I often walk by this MTA site, across from Cadman Plaza Park, that takes up an odd-shaped parcel left over from the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge ramps on Adams Street.
At first glace, the fenced-in parking lot doesn’t inspire much architectural wonder.
But, appearances can be deceiving. Look closely at the building in the rear. The arched windows are the giveaway – this is no ordinary garage.
Today’s MTA truck garage is actually a repurposed electrical substation from the Brooklyn Rapid Transit’s elevated trains.
The building was announced in 1902 and put up in 1903, shortly after the BRT was formed to consolidate the Brooklyn Heights Railroad and Brooklyn’s other el lines.
The 1904 Sanborn map labels it “BRT Substation No. 4.” In the c.1909 photo, you can just make out the name above the cornice — “SUB STATION NO. 4 / BROOKLYN RAPID TRANSIT.”
The builder, according to DOB filings, was the mysteriously named “Transit Development Co.,” which shared an address with the BRT on Montague Street.
The New York Times wrote a piece in 1904 about the Transit Development Co. — apparently the BRT’s elevated-line holdings seemed just as Byzantine to contemporaries as they do 120 years later. (After World War I, the BRT went bankrupt and was restructured as the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation, or BMT, one of the forerunners of today’s consolidated New York City Subway.)
You can see some good pics of the substation building and its notable arched windows in the c.1940 tax photos from the Municipal Archives. (The Municipal Archives didn’t figure out the substation address when it put up its digital archive, but according to the Sanborn map, it would’ve had the range 38-42 Sands Street, and the newspapers referred to it as No. 42 Sands.)
Today you can also get a good view of the back of the substation building, which now abuts Red Cross Place but originally would’ve been in the middle of the block. The building had arched windows in the rear, too, bricked up today. Shortly after the substation was built, the BRT also put up a 3-story brick stable behind it, but that’s long gone.
(EDIT: today NYC Subway uses the facility as both the HQ/garage for its Hydraulics unit that services elevators across the system, as well a housing a control center for certain infrastructure monitoring. The MTA refers to the facility as 40 Sands Street or sometimes 42 Red Cross Place.)
(Until just now I had always thought that Red Cross Place might be a small, renamed vestige of High Street west of Adams Street. But in fact that’s not right — Red Cross Place is a new street that’s located in what would’ve been the middle of old block 85, before the bridge approach punched a hole through. The demapped stretch of High Street would’ve been right where today is the northern edge of the current OEM HQ building. This is actually quite obvious from a modern satellite map or even just glancing across the bridge roadway from Red Cross Place to the actual surviving piece of High Street — they’re not aligned. I just had never bothered to look closely.)
The BRT substation is the only building on all of Sands Street besides the YMCA building to have survived the wrecking ball of Robert Moses and his BQE, Cadman Plaza and Farragut Houses redevelopments from the 1930s to 1950s.
(Another interesting fact evident only from the satellite view – Sands Street actually has a tunnel under the Brooklyn Bridge ramps that today connects the two-city owned parcels on either side. You can see the roadway plates for the overpass in the photo.)
Maybe even better than this old, hidden-in-plain-sight substation building is the street outside. Look at the the corner of Sands Street and Cadman Plaza East (former Washington Street), where a curious Sands Street sign still stands even though the road immediately disappears beyond the MTA’s fence.
Just off the corner is a manhole cover in Cadman Plaza East that reads “BHRR” – for Brooklyn Heights Railroad. Somewhere down that hole, even before the BRT came into existence in the late 1890s, used to be wiring that connected the BHRR’s Myrtle Avenue el trains to the Sands Street station on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Oh, McKenny Street! What a tiny little street that no one talks about anymore. Until a few years ago, you wouldn’t even find it on any street sign. But it has lived on official city maps for over 200 years.
McKenny Street is (mostly) parallel to, and one block to the west of, Hicks Street, in the oldest part of Brooklyn Heights that grew out of the Fulton Ferry Landing area. McKenny originally ran 2 short blocks from Doughty to Poplar Streets. Since the 1950s when the BQE obliterated several blocks around Squibb Hill in the far northwestern corner of the Heights, McKenny has run only from Doughty to Vine Streets.
McKenny was basically an alley to Hicks. Most of the properties on Hicks ran straight back to the east side of McKenny, sometimes with an outbuilding fronting on McKenny…only the Doughty and Poplar corners had separate buildings on the east side of McKenny that weren’t connected to Hicks. And the west side of McKenny mainly consisted of the sides of buildings on Doughty, Vine or Poplar. Of course, all these buildings are long gone.
I think McKenny Street was opened up when the Hicks brothers laid out the North Heights right after 1800. Most of the land that is now Squibb Hill was a separate farm owned by Cary Ludlow (and not immediately turned into development lots), so creating McKenny allowed access to some of the land up the hill, south of Doughty, that would otherwise be too far from a street to allow a saleable lot where an accessible building could be constructed. The Hicks-McKenny block on the Poplar side is slightly shorter than the Doughty side because of the original shape of the Ludlow farm boundary.
Supposedly the street is named after a John McKenny, who was an eighteenth century Brooklyn constable, or Roman Catholic leader (or both). Records are sketchy.
Until about 5 years ago, at the corner of Doughty and McKenny, the McKenny side suffered the indignity of having a “Hicks Street” sign (across from the New Xcell car repair shop, by the east side of the old JW building at 29 Columbia Heights). But it was always labeled accurately on the city’s official maps. When New York City replaced street signs with lowercase versions to comply with Federal law, someone at DOT realized the corner was mislabeled, because a new “McKenny Street” sign was introduced. (On Google Streetview, the September 2014 image shows “Hicks Street” at the corner but by the December 2017 image, the new “McKenny Street” sign was up.)
The earliest maps spell it McKenny (check out the 1855 Perris fire insurance map above) and so does the current city map. Some other maps spell it McKenney (like the 1916 Hyde atlas).
You can’t find Flint Street in DUMBO today. So the query was: What happened to Flint Street?
Here’s everything you wanted to know about Flint Street, which ran two short blocks between Prospect Street and Front Street, crossing York Street in the middle.
The street appears as an unnamed alley on Brooklyn’s first official map from 1819. It ran north behind the house of William M. Stewart, who lived on Prospect Street near the corner of Washington Street. By the early 1820s it started to make appearances as Stewart’s Alley in directories and newspapers, and the name was added to the city map. A couple dozen people were living in it then. Some were part of the ferry area’s large Black community; “washerwoman” was a common occupation.
In 1837 the block between York and Front Streets was slightly widened, and both blocks legally renamed Stewart Street, but unofficially some people still called it Stewart’s Alley. To muddle matters further, by the 1850s, a tiny passageway had been opened up on the block north of Front Street, between the Campbell & Thayer Linseed Oil Factory complex and the rear yards of houses on Main Street. This passage was only roughly opposite the end of Stewart Street, but it too was given the name Stewart’s Alley.
In 1870 our short Stewart Street was renamed Flint Street to avoid confusion with Bushwick’s much longer Stewart Street.
Why was the name Flint chosen? The answer is probably lost. Maybe the name of a figure more known to the mid-19th century Brooklyn public than is obvious today. A Civil War hero? An old landowner never properly honored? Take your pick.
The “Stewart’s Alley” north of Front Street remained with that name after 1870, but ended up being demapped in the 1880s when the oil factory expanded, even before Gair Building No. 6 took over the entire block early in the 20th century.
The southern end of the newly renamed Flint Street was turned into a dead end in the early 1880s when the Brooklyn Bridge was built, cutting off access to Prospect Street from Flint. By the early 1950s the BQE would claim the rest of the block south of York — all that’s left is the city-owned, fenced-in parking/storage area off of Washington Street. At the same time, the northern block between York Street and Front Street also got demapped when York’s underpass below the Brooklyn Bridge was usurped for the BQE. Robert Moses bent York to avoid the highway, and got rid of that block of Flint Street altogether (and a block of Main Street too). Today the parking garage to 70 Washington Street (old Gair Building No. 5A) sits on top of the former northern block of Flint Street.
This NYC Municipal Archives tax photo (c. 1940) is looking south down Flint Street from York Street, showing the dead end at the Brooklyn Bridge. This would be just out of the right side of the frame in Miklos Suba’s painting:
Another photo from the Municipal Archives, showing the fronts of the buildings on Washington Street (c. 1940) whose rears on Flint Street are shown in the painting’s background:
Everything pictured and shown on the maps — all these low-rise 19th century buildings (mixed in with a few early 20th century garages and light industrial buildings) — were demolished for successive waves of development. First the Brooklyn Bridge. Then the Gair cardboard box factory. Then, most destructively, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Virtually all the residents were displaced from this part of what’s called DUMBO today.
This 1939 Sanborn map shows the direction of the painter’s viewpoint — looking southeast. The white space at the corner of the block is the empty, fenced-in lot at the foreground of the painting:
These two houses, 38 Hicks Street and 40 Hicks Street, built very close in time together around 1810, are the oldest houses still standing on Brooklyn Heights.
The full range of available source data I’ve researched all point to the 1810 date, which is backed up with earlier, partial research done by the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Brooklyn Historical Society. The case for 1810 is as convincing as you’ll ever see for a 200-year-old-plus Brooklyn home. While Clay Lancaster’s belief that the houses dated to 1830 has been widely cited, it turns out that he didn’t review all of the data. (And as a result, his “Joseph Bennett House” moniker for 38 Hicks Street is arbitrary…the “Van Cleef House” name would be more accurate, if you’re the type who thinks a vernacular clapboard house needs a name!)
As for the claim that these are the “oldest houses still standing on Brooklyn Heights” — I don’t give credit to the myths and rumors that some other houses in the neighborhood were built elsewhere in the 1700s and moved up to the Heights later. There’s no evidence at all that this happened to 24 Middagh Street, for example — it was almost certainly built around 1820. The case for 13 Pineapple Street is a little less cut-and-dry, but the most likely date for that house is the early 1820s.
38 Hicks Street around 1940 (NYC Municipal Archives “tax photo”)
Peter Van Cleef bought the lot for today’s Number 38 from the Hicks brothers in 1810 and he appears living on Hicks Street in the Brooklyn section of Longworth’s 1811 New York directory (no house numbers were given). The same story applies to today’s Number 40, with Michael Vanderhoof as the owner.
Recorded deed – Sale of lot 32 ($175!) from Jacob M. and Elizabeth Hicks & John M. and Elizabeth Hicks to “Peter Van Clefft” dated April 17, 1810 (recorded by Peter Van Cleef July 8, 1826). See 1806 map below for diagram of numbered lots.
Abstract of deed – Sale of lot 33 from Hicks to Michael Van Derhoef dated April 18, 1810 (recorded April 9, 1842)
Vancleefe and Vanderhoof in Longworth’s 1811 Directory
Both Michael Vanderhoof and a Leah V Cleef appear in the 1810 census living at the properties. (Although no addresses are given, they’re situated in the census list where one would expect for 38 Hicks and 40 Hicks based on the surrounding names which are correlated to the known lot owners. Another abstract of the census shows “M Van Cleef” instead of Leah Van Cleef.) Both Van Cleef and Vanderhoof continue to appear in the first village directory from 1822 and subsequent directories at these houses for some years.
1810 Census for Brooklyn in Kings County, showing Michael Vanderhoff and Leah V Cleef (widow)
Van Cleef (sometime written Van Cleefe) is described in the directories as a cartman; Vanderhoof (sometimes rendered Vanderhoef or Vanderhoff) as either a cartman or waterman. Van Cleef is probably related to the “sisters Van Cleef” who according to Stiles ran a shop down the hill on the Old Ferry Road; they’re described as the daughters of “Old Rulof Van Cleef, the ferryman.”
Map of the property of Jacob. M and John M. Hicks, 1806. Lots 32 and 33 circled — mid-block Hicks Street between Poplar and Middagh Streets. (Lot numbers not to be confused with the pre-1870 street addresses, when the homes were known as 32 Hicks and 34 Hicks.)
The two houses, together with their owners, might have been regarded by contemporaries as completely typical and without special note, but as the oldest surviving examples in Brooklyn (and probably all of New York City) of laboring-class residences, they’ve come into their own as a special pair.
40 Hicks Street around 1940 (NYC Municipal Archives “tax photo”)
As was typical for the early 19th century in Brooklyn, each house was almost certainly built with a gabled roof, with the roof ridge parallel to the street. 38 Hicks would’ve been 3 stories plus attic, and 40 Hicks most likely just two stories tall plus attic. (Carefully examine Francis Guy’s “Winter Scene in Brooklyn, 1820” which accurately represents the houses and streets around the ferry landing – there’s not one flat-pitched roof in the bunch.) Given the shallow depth of each building, the roof would’ve been a single pitch and the attics were unlikely to have been tall enough to be suitable for anything other than storage (or, the interior ceiling of the top floor would be pitched without an attic).
New York Times (November 8, 1970) – Landmark’s Fate Issue in Brooklyn. “Buildings at No. 38 and 40 Hicks Street….They may be Brooklyn’s oldest.” (Long Island Historical Society searched directories back to 1822, but not earlier documents.)
By the second half of the 19th century, “fire districts” outlawed the construction of new frame buildings across much of the city, but certain enlargements were still possible for grandfathered structures and it became fashionable to create an additional story by raising the pitched roof, eliminating the attics and creating buildings that have essentially flat roofs. Number 38 ended up at four stories and Number 40 with three. Evidence for these original gabled roofs has been found in many of the frame houses in the Heights that have undergone renovations. The heavy bracketed cornice on Number 38 is a typical late 19th century Italianate style, added after the roof was raised; the smaller dentiled cornice on Number 40 is more in keeping with the early 19th century facade but is no less of a later alteration than its neighbor’s cornice.
Brooklyn Heights Press (May 13, 1971). Research by the Landmarks Preservation Commission when approving the 1971 renovation corroborates the 1810 construction date.
40 Hicks Street presents a rare opportunity to peek through the front fence and look down the narrow alley between the two houses at the rear buildings on the lot. Many frame houses in the Heights had various rear sheds, workshops or back houses, sometimes attached at right angles like the frame rear house here (with its wooden porch), or sometimes detached (which is also present on this property in the form of the brick building). These rear-lot structures were accessed by side alleyways (such as is the case for Number 40) or sometimes by “horsewalks” – extremely narrow passages built right into the basement of the house allowing even a horse (supposedly) to walk directly from the street to stables or other rear-lot workshops. Side alleys were quite typical for the early Brooklyn Heights houses, especially the wood-frame ones, because the owners would often run their businesses (cooper shops, blacksmith shops, etc.) on the same property. But true horsewalk passages (as distinguished from side alleys) are rare on the Heights, being more associated with the Federal brick houses in Greenwich Village and other downtown areas of Manhattan.
(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.
(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.
Front yard church bell at Danske Sømandskirke. 102 Willow Street. If Brooklyn was known as the City of Churches, then the density of houses of worship in Brooklyn Heights makes the neighborhood first among equals.