Vinegar Hill

The Commandant’s House is the sweetest landmark in Vinegar Hill

December 10, 2014 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This is the Commandant's House, the pride of Vinegar Hill. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Eye On Real Estate

What other Brooklyn neighborhood can boast of having an 1806-vintage mansion that may have been designed by the venerable Charles Bulfinch, architect of part of the U.S. Capitol Building?

It’s none other than Vinegar Hill, the waterfront neighborhood that’s DUMBO’s kissing cousin.

We confess: We have a huge crush on Vinegar Hill. And the Commandant’s House, as that two-century-old stunner is known, is a major reason for it.

The jaw-dropping historic home is visible through iron gates on Evans Street, its white façade glowing even on the gloomiest afternoons.

Also known as Quarters A, its best-known resident was Commodore Matthew Perry. He lived there in the early 1840s while serving as the Commandant of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, of which the house was a part.

A refresher for readers with imperfect recall of American history: Perry secured a treaty with Japan in the 1850s that opened two of its ports to U.S. trade. His brother was Oliver Hazard Perry, the Naval hero who famously fired off a dispatch after the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 that said, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”

Architectural history experts including The New York Times’ Christopher Gray and Brownstoner.com‘s Montrose Morris (whose real name is Suzanne Spellen) have written eloquently about the house. They enumerate intriguing features like an oval dining room that’s said to have the same dimensions as the Oval Office at the White House, a verandah and a greenhouse.

The current owners of the Commandant’s House are Charles Gilbert and Jennifer Jones, who purchased it in 1997, city Finance Department records indicate.

Dr. Gilbert was named Arthur and Janet Ross Professor at Rockefeller University in 2004 and is also the head of the school’s Laboratory of Neurobiology.

We reached out to Professor Gilbert to ask if he and Jones would be willing to talk about what it’s like to own such a distinguished landmark. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark and a city landmark.

He was gracious in declining the request, noting they appreciate folks’ interest in their home but they’re “fairly private people.”

The U.S. Government sold the Commandant’s House in 1979, according to city Finance Department records. Gerald J. Turetsky of the General Services Administration signed the deed for the seller. The buyer, Robert I. Carter, paid $120,000, the deed indicates.

The house had other owners between Carter and Gilbert and Jones, Finance Department records show.

The Commandant’s House is our Numero Uno pick for the coolest place in this endearing, partly landmarked neighborhood, which original landowner John Jackson named after the 1798 Battle of Vinegar Hill in Ireland. See related story for our full list of Top Ten Coolest Places in Vinegar Hill.

 

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