13 Pineapple Street

The origins of the house at 13 Pineapple Street and much of its 200 years of history are a part of Brooklyn Heights lore and remain something of a mystery to this day.

(adapted from the 2019 Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse journal, published by the Brooklyn Heights Association)

Without question, the house dates to the neighborhood’s early days, when only the North Heights was developed and this location would have been at its southern outskirts. The exact date, however, is less certain. Many old houses like this one have an origin story – 13 Pineapple Street is blessed to have three.

The first story is most colorfully told by Truman Capote in his famous 1959 essay, ‘Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir.’ Capote wrote – with typical mock self-effacement – “I’m not much acquainted with the proper history of the Heights. However, I believe (but please don’t trust me) that the oldest house, the oldest still extant and functioning, belongs to our back-yard neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Broughton. A silvery gray, shingle-wood Colonial shaded by trees robustly leafed, it was built in 1790, the home of a sea captain.”

Mrs. Broughton herself was undoubtedly Capote’s source. Esther Broughton and her husband owned 13 Pineapple Street in the 1950s when Capote wrote his essay. According to period newspaper reports, she believed parts of the house dated to 1790 (or 1780 in some versions of her telling) and knew a good deal about its history since then. Her own sources are unknown but it’s conceivable Mrs. Broughton got her information directly from the Coleman family which owned the house for much of the 19th century, because a descendant was still living in the Heights at least until the early 1950s.  Some of the details in Broughton’s accounts can be corroborated and others don’t hold up to scrutiny, yet overall it’s remarkable that these stories of 100 years prior had been transmitted across three generations. (As for the sea captain in Capote’s version, he seems to have embellished his story about 13 Pineapple Street’s provenance with details from Philip Broughton’s own ancestry.)

The second story about 13 Pineapple Street’s origin is the most mysterious: some say that the house was built somewhere else, before 1800, and moved to Pineapple Street later. Henry Stiles, the prominent 19th century historian, suggested as much. In his 1867 opus on Brooklyn’s early history, Stiles described the former Cary Ludlow estate, which by then had been developed and today would be located roughly near Hillside Dog Park. Stiles mentioned in a footnote that the estate’s 18th century country house was, at the time of his writing, still standing on Pineapple Street between Willow Street and Columbia Heights. Stiles was clearly referring to 13 Pineapple Street, as there were no other houses that fit his description. Sources ranging from Brooklyn Heights architectural historian Clay Lancaster to The New York Times have evidently relied on the Stiles footnote to suggest 13 Pineapple Street may have been moved. The mystery behind the story is that not even the oral history passed to Esther Broughton mentions it, and nobody knows why the otherwise loquacious Stiles declined an invitation to tell the tale of what would have been an impressive house-moving exploit.

The third story about 13 Pineapple Street’s origins – the one based on old land records, census reports and village directories – is the most prosaic. The house definitely appears in the 1829 Brooklyn directory, and probably made appearances in earlier directories going back to the first published in 1822. Originally, many neighborhood houses weren’t numbered, and the earliest listings include one at “Pineapple Street near Willow Street” – this house is the only candidate that fits the description going back to 1822. Deeds, census records and newspaper ads also point to a house at this location appearing in the early 1820s. This final story moves closer to a definitive answer about 13 Pineapple Street’s origins, while still leaving room for the merits of the more romantic stories.

The house is notable for being nearly 40 feet wide, a free-standing house with a center entryway and stair, and windows on all four exposures. There are no other remaining houses in the Heights quite like it. However, 13 Pineapple does have a significant difference compared to the now-demolished center-stair mansions of the early 19th century: it is 25 feet deep. Originally, the house was three bays of windows wide, the narrower width being proportionate to its present depth. The size and layout would have been typical of the earliest Brooklyn Heights wood-frame houses which were all built as free-standing structures, representing a transition between vernacular Dutch-style farmhouses and emerging rowhouse patterns. This house was later extended by an additional two bays of windows to the right of the door. According to Esther Broughton, the Coleman family added the right-side extension, in one telling to provide a new parlor “to accommodate the Victorian niceties attendant on the debut of [their] daughters into society” and in another telling because when the house was “purchased by a Mr. Coleman…his wife claimed it was too old to live in, so it was remodeled, rebuilt, and the second half added.” Whatever the date of the extension, the house appears on the first detailed map of the Heights from 1855 in its present shape. Structural details confirm an extension: the original wide-plank pine floorboards still present in parts of the right side of the house run north-south, while those on the left side run east-west; the windows on the right side are spaced further apart than on the left; and a cellar is located only under the right side.

13 Pineapple Street’s original attic was enlarged into a full top floor, most likely in the late 1870s, with the house’s current height first listed on a map in 1886. Federal-era wood-frame houses in Brooklyn Heights almost always were built with a single or double-peaked roof and attic, sometimes with dormer windows. Converting the attic to a full story was a popular late 19th century renovation, seen in the Heights on many of the wood-frame houses in particular. The Italianate-style bracketed cornice is clearly not original to a Federal-era house and would have been added when the roof was raised.

The gray color is typical of Federal-era wood houses in Brooklyn Heights. The shingles come from a 1930s Neo-Colonial renovation; before that, pictures show the house clad in clapboard, more typical of early Brooklyn houses. Some or all of the six-over-six, double-hung windows have probably been replaced. Still, the current windows with their relatively simple molding surrounds are characteristic of Federal wood-frame houses.  Shutters now retained at the first story used to be at all of the windows, as shown in early 20th century photos. These images also showed a double door under an Italianate wooden entry portico that was probably added when the roof was raised. The current door and most likely the fanlight and sidelights are 1930s recreations of typical Federal-style features.  The wooden stoop, with its sweep to the side, is typical of the earliest Heights houses built right up to the edge of the public way. As for the garage, photos bracket its addition to sometime between 1940 and 1954, most likely the late 1940s.

The residents of the house starting in the 1820s were a series of tenants. The entire north side of Pineapple Street on which the house sits, between Willow Street and Columbia Heights, was owned at this time by Ezra Woodhull, one of the founders of Brooklyn’s First Presbyterian Church. Woodhull bought the property in 1820, moving into a house on the corner of Columbia Heights and Pineapple Street. Property records, directories and classified ads show a couple of other owners of 13 Pineapple Street during the 1830s and 1840s (none of whom occupied the house), as well as a succession of tenants.

John and Mary Watt Coleman and their family moved into the house in 1852, and property records show that the Colemans purchased the house in early 1853 for $3,250.  The Coleman family lived at 13 Pineapple Street for the next 80 years. Despite such a long tenure, few details emerge about their time in the house. John Coleman was a cooper who first worked on the City of New York side of the waterfront and later worked on the Brooklyn side. Mary Coleman was born in Scotland in 1813 and lived until 1900. They had at least seven children: John Jr., born 1837 who followed his father into the cooperage trade and was a civil war veteran; and daughters Sarah, Julia, Mary, Agnes, Caroline and Marguerite (born in 1853, their only child to have been born in the house). Many of the Coleman children lived out their days in the home into the 20th century, through World War I, the Roaring Twenties and the 1930s Depression.

According to Esther Broughton, despite the fact that the Colemans remodeled the house to encourage the courtship of their daughters (“which included importing quantities of French fixtures and furnishings, mirrors and chandeliers”), several remained unmarried and became recluses. By the time Marguerite was the last surviving family member, a 1934 Brooklyn Eagle article recounts how the house, seemingly abandoned, was thought by a little girl to be haunted by ghosts when a boarder made a surprise appearance. The Colemans’ slightly eccentric reputation was enhanced by Marguerite’s 1935 obituary, which noted that she refused many offers over the years to purchase the house.  In her will, she left the interest in the house to her niece and to the boarder, who evidently had lived in the house for over 40 years. Both continued to live in the house for another two years.

In 1937, the niece moved to Mansion House on Hicks Street and the house at 13 Pineapple Street was sold to John and Kathryn Hurst Zerega for $12,000.  John was the grandson of the founder of A. Zerega’s Sons, America’s first pasta manufacturer, whose factory was down the hill on Front Street under the Brooklyn Bridge.  The house was undoubtedly in “estate condition” and the Zeregas, trading up from a carriage house on Columbia Heights and moving in with their maid, promptly embarked on interior and exterior renovations. Over the next decade, the Zeregas welcomed three children. But the family’s tenure at 13 Pineapple Street was not destined to be as long as the Colemans’. In 1950, A. Zerega’s Sons joined the industrial exodus from Brooklyn and relocated to New Jersey. By the next year, the Zeregas had moved out of the house.

In 1951, Philip and Esther Broughton moved in. Whatever the house’s status when it was the cooper’s abode during the Coleman era, it transitioned to a quaint and elegant emblem of Old Brooklyn Heights in the post-War era.  Philip Broughton was an advertising executive who penned minor Top 40 hits on the side. The couple was listed in the 1955 “Blue Book” of prominent Brooklyn residents; Esther Broughton was a member of a Who’s Who of Brooklyn society clubs and charities.  Esther also served as a governor on the board of the Brooklyn Heights Association in the 1960s and the Women’s Committee of the Long Island (now Brooklyn) Historical Society.  For the Historical Society, she organized a 1961 tour of four pre-Civil War homes in the Heights, including 13 Pineapple Street.

In the mid 1980s, Esther Broughton’s heirs sold the house to William and Katherine Bolton, who undertook substantial additional renovations, including structural reinforcement, as well as the expansion of the kitchen to include a bay window and dining area, the addition of a powder room on the parlor floor and the installation of central air conditioning.

The current owners purchased the house from the Boltons in 1990. Having lived in the Heights since the 1970s, they fell in love with 13 Pineapple Street for its rich history, the classic look and feel of an early Brooklyn wood-frame house, and its perfect fit as a home for their three growing children. They have always appreciated the unique place their house holds in this historic and very special community. They were pleased to include 13 Pineapple Street in the 1992 Brooklyn Heights Association House Tour and are glad that it can be seen again as the 2019 Brooklyn Heights Designer Showhouse.

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