1904 map clearly shows the same carriage house, and also shows the real firehouse located around the corner on Dekalb Avenue. That’s the old Engine 156, better known today as Spike Lee’s old HQ. Had 31 St. Felix actually been a firehouse, it would have been labeled. Also, they wouldn’t have had two so close together.
But it’s all good – this is a beautiful carriage house building. The arched windows, the peaked roof, the huge interior space, the elegant front doors; there were some lucky horses and groomsmen living here. An extensive search of records might yield whose carriage house this was — one of the very wealthy people who lived on the park, or perhaps the owners of one of the townhouses on nearby South Portland Street, I would imagine.
In 2003, the building was purchased by Jorge Concepcion, a construction engineer who graduated from Pratt Institute. His construction company, Crown Construction Builders, restored the carriage house and built the modern addition. I tried to find the architect, but only found Mr. Concepcion’s name and his company attached to the project. There are now three apartments and one commercial unit in the building.
I generally hate sticking my neck out and proclaiming that conventional wisdom is wrong. If I am mistaken in any of this, I have no problem correcting my mistakes. I am only as good as my research sources. If anyone knows the name of the architect, if it is not Mr. Concepcion, please leave a comment.
(Photograph:Christopher Bride for PropertyShark)