(with M. M. Cooper – adapted from the 2017 Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse journal, published by the Brooklyn Heights Association)
This area of Brooklyn Heights was once part of the forty-acre country estate of Philip Livingston, a New York delegate to the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1804, a portion of the land was purchased by Teunis Joralemon, a local judge. Livingston Street first appears on the village map of Brooklyn in 1819, but it isn’t until after Joralemon’s death in 1840, when the property was subdivided, that this southern part of Brooklyn Heights began to be developed.
In the 1840s, Daniel and Michael Chauncey, prolific Brooklyn builders, based their construction business at the present site of 32 and 34 Livingston. In April of 1865, two weeks after President Lincoln’s assassination, the Chauncey brothers sold their property to Richard P. Buck, moved their business to Montague Street, and devoted themselves to brokering real estate. The current townhouse, and its once-identical twin at 34 Livingston, were likely the Chaunceys’ last construction project, a joint venture with Buck.
Richard P. Buck was a wealthy ship builder, merchant, and entrepreneur from Bucksport, Maine, who developed many lots in the neighborhood. In 1867, only two years after commissioning 32, Buck sold it to a prosperous dry goods wholesaler and piano salesman, Abram Hazen, whose storefront was located on lower Broadway in Manhattan. According to contemporary ads, he also listed pianos for sale from his home on Livingston Street.
Abram Hazen and his wife Alice were very engaged in helping the poor, and particularly destitute single mothers, whose babies were abandoned on the stoop of 32 with the knowledge that the child would be in good hands. Hazen’s name was often cited in the Brooklyn Eagle alongside that of the fiery Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. Since the Hazens hosted many functions in their home, it is likely that the Reverend Beecher visited 32 as their guest. The Hazen daughters attended the Packer Collegiate Institute, the preeminent Brooklyn private school for girls, right across the street.
By 1900, the house was owned by Dr. William Dudley Jr., who specialized in otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital (LICH), in Cobble Hill, which his father cofounded. Dudley died young, in 1912, but his wife, Laura, and their children resided in the house until 1946.
Stewart and Marion Pratt, members of the Brooklyn family for whom the Pratt Institute is named, were the next owners. Their renovations to the interior included running plumbing for new bathrooms, relocating original mirrors, and removing the original newel post. In the late 1950s, Robert Feemster, Chairman of Dow Jones, bought the house, selling it to Karin and Saul Cooper in 1960. Between overseas stints, the Coopers raised their five children here at 32 Livingston. Their son Michael has been restoring the house over the years.
32 Livingston Street is an early Brooklyn Heights example of a Neo-Grec brownstone, a style that emerged in New York after the Civil War. The heavy triangular pediment above the front entry, resting on relatively simple curved brackets, and the triangular stone ornamentation directly above the rounded double-leaf doors, are typical of this style. But the front façade also retains elements from earlier styles, reflecting a transition. The doorway brackets end in carved acanthus leaves, a motif associated with the Italianate style that swept Brooklyn in the two decades before the Civil War. And while there is no stone incising on the brownstone front or other stone ornamentation that would have been typical for a Neo-Grec house, the angled moldings on the window surrounds on the higher stories, decreasing in size and detail on each successive level, are standard Neo-Grec design. The curved window heads on the basement level are suggestive of Second Empire townhouses built in the immediate Civil War period.
The house’s mansard roof (again not typically associated with the Neo-Grec style) was a wildly popular feature in the five to ten years around when this house was built, so it’s not surprising to find one on this transitional building. The original wide dormer window at the attic, which matched 34 Livingston Street next door, was probably altered before 1940. The house retains most of its original façade elements, although the stoop’s original heavy iron railings and balustrade have been lost.