Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: The Woodhull
Address: 62-66 Pierrepont Street
Cross Streets: Hicks and Henry Streets
Neighborhood: Brooklyn Heights
Year Built: 1911
Architectural Style: Renaissance/Colonial Revivals
Architect: George Fred Pelham
Other Work by Architect: Upscale apartment buildings, row houses and hotels, all over Manhattan.
Landmarked: Yes, part of Brooklyn Heights HD (1965)
The story: In 1841, John Phillip Thurston purchased a small home in Brooklyn as a place from which to conduct business, and for his family. He was from Portland, Maine, one of the many New Englanders who came to Brooklyn to trade in commodities. Sugar was his business, and he ran a successful commissions business trading with plantation owners and sugar brokers in Cuba. The small house on Pierrepont Street was surrounded by fields still, and the garden gate to the Thurston home opened up onto Montague Street, giving the property the full width of a city block. Thurston didn’t live here long, he died soon after moving here, and his business was continued by his son, Frederick. Frederick enlarged the house, and it was a comfortable home for himself and his two unmarried sisters.
Caroline Thurston died in 1894, and the remaining sister, philanthropist Ellen Thurston, died in 1897. The house passed on to the Hazen family, and in 1904, the Van Bergen family. The death of John P. Van Bergen, at the age of 87, in 1908 spurred that family to sell the house yet again. By now, Brooklyn Heights was seeing a change in the kinds of residences that were being built there. Single family row houses and an occasional free standing mansion predominated the landscape, but new construction in the early 1900s consisted of large apartment buildings and residential hotels.
Upper crust New Yorkers were finally getting over their aversion to apartment living, due in great part to the beauty of the posh apartments that were being built in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Eagle wrote in 1911 that the prejudices of old time residents to new type domiciles had been overcome, with 187 new permits for apartment buildings filed so far that year.
Since its founding, Brooklyn Heights had always been popular with those working in Lower Manhattan, and now more and more people of means wanted to live just across the river from their jobs. These new apartments and residential hotels were making that possible with great style. The purchaser of 82 Pierrepont, Realty Associates, also bought the buildings next door, and tore all three houses down to build The Woodhull. It was built in 1910-11 and opened at the end of 1911. The architect of the project was George Fred Pelham, a successful architect with a busy practice in Manhattan.
Pelham was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1867. His father, George Brown Pelham, was also an architect, and had come to New York City to practice in 1875. Young George came to NY and studied privately with his father, eventually becoming the draughtsman for the company. In 1890, he opened his own firm, specializing in hotels, apartment buildings and fine row houses. He started out designing in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture; all brownstone and arches, but progressed with the changing of styles over the years, mastering the Gothic Revival, Renaissance Revival , Beaux-Arts and Colonial Revival styles, as well.
He designed a well-known row house group at 34-42 West 96 St., many apartment buildings, loft buildings and hotels on the Upper West Side, in Harlem, Noho and SoHo, and in the Murray Hill neighborhoods of Manhattan. Many of them are contributing buildings to several historic districts. His most well-known building is probably the Chalfont Hotel, at 200 West 70th Street, which today is an apartment building. Pelham, who was joined by his son, George Junior, continued to practice until he retired after 43 years as an architect. He died in 1937.
The Woodhull is not flashy, but quietly elegant, suiting the lifestyle of its residents. It was built at a cost of $250,000. Newspaper ads touted the proximity of Wall Street, as well as the building’s fine features. From those same newspapers, the occupants of the Woodhull were doctors, lawyers, business executives and other professionals. There were a lot of society weddings coming from here over the years. The tradition continues today, as the building is now one of Brooklyn Heights’ successful co-ops.
(Photo:Scott Bintner for Property Shark)