One of Brooklyn’s oldest buildings, the Commandant’s House, is both famous and something of a secret, hidden behind tall gates near a ConEd power station on a dead end street in Vinegar Hill. Landmarked and privately owned since the 1970s, the clapboard house at 24 Evans Street was built circa 1806 for the Navy Yard’s commandant.
Many have gazed longingly through the gates surrounding the house, but it is gated and off limits and little has been published about the interiors. We’ve uncovered a stash of photos taken by the Department of the Navy in 1914 in the collection of the National Archives. So let’s leap back to the early 20th century for a virtual tour.
Known in its Navy Yard years as Quarters A, the building is often attributed to Charles Bulfinch, architect of the United States Capitol, but absolutely no proof has ever turned up to support this tale. Regardless, it is a grand and refined Federal-style house.
The photographs show an interior that still maintains many of its early 19th century architectural features, with a layer of late 19th century and early 20th century design. Here in the hall, an archway, oval window and stair remain.
The parlor has some Victorian-era clutter and a circa-1860s gasolier. The house’s gas lights and kerosene lamps had already been electrified by the time the photographs were taken, the cords and light switches on the fixtures show.
The elegant oval dining room retains original details such as the moldings and mantel.
Light streams through the delicate fanlight windows into a room on the first floor. Identified only as the “northeast room,” it appears to be a library. The oversized patterned wallpaper may date to the mid 19th century.
The high quality scans allow great zooming in if you really want a closer look at the details like the Gibson Girl art in the bedroom. Note the fashionable white painted furniture.
A Colonial Revival style bedroom, complete with four poster bed and drop front desk.
The table lamp is electrified by a cord attached to the ceiling fixture above it — just like earlier gas lamps were sometimes fueled by a flexible tube fed via a nearby fixture.
Here is the house as it appears today, viewed through the locked gates.
Another view of the house as it appears today.
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