Brooklyn, one building at a time.
This double-sized, semi-detached mansion is one of the few remaining in Fort Greene. For all its one-time splendor, it didn’t remain a single family home for long.
Name: Abram Quereau mansion
Address: 7-11 South Portland Avenue
Cross Streets: DeKalb and Lafayette avenues
Neighborhood: Fort Greene
Year Built: 1876
Architectural Style: Transitional French Empire/Neo-Grec
Architect: Horace Moody (builder)
Other buildings by architect: Moody also built the mansion next door, at 1 South Portland Avenue
Landmarked: Yes, part of Fort Greene Historic District (1978)
Neo-Grec Body With Grand French Flair
This large 30 foot wide brownstone mansion was built in the popular French Empire style, with a tall mansard roof. This was paired with a Neo-Grec body, very similar to the neighboring row houses. The entryway is also similar to neighboring houses, so much so that if one is not paying attention, it’s easy to miss how large and grand this house really is.
Considering the size of the house, the lot is actually not that big, with only a side lot, and no back yard, as a rear extension on the house widens the back, allowing for extra light and extra room. Large quoins decorate the open side, with the motif repeated in the full width extension.
The parlor floor features full length windows. All of the windows have pediments or hoods supported by paired brackets. The center entryway has a round arched entryway with a large hooded pediment supported by incised Neo-Grec brackets. The house also has its original railings and newel posts.
Leather wallpaper funded by the “Kangaroo Line”
The house was built for Abram Quereau, a wealthy exporter from an old Manhattan family. He was a partner in Mailler & Quereau, exporters, founded in 1853. They began with schooners and sailing vessels, and later moved up to steamships, all plying the waters between NY and South America.
They later cornered the market with their “Kangaroo Line,” exporting materials to Australia and New Zealand.
Quereau’s home was built two years before builder Moody constructed the mansion next door at 1 S. Portland. Perhaps Mr. Quereau recommended Moody to the owner and his architect. The house would certainly be a good advertisement of one’s work.
The Brooklyn Eagle wrote about the house in an 1888 article about the interior decorating projects of the wealthy people in the neighborhood. Mr. Quereau’s parlor floor ceilings were done up in pale yellow with tints of gold.
The side walls resembled leather (probably Lincrusta wallpaper), also in pale yellow, with a “metal design” and a “metallic frieze.” The back parlor ceiling was a pale terra cotta color, with gold and bronzed detail. The wallpaper was blue, with a metallic frieze. Both rooms had large amounts of woodwork.
Abram Quereau died in 1889. The second owner appears to be William B Wilkins, a Wall Street stockbroker.
Thrilling source of gossip
In 1889, soon after moving in, Mr. Wilkins surprised the Brooklyn and Manhattan social world by getting married in a private ceremony. He and his fiancé, Jennie Berteaux — the daughter of another Wall Street stockbroker, Charles W. Berteaux — had been engaged for five years.
What got tongues wagging was the fact that the two of them had been set to marry before. A large wedding was planned, but Wilkins stood up Berteaux at the altar. He never showed up, and the wedding was cancelled.
But apparently, they made up, and two years after the failed attempt, were married quietly in the Washington Avenue home of their minister.
But for whatever reason, they didn’t stay here long.
Brooklyn Eagle Ad, 1894
The big mansion becomes apartments
In 1894, an ad in the Eagle announced that the elegant mansion had been “newly fitted up”, and was now being offered for boarders. The house had been a private, single family residence for only 18 years.
They offered furnished single rooms and suites for gentlemen and couples. Larger suites were also available. Since the house was still an impressive mansion in a very good neighborhood, it attracted well to do people as boarders, including wealthy widows, and others who did not desire a large private home.
The house continued in this manner for the next 80 years. But over those years, the building was allowed to deteriorate.
By the time the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote up the house for the 1978 Historic District report, the top floor, with the mansard roof was abandoned and boarded up. One of the dormers was also gone.
Today it is a co-op with eight units. One wonders if any original detail survived.
All house photos by Suzanne Spellen.