Past and Present: The Bedford Mansion

E.T. Bedford Mansion, 1905. Photo: Wurtz Brothers. Curtesy of the Photo Collections, Museum of the City of New York

A Look at Brooklyn, then and now.

Intellectually, I understand why many of the great mansions of Clinton Hill were torn down for Navy housing during World War II. But what a blow to Brooklyn’s architectural legacy and history that was. We only have a few photographs left behind to tantalize us with what was lost, and these were some of the best.

The photograph on the left was taken in 1905, and shows the Bedford Mansion in the middle, at 181 Clinton Avenue. Edward T. Bedford was a member of the Standard Oil executive board, and friend and colleague of Charles Pratt, Sr. who was also on the board of Standard Oil. As most people know, Pratt built his own home here on Clinton Avenue, as well as large homes for three of his sons, and encouraged his oil buddies to do the same. By the time they were done, this end of Clinton Hill was an oilman’s enclave, with time and money assuring that each new mansion was bigger and finer than the last.

Edward T. Bedford, or E.T. as he is often called in the press, hired our old friend Montrose W. Morris to design his palatial home, this one, as well as one across the street for his daughter. Morris was becoming an old hand at these Renaissance Revival palazzos, and was doing a similar house for the Seamans family on St. Marks Avenue, at this time, as well. For E.T., Morris scoured the earth for exotic furnishings and decorative objects, and an article in the Real Estate and Builders Guide in 1904 describes parlor walls hung with the finest pink silk, Gobelin style tapestries, mahogany everywhere, and parquet floors strewn with huge thick silk carpets specially woven for the rooms, further topped with tiger skin rugs. Opulence, I has it.

The neighbors included Charles Pratt’s eldest son Herbert’s palatial home, which would have been on the other side of the house to the right. This one was also an immense Renaissance Revival palazzo. Photographs of this block taken only two years later than this photo don’t show this middle house, so it may have been torn down to make room for the Pratt grounds.

At any rate, none of these houses would last forever, or even 50 years. They, and most of the houses across the street, including the other Morris/Bedford house and a mansion by George W. Post, were all torn down for the Clinton Hill Apartments, which were built during World War II to house US Naval personnel and their families. Most people have no idea of what used to be here before. GMAP

E.T. Bedford Mansion, 1905. Photo: Wurtz Brothers. Curtesy of the Photo Collections, Museum of the City of New York

Clinton Hill Apartments. Photo: Googlemaps, 2011

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