441 Willoughby Avenue – Jacob Dangler House – Now Confirmed Designed by Theobald Engelhardt

After I read this great BKReader piece about landmarking Jacob Dangler’s house at 441 Willoughby Avenue (northeast corner of Nostrand Avenue), I started digging into its history. Surprisingly, no one seems to know its exact age or the architect, despite some good guesses. I found the deets!

441 Willoughby Avenue (2021 Google Streetview)

Props to Suzanne Spellen, writing under the pen name Montrose Morris, who did a fabulous 2-part write-up on the house for Brownstoner several years ago. She suspected who designed the house and when, but the proof was elusive. Here’s where I jump in.

Around New Year’s Day in 1897, provisions magnate Dangler bought two parcels of land for his new house from the heirs of Henry Boerum, who once owned a big tract extending from the Cripplebush Road (where Nostrand Avenue is today) further into Bedford. Total price: $12,000.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Tuesday January 5, 1897, p12 via Brooklyn Public Library-Newspapers.com

Within months, Dangler had hired Theobald Engelhardt, the preeminent architect for German-American Brooklynites, especially in the old Eastern District areas of Williamsburg and Bushwick, and the northern reaches of Bedford and Stuyvesant (aka Bed-Stuy).

Theobald Engelhardt c1908, via Novelty Theater

Dangler filed for a permit with the Brooklyn Department of Buildings in May 1897, as reported by The Real Estate Record & Guide. The filing reflects a contemporary approach to permit applications: lowball the projected cost to minimize the city’s fee. He told the city $18,000…much lower than later reported by the press!

Real estate record and builders guide v.59 no.1524, May 29, 1897, p955 via Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library/Columbia University Libraries Digital Collections

The Record report also tells us the builder: “H Bruckhauser, 137 Ellery st.” This is Henry Bruckhauser, “well-known builder” according to a later Brooklyn Eagle mention, though the Dangler house was almost certainly his most prominent project.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday March 22, 1908, p30 via Brooklyn Public Library-Newspapers.com

Suzanne Spellen wondered why there was no Eagle write-up gushing over the Dangler house, unlike those written for “much smaller and less ornate homes, albeit in tonier neighborhoods.” It turns out there is! But not in the Eagle – competitor Brooklyn Citizen got the scoop.

The Brooklyn Citizen, Sunday February 27, 1898, p18 via Brooklyn Public Library-Newspapers.com

(Here’s a bit of inside baseball: the Brooklyn Citizen is now searchable thanks to the efforts of the Center for Brooklyn History to digitize more of Brooklyn’s old newspaper titles. This source wasn’t available online when Suzanne wrote her article!)

For The Brooklyn Citizen, Miller Hageman wrote almost two columns about Dangler and his “fine house” designed by Engelhardt. This was a typical Gilded Age piece, matching reader appetite for mansion details and a press eager to oblige to sell papers. Backing this up was an irresistible urge by the wealthy to see their names (or portraits) flattered in print, and marketing prowess by the era’s starchitects who placed these stories.

Illustration of Jacob Dangler, from The Brooklyn Citizen

Original details of the house sound wild: bowling alley in the basement, music room with floors “varnished and without rugs in order to enhance the acoustic effects,” sitting rooms on each tower story, a “large handsomely fitted-up billiard room,” smoking lounge & library.

The kitchen in the back is what today we’d call top-of-the-line: “butler’s pantry, china pantry, storage closet, small dressing room, toilet and back stairway…French ranges…marble basins, porcelain sink, with marble drainboards and backs” – all fixtures nickel-plated.

My fave part: “One room on the third floor will be entirely lined with cedar and will be devoted to the storage of costly furs, laces and clothing during the summer moth months.”

Hageman, after reporting the house’s cost at $50,000+, shares his opinion on what Dangler, Engelhardt & Bruckhauser built: “It is an ornament to the city and represents in every dollar of its value money earned by the hard and honest toil of a prudent and painstaking man.”

The house sounded well on its way to completion in the Citizen’s February 1898 write-up: “[Dangler] will walk into this fine mansion with his family on the first of May.” But evidently the Dangler family hadn’t moved in by the May 1, 1898 cut-off for that year’s city directory. They show up in the next directory, for May 1899.

Lain & Healy’s Brooklyn Directory for 1899 (the year ending May 1, 1900), p314, via Ancestry.com

Details about the Dangler family & what’s happened to the house since 1898 are in part 2 of Suzanne’s Brownstoner piece. I love the 1941 ad selling the house at auction: “Suitable for…club, nursing home, school, funeral parlor etc.” The house is rumored to be for sale again right now (December 2021). Who knows what its future will bring?

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Sunday November 23, 1941, p38, via Brooklyn Public Library-Newspapers.com

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