Walkabout: William B. Tubby, Architect

Pratt Mansion. Photo by Suzanne Spellen

Noted architectural historian Andrew Dolkart has stated that, in his opinion, Brooklyn’s greatest architects of the late Victorian period were Montrose Morris, Frank Freeman, Parfitt Brothers, George Chappell, and William Tubby.

Continuing my ongoing look at all of these men and their works, meet William Bunker Tubby. He was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1858, and graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute in 1875.

He then worked in the architectural offices of Ebenezer L. Roberts, until beginning his own firm in 1883. Unlike most of his contemporaries listed, Tubby lived a long productive life, retiring in 1942, and passing away two years later, in 1944, at his home in Greenwich, Ct, at the age of 86.

His close association with Charles Pratt and Pratt Institute resulted in some of his best known Brooklyn buildings, but his work can be found in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Connecticut, and Long Island, as well. This article will look at his works in Clinton Hill, and Thursday will continue with his other work in Brooklyn and beyond.

Charles Pratt made his fortune with his Astral Oil Company, which merged with Standard Oil in 1874, and was Brooklyn’s wealthiest man. He was also a dedicated philanthropist and gave generously.

Not well educated himself, he wanted a training school for engineers and specialized workers, and founded Pratt Institute in 1887. His two favorite architectural firms were Lamb and Rich, who built Pratt’s Astral Apartments in Greenpoint, as well as some of the Institute buildings, and William Tubby.

Charles Pratt died four years after founding the Institute, but his son, Charles M. Pratt, and other family members carried on in his name. Tubby designed several buildings on the Pratt campus, the most well known being the Pratt Library, built in 1896.

The Renaissance Revival building was a public, as well as a private library, with an emphasis on service to local children, and was the first free library in New York City.

The interior was designed by the Louis Tiffany firm, and has a beautiful center staircase of marble and brass, with mosaic and clear glass tiles on the floor in the stacks, as well as fanciful and elegant designs in the metal work of the bookshelves themselves.

Ironically, the library is no longer open to the public, having gone private in 1941. Tubby’s other Pratt campus buildings include parts of Higgins Hall, (1890) the South Hall (1889-92), and the Trade School Building, (1887) where students learned brick laying, plumbing and sign painting. It is now the student union.

Brooklyn History -- William B. Tubby, Architect

Image via eBay

Many of these buildings cannot be seen unless one goes on campus, but two of William Tubby’s best private homes are only blocks away from Pratt’s campus, on Clinton Avenue.

In 1889, William Tubby designed a large and expansive Renaissance Revival home for Charles Adolf Schieren, a wealthy leather manufacturer and soon-to-be mayor of Brooklyn.

This is one of Clinton Avenue’s more impressive homes. Today it is undergoing a complete gut renovation, but will remain a single family home.

This home, at 485 Clinton Ave. was probably the catalyst for the Pratt/Tubby collaborations, as Pratt soon hired Tubby to design a mansion for his eldest son, Charles M. Pratt.

Many Clinton Hill residents know that Charles Pratt, Sr. gifted his children with large mansions near his own on Clinton Avenue, assuring its status as one of the most expensive and desirable streets in Brooklyn in the latter part of the 19th century.

Tubby’s house for eldest son Charles M. Pratt, at 241 Clinton Avenue, is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of Romanesque Revival architecture in the United States.

It is a powerful and beautiful mansion in warm brick and sandstone, its most striking features, the gorgeous arched porte-cochere, the tiled roof, the broad eyebrow window, and the flowing Byzantine leaf carvings, the most prominent with the initials C,M,P, for Charles Millard Pratt.

It is now the home to the Catholic bishop of the Dioceses of Brooklyn. The Pratt connection would continue for Tubby. He went on to design the Pratt summer home in Glen Cove, Long Island, nestled on an 800 acre estate, and after Charles Pratt’s death, his mausoleum, a huge stone chapel in a field in Dosoris, Long Island, at a cost of over $150,000.

In 1894, William Tubby picked up another important Clinton Hill area commission. Driven out of Brooklyn’s Fulton St. dock area, produce, meat and fish vendors began to sell their products in the Wallabout section below Clinton Hill, by the Navy Yard.

William Tubby was commissioned to design market buildings for the vendors, and the result was the Wallabout Market, which became the second largest market in the world. Tubby took the New York’s roots to heart, and designed buildings in a stylized Dutch fashion, centered around an open plaza called Farmer’s Square, with stalls.

Brooklyn History -- William B. Tubby, Architect

Photo via New York Public Library

Brooklyn History -- William B. Tubby, Architect

Photo via New York Public Library

A tall clock tower rose from the center of the market, complete with Dutch spires. The market was busy from dawn to dusk, and stood until the beginning of World War II, when the market was torn down to make way for an expanded Navy Yard, Most of the vendors relocated to Hunt’s Point in the Bronx.

Period photos of the Market show an extremely busy place, and the buildings themselves create a unique setting for this important piece of Brooklyn history. See photos of the Market, as well as the Pratt and Clinton Hill buildings on Flickr.

Next time: William Tubby’s career continues.

Brooklyn History -- William B. Tubby, Architect

179-183 Saint James Place. Photo by Suzanne Spellen

Brooklyn History -- William B. Tubby, Architect

Photo via Google Maps

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