Old-Timey Magazine Told Brooklyn Victorians Where to Get the Latest in Building Bling

The Thomas Brush house at 1010 Ocean Avenue. Photo by Susan De Vries for Brownstoner


If you had house envy in turn-of-the-last-century Brooklyn and just had to know which of your neighbors had the latest in central heating, nickel-plated plumbing, or built-in ice box, you may have turned to the pages of a magazine called Scientific American, Building Edition. While other publications of the day focused on florid descriptions of decor, this one presented somewhat obsessive lists of the mechanics, finishes and hardware used in the houses it profiled.

Published, with slight name changes, from about 1885 to 1905, the magazine is a handy reference for anyone curious about the original finishes of houses of the era — and a great research tool if you want to find out about yours. The publication covered houses all over the U.S., and quite a few were in Brooklyn. Some issues are available online for free at Google Books.


A 1901 engraving of the Thomas Brush house via Scientific American, Building Edition

One house highlighted in the May 1901 edition was the Thomas Brush House at 1010 Ocean Avenue in Ditmas Park, pictured above. A Colonial Revival house designed by George and Charles Palliser in 1899, it is still standing today, as is a similar house by them next door.

The one at 1010 Ocean Avenue was built for Brush and the one next door at 1000 Ocean Avenue was designed for his son-in-law, George Van Ess.

Floor plans for the Thomas Brush house via Scientific American, Building Edition

Floor plans for the Thomas Brush house via Scientific American, Building Edition

The profile of the Brush home featured in the magazine included an illustration of the exterior, floor plans showing the first and second floors, and drawings of some interior and exterior details.

If, after viewing the floor plans you had more questions about sourcing products, the writer supplied all the particulars:

Tell me about those columns!

The columns and pilasters of the front portico are of the Kohl patent lock-joint, made by the Hartmen Mfg. Co, of Mt. Vernon, N.Y. The capitals and architectural carvings are the work of Charles Emmel, the well-known sculptor of Boston, Mass.

What about the kitchen, does it have stainless steel appliances?

The kitchen is provided with a hearth and a J.L. Mott range, a sink, store-pantry with shelves, and a refrigerator built in with an outside entrance.

I’m trying to find a Brooklyn crew, who worked on the house?

The general construction is by Loomis & Co; the trim, doors, and sashes by Jacob Morganthaler; painting and decorating by H. Solomon; plumbing by D.J. Donovan, all of Brooklyn, N.Y.

But really, where did they get that bathtub?

The second floor contains four large chambers, large closets, dressing rooms, and bathroom, the latter being tiled and provided with a J.L. Mott porcelain tub and other fixtures, with silver-plated exposed plumbing.


A similar house next door at 1000 Ocean Avenue. Photo by Susan De Vries for Brownstoner

Some of those top-shelf appointments may have been lost over the years; the house at 1010 Ocean Avenue was converted into multiple units and has recently been restored. The matching but not identical house at 1000 Ocean Avenue, pictured above, is in need of some attention.

A quick perusal of other issues of the magazine shows this was not the only Brooklyn house featured; Dyker Heights and Borough Park buildings appear as well, among others. The ads for screens, hardware and plumbing are also entertaining and offer valuable insight into what was available at the time. It might be worth a search when looking for details about your Brooklyn house!

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