Fort Greene Historic District Manse at Center of House Theft Case Now Listed as a Teardown

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It’s being pitched in a listing as a teardown and “essentially uninhabitable,” but this circa 1868 brownstone sits in the Fort Greene Historic District and has more than a bit of history behind its walls, including a connection to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Located at 176 Washington Park, right across from Fort Greene Park, the brownstone has been entangled in a criminal investigation for the last several years.

176 washington park

In 2015, the sister of the deceased owner, Joseph J. Tremmel, alerted her lawyer about a notice she had received to vacate the property her brother had owned for decades. Investigators digging into the case found that a fraudulent deed had been created by Aderibigbe Ogundiran as part of a scam to grab multiple properties in the borough. He had managed to file a deed to transfer the ownership of the house to a company he owned by having someone pose as the deceased homeowner.

Last summer the Brooklyn District Attorney announced that Ogundiran had pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two to six years for the theft of 176 Washington Park and the theft or attempted theft of five other Brooklyn houses in Crown Heights, East New York and Bed Stuy.

176 washington park

The illegal deed for 176 Washington Park was voided in December of 2015 and the property title returned to the estate of Joseph J. Tremmel. The house, which apparently has no heat, water or electricity, is now on the market for $4.3 million. A recent walk past the house showed broken and boarded-up windows, an overgrown garden and a junk-filled yard. It’s a far cry from its glory days as the home of one of Brooklyn’s 19th century movers and shakers, a man credited with making the Brooklyn Bridge a reality.

The four-story Italianate house was constructed between 1868 and 1869 by builder T. B. Jackson. By 1869, Jackson was advertising newly completed brownstone houses on what was then known as Cumberland Street. The “first class” houses had a prime location opposite Washington Park. Renamed Fort Greene Park in the early 20th century, the park was in the midst of a redesign by landscape and architecture greats Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux at the time Jackson built his trio of brownstones.

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An 1883 invitation for the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge with Kingsley listed as president. Image via Brooklyn Museum

By 1872, the house with the choice corner lot, No. 176, had been purchased by William C. and Sarah D. Kingsley. It would remain in their family until 1916. William C. Kingsley had arrived in Brooklyn in the the early 1860s, a man in his late 20s who had already worked as a schoolteacher, clerk and railroad and canal builder. In Brooklyn he partnered with Abner C. Keeney, and their firm Kingsley & Keeney laid sewers, paved streets and improved docks. Kingsley became politically active as well, aligning himself with powerful Hugh McLaughlin, boss of the Kings County Democratic Party.

Kingsley made his true mark with his boosterism and investment in the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was an early shareholder in the project, served on the board of directors and, when the bridge was completed in 1883, delivered a speech as president of the board.

176 washington park

Kingsley died just two years later and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle published a lengthy obit in 1885, titled “The Builder of the Brooklyn Bridge Crosses the Dark River.” Another profuse article followed detailing his 1885 funeral, held at 176 Washington Park. “Throngs of friends” crowded the parlor of the house where the “painted rose garland which formed the centerpiece of the parlor ceiling had goodly company in the floral pieces presented by the relatives of the departed gentleman.” Paintings of a “cheerful character” hung in the parlor, including one of a mother and two little children. Three floors of the grand house were opened to visitors and the paper claimed 300 filled the house, including Brooklyn Mayor Seth Low and a long list of other Brooklyn notables. The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher was one of the ministers chosen to conduct portions of the service.

176 washington park

An ad for the 1913 auction of the contents of 176 Washington Park. Image via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Sarah Kingsley continued living at 176 Washington Park after his death, heading a household that at times included her brother and her grandsons, Kingsley Swan and Halstead Swan. Sarah died in 1913, an estate sale was held later that year, and in 1916 the house was put up for auction.

Historic images, including the circa 1940 tax photo , and two images at the Brooklyn Historical Society show that the brownstone stayed largely intact on the exterior until at least 1958. The Italianate houses constructed by T.B. Jackson would have had ornamental pediments above the doorway with heavily carved brackets, fully framed windows with projecting lintels and a bracketed cornice. The mansard roofs at 175 and 176 were later 19th century additions.

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No. 176 Washington park in 1958. Photos by John D. Morrell via Brooklyn Historical Society

At some point between 1958 and 1978, the year the Fort Greene Historic District was designated, No. 176 was significantly altered. All of the ornamentation on the front facade — lintels, door pediment and cornice — was removed. A hint of the original character is still evident on the Willoughby Avenue facade, where a dormer window and slate shingles survive.

Records show that the house was scheduled to go up for a foreclosure auction in June and now the property, which includes a garage, is on the market. Listing photos show only a portion of the interior, and there are signs of water damage. Looking at images going back to 2009, it is clear that some of the conditions in the house, including broken windows, date to at least that time.

Any changes to the exterior made by a new buyer — and it has to be a buyer offering all cash, according to the listing — would be subject to approval by the New York Landmarks Commission.

176 washington park

Photos via Compass

176 washington park

Floorplan via Compass

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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