1880s House Envy: Reporter Visits “The Most Magnificent Private Residence in Brooklyn”

Entry of the Chiclet Mansion. Photo via 2013 listing

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Mention of the Gilded Age may conjure visions of Edith Wharton’s Manhattan, but there’s no better example of the era’s wealth and glamor east of the East River than Park Slope’s Chiclet Mansion. Built in 1889, the home’s extravagant details sealed its status as one of the city’s finest Romanesque Revival homes.

A Brownstoner reader just tipped us off to an epically long Brooklyn Eagle story on the home as it neared completion. Read on for a few highlights of 19th century design taste so highbrow it snubs even the classic brownstones we love today.

And trust us, you don’t want to miss the bit about the “electric cat teaser.”

Brooklyn Mansion

A plan of the first floor included in the 1889 Brooklyn Eagle story

First, the writer throws some shade on brownstones

For many months an ominous procession of beetle browed brown stone front houses has been advancing at a rapid rate up the western slope of Prospect Hill, until it seemed as if that splendid reserve neighborhood was about to fall into the clutches of that voracious horde of speculators and contractors who have strung their interminable lines of coffee colored coops with such persistency across New York and Brooklyn that the entire landscape has the color of an Ethiop and the depressing aspect of a dyspeptic.

Then we get to the good stuff — 117 8th Avenue

The most costly and pretentions [sic] residence in the colony is that belonging to Mr. Thomas Adams, Jr., oldest son of the gentleman who has achieved fame and fortune in the manufacture of chewing gum. Its appearance is beyond that of any other house in Brooklyn. Its size is impressive.

Romanesque details pervade the interior

The stairway is of antique oak, elaborately carved, the patterns here, as elsewhere, conforming to the French Romanesque scheme of decoration, composition and construction. This scheme is carried into details. The inside vestibule doors are glazed with the fine stained glass in Romanesque patterns. The floor of the vestibule is a mosaic of several soft and pleasing colors in Italian marbles, and the walls are of quartered oak, an elaborate screen of carved oak being used to separate the main hall from the staircase. The carvings on the screen are beautiful and intricate.

117 8th avenue

Photo of 117 8th Avenue by Kate Lenova for PropertyShark

The parlor is frescoed and mahogany-filled

All of the woodwork of the parlor is of mahogany in the natural color, and the floor is of inlaid hard woods. …The walls of the parlor level are to be elaborately frescoed, and the furnishings will surpass in splendor those in most of the pretentions mansions on Prospect Heights. All of the walls in the house are plastered and all murals decorations are super-imposed. The parlor walls are to be paneled in silk and embossed leather.

The huge billiard room is decorated with embossed-leather paneling

The paneling is of embossed leather and the decorations are in burlaps with elaborate patterns in ropes sewed on. The general color of the background is ecru and the figures are picked out in metallic lusters. There is a large open fireplace on one side of the billiard room.

The library is a book-lover’s dream

The library is furnished with that discriminating taste that everywhere prevails. The bookcase, which surrounds the room, is five feet high- the ones reaching to the ceiling have gone out of style, we are told – and is constructed of hazel, left in the natural color. In the center of the room is a library table of French walnut, inlaid with mother of pearl and ivory.

There was an unfortunate lack of guest slippers

There is also, in that small closet, a wash basin, in which he may perform the Oriental ceremony of ablation, but here ends the likeness to the Oriental custom. There are no slippers for the guest.

Photo by Suzanne Spellen

Photo by Suzanne Spellen

The home was outfitted with state-of-the-art technology

The house is wired for incandescent electric lights, though gas is also introduced throughout and is also wired for burglar alarms and for the further and additional purposes of opening doors, ringing bells and lighting gas. Though Mr. Adams is fond of horses, and has a stable, it will not find a place on the premises.

The whole home cost quite a bundle

The house stands on part of a plot of ground, 75 feet broad by 112 feet long, which was bought one year ago last Spring for $20,500. An equal sized corner lot in the neighborhood will now bring $35,000. Mr. Adams’ house has cost $50,000 so far, and will cost $50,000 or $75,000 more. The dwelling which adjoins it on the north, forming a part of it, has cost $22,000, not including the ground.

Oh yes, and the “electric cat teaser”…

Mr. Thomas Adams Jr., intends to wire the back fence with what is called an electric cat teaser. The contrivance is very simpler and works like a miracle. An electric wire is strong along the top of the fence. At one point there is a break in the wire, three inches long. The cat walks along the top of the fence on the wire and as the animal step across this break and pats one foot trustfully down on the wire again it completes the circuit and there suddenly bursts on the still and solemn air of night a piercing howl of mingled surprise and alarm, the victim of misplaced confidence goes up toward the sky loaded to the tail with electric fluid and the feline comic opera stage is deprived of another baritone soloist of extraordinary power and promise.

Brooklyn Mansion

130 8th Avenue — the house across the street. Photo via Brooklyn Public Library

Related Stories
Building of the Day: 117 Eighth Avenue
Chiclet Mansion at 117 8th Avenue Up For Sale
Of Sunny Days, Sea Breezes, Knights in Armor and Chewing Gum

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