Building of the Day: 421 Franklin Avenue

1940's tax photo, via New York Times

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Private House
Address: 421 Franklin Avenue
Cross Streets: Monroe and Madison Streets
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: 1860’s
Architectural Style: Second Empire
Architect: Unknown
Landmarked: No

The story: In 1876, a woman named Mary Gould was up before a judge in Brooklyn criminal court for stealing a lace shawl from Mr. H. C. Webb from his house at 421 Franklin Avenue, a large Second Empire house in the Bedford section, between Madison and Monroe Street. Mr. Webb was an elegantly bearded man in his 50’s, obviously of means, as he appeared in court wearing a diamond cross and carrying a gold handled cane. He lived in the house with his daughter, and had offered a home to Miss Gould to be a companion to them. This was just the first of many interesting events to take place in this home, now tucked away between apartment buildings and row houses, on what was until recently, a rather forgotten part of Franklin Avenue.

The next owner of the house was Hugo Tollner, the son of Eugene Tollner, the co-founder of the famous restaurant, Gage and Tollner. He bought the house in 1883, and lived there with his wife and children. Hugo was often in the news, but not always for pleasant reasons. He owned several factory buildings in greater Bedford, and they seemed to have a propensity for fire. The first was in 1881, in his mouldings and picture frame factory on Schenck Street. The second was in 1894, in his factory on Franklin Avenue, and another in 1902, further up the road, on Graham near DeKalb. The third fire was very bad, stopping trolley traffic, and injuring a fireman. It gutted the lower floors of the building, as well. In spite of the pyrotechnics in his factories, he seemed to wheel and deal in the real estate business quite well, with other commercial and factory buildings to his name.

He also knew how to throw a good party. The house on Franklin Avenue was host to parties for his bicycle club, the Uralia Wheelmen, as well as a memorable party in 1895 for the Lenox Euchre Club. Euchre was a very popular card game, all the rage at the time for the upper middle classes. The game, which hardly anyone has heard of today, was responsible for introducing the joker into the deck of playing cards. The Brooklyn Eagle, ever the reporter of social gatherings, announced that dancing, to the strains of a string orchestra, went on until midnight, at which time a generous repast was served. In 1907, the house was the location for Edna Veronica Tollner’s wedding to her new husband, the unfortunately named Mr. Tifft.

Later owners of the house also knew how to party, according to the current owner, who wrote a fascinating history of her house for the New York Times, in April of 2009. The link is here, and should be enjoyed. This house has been so much, and has many mysteries still to be solved, but amazingly, has survived. This particular part of Bed Stuy has been rebuilt many times, and today is almost unrecognizable with all of the not so new, or attractive, Fedders houses, and most recently, new modern condo buildings, which are sprinkled among the turn of the 20th century flats buildings, and even older row houses. This is the oldest house in the neighborhood, built in a time when it would have had few neighbors, and most of them would have been in spacious villas such as this. It’s a true time capsule. GMAP

1940's tax photo, via New York Times

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