Building of the Day: 96 Brooklyn Avenue

I featured this house as a BOTD back in 2010, but this is an entirely new report.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: John and Elizabeth Truslow House
Address: 96 Brooklyn Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner of Dean Street
Neighborhood: Crown Heights North
Year Built: 1886-1887
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Architect: Parfitt Brothers
Other works by architect: Montague, Grosvenor and Berkeley Apartments in Brooklyn Heights. St. Augustine and Grace Methodist Churches in Park Slope, and many, many more buildings throughout Brooklyn
Landmarked: Yes, individual landmark (1994), part of Crown Heights North HD (2007)

The story: Today, this house sits mouldering on the corner, waiting for the nonprofit that owns it to get funding so they can rehab it as housing. Every season that passes represents more damage to this building that was once the proud home of one of Brooklyn’s leading citizens, John Truslow. As an old house lover, especially huge white elephant houses, I always wish I had the money to bring this beauty back to life, as it deserves. We got it landmarked, but now what?

The house was designed by those prolific Parfitt Brothers, one of late 19th century Brooklyn’s finest architectural firms. The three English-born Parfitts could do it all, from row houses to churches, to office buildings and apartments. They also did some very nice free-standing houses, of which this is one of the few remaining examples.

The house was built for John and Elizabeth Truslow and their family. Elizabeth Truslow bought the land upon which the house stands in 1887. John Truslow was the son of a prominent coal merchant turned politician, and he took much the same path, taking over his father’s coal business, then turning to the stove manufacturing business, where he made a tidy fortune. In 1873, he was appointed as president of the Brooklyn Board of Assessors, a position he held until 1886. He gave up the stove business, and spent the rest of his life in politics, banking and philanthropy.

Truslow was a vice-president of the Dime Savings Bank, and one of the founders of the New York Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, and a director of the Methodist Episcopal Hospital in Park Slope. He was also an active member of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, the American Bible Society, and the Brooklyn Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor. The Truslow’s were among the first residents of the Crown Heights area, when it was still sparsely populated with large suburban villas on large lots. They lived in a large wood-framed mansion on the corner of Brooklyn Avenue and Pacific Street as far back as 1870. Their new house by the Parfitts, on the other end of the block of Brooklyn Avenue, was finished in 1887, the year after John Truslow retired.

The Parfitts designed a huge house for the Parfitts, in the Queen Anne style, but in their own unique style. Architectural historians surmise that the house’s shape is reminiscent of a long demolished building they designed for the Brooklyn Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, where Truslow was a board member. The square massing was the same, but without the extra ornament and expensive details, such as the marble porch columns. The house, like all of the Parfitt’s private houses to this point in time, was a rich red brick building with those wonderfully unique square towers, and asymmetrical massing of shapes and varied materials.

The Truslow’s lived here from 1887 to 1896, when Elizabeth sold the house to a prominent minister, Rev. Adolphus J.E. Behrends of the Central Congregational Church, on Hancock Street in Bedford, at the time, one of Brooklyn’s largest and most prestigious churches. He died two years later, and his widow sold the house to a wealthy parishioner, who also died only a couple of years later. The house passed on to other wealthy owners before being bought by a Dr. Ethlin Lamos, in 1943. He used the house to house both his family and his practice. It was he who added the rear extensions, both in 1954. He also built the garage in the back yard. His family owned the house until 1995.

The next owner was Sue Simmonds. She said that she saw the house from the B65 bus, and it spoke to her, asking for help. She bought it in 1995 for $175,000. It had long ago been chopped up into apartments, with six rent stabilized units, plus the owner’s apartment. It was Ms. Simmonds who initiated the landmarking of the house. Unfortunately, her good intentions backfired.

She had barely taken title when tenants starting reporting her for lack of repairs, and the city came down on her for over 150 code violations that all were on the books when she bought the house. Some of the units were deemed illegal, but also had violations, leaving her in the catch-22 situation of being jailed for not fixing up units that were illegal in the first place. The city wanted to put her in jail, and the tenants all believed she was trying to get rid of them. It was a mess.

Ms. Simmonds lost the building. It was purchased in 2013 for a little more than $52,000 by a nonprofit named Neighborhood Restore. They have permits on file to renovate the seven apartments, but nothing has been done in there as of yet. To my knowledge, and as far as I can tell, no one still lives there. There are no permits regarding the restoration of the façade or grounds, which would have to be passed through the LPC for approval. I worry about this house. GMAP

UPDATE: The Truslow House was recently sold by Neighborhood Restore, to a group called NIA JV, LLC. They will be working with their related partners, ELH Mgmt. LLC, which was responsible for the award-winning restoration of Montrose Morris’ Imperial Apartments, on the corner of Pacific Street and Bedford Avenue. They’ve been in the affordable housing business since 1992. Like the Imperial, the Truslow house will also become much needed affordable housing. ELH Mgmt. has already filed plans for exterior restoration with the LPC, and hopes to begin the entire project soon. They did a great job on the Imperial, and the Crown Heights North community is looking forward for this house to stop traffic on this corner. Like the Imperial, it is one of our architectural jewels.

1980s tax photo: Municipal Archives. This view is no longer available, as trees have grown up heavily in the front, hiding the house,

1980s tax photo: Municipal Archives. This view is no longer available, as trees have grown up heavily in the front, hiding the house

96 Brooklyn Ave, Truslow Hs, CHN, 2

96 Brooklyn Ave, Truslow Hs, CHN, 3

96 Brooklyn Ave, Truslow Hs, CHN, 5

96 Brooklyn Ave, Truslow Hs, CHN, 4

96 Brooklyn Ave, Truslow Hs, CHN, 6

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