Brooklyn, one building at a time.
These three flats buildings represent a change in the development of Boerum Hill. But their colorful and criminal tenants (in the past!) are what really sets them apart.
Name: Flats buildings
Address: 333-337 State Street
Cross Streets: Hoyt and Bond Streets
Neighborhood: Boerum Hill
Year Built: Sometime between 1887 and 1895
Architectural Style: Queen Anne
Apartments a la Chateau
333-337 State Street consists of three five-story flats buildings designed to look like one large chateau. The unknown architect of this project designed impressive entryways which originally had ashlar (rough cut) stone, and no doubt, stained glass and other decorative elements underneath the arches.
Since the building dates to the last decade of the 19th century, there may have always been elevators. The extra stories on the towers and center are now sealed off, but may have once been public spaces, or simply servant’s quarters.
The flats first show up on the 1903 city maps. They show three flats buildings built with air shafts in the middle and back, allowing every room in the flat to have a window and ventilation. Each building also had a center skylight.
The buildings would have originally had two apartments per floor, or ten apartments per building, 30, in all. Today, there are four apartments per floor, and the building now has 60 units. It is called the Manor House Apartments.
1903 map, New York Public Library
Fashionable Downtown Flats
We know the flats did not exist before 1887. The maps of that day show the 1850s brownstones, the empty lots, a rectory, Sunday school, and what was originally St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.
The first mention of this building in the literature is in 1895, when the three flats were sold by Lewis Bowe to Alfred Ogden. Lewis Bowe may have been the original developer/owner, though his name does not appear anywhere else.
Alfred Ogden was a big real estate investor. He developed properties as well as bought a lot of finished projects. His investments were all over Brooklyn. From all appearances, he bought these flats soon after they were completed, perhaps even before tenants moved in.
He sold them about ten years later, at quite a good profit.
1900 Brooklyn Eagle Ad
With 30 apartments in all three buildings, over a number of years there were bound to be some interesting people and events here.
One of the earlier residents was Reginald C. Thomas, who lived in 337. He was an inventor. In 1909 he obtained a patent for his “Improved Garment Hanger.” It was a foldable hanger with arms that could be maneuvered and shaped to support different sized garments. It was unique enough to be featured in Scientific American.
Scientific American, 1909
The Piggy Bank Thief, the Gunman, and the Shoplifter
While the majority of the residents lived here in quiet enjoyment, there were always the incidents and people who made the news – for something criminal or tragic. It was no different here.
Being located so close to Downtown had its bad points. Perhaps because the three buildings were such a large target, they were sometimes the scenes of robberies.
In 1907, Mrs. Mable Noble, living on the second floor of 337, heard noises and walked in on a man getting ready to break open her son’s piggy bank in his bedroom. When she wouldn’t respond to threats of harm, he pointed a gun in her face, and backed out of the apartment. She called the police, and they caught him.
In 1914, Mrs. William Zrake was asleep with her husband in their top floor apartment at 335, when she woke up to footsteps going across the roof. She got her husband to go onto the roof to check. He nearly got shot, as two bullets slammed into the wainscoting behind him. The men got away. Police later found the bullets embedded in the wall.
Sometimes the criminals lived here already.
In 1922, the police arrested five women for shoplifting on Fulton Street. One of them was Mrs. Walter DeGraw Maud Parker, who lived here in 333. She was nabbed putting three pairs of stockings and two pairs of gloves into a large leather purse. She told police she didn’t know what she was doing, and was “subject to spells.”
The Crime Den
By the 1930s, it seems that the buildings had been subdivided into smaller apartments, because there are many more people living here. 1931 was a particularly bad year for this complex.
Soon after the New Year’s Day, on January 5, policed raided an apartment at 333 State Street. They arrested ten people, including the woman who was renting the apartment. They were all part of a larger gang of men and women accused of holding up stores and individuals all across Brooklyn in a crime spree that had been going on for months. It was a progressive bunch, both white and black, male and female.
The Hero Dog
On January 31, 337 State erupted into flames early on a frigid morning. One man jumped from the top floor to his death, another jumper was seriously injured. Seven other people were trapped by the flames until rescued by firefighters.
Even more people may have died, had it not been for a dog named Buddy who began barking when the fire started, and roused his owner. Buddy’s family lived on the top floor, and they tried to get everyone out. Unfortunately, their neighbors chose to jump.
The other buildings were evacuated just in case, leaving 80 people who had to find somewhere else to stay until the other buildings were deemed safe.
The Badger Bait
That summer, in July, police arrested Anne Burgeles, 21, of 335 State Street. She was accused of being the bait in a “badger game.” She allegedly made the acquaintance of a Park Slope grocer at a soda fountain and went home with him.
He was attempting to wine and woo her, when she announced that she had just seen a friend outside on the street. The grocer invited the other man upstairs and offered him a drink too. (Illegal, btw, Prohibition was in effect.) The “friend” pulled a gun, they tied up and robbed the grocer, and both of them took off. Stupidly, she had told the grocer where she lived, and police nabbed them both.
Today, nothing so exciting goes on here. New multi-million dollar townhouses and expensive apartments going up all around these flats puts this once overlooked block back on the map.
Top and bottom photos: Nicholas Strini and Christopher Bride for PropertyShark.