See Mary Pickford’s house and other fine sights in landmark-worthy Ditmas Park West
Eye On Real Estate
A century ago, when silent films were all the rage, America’s most famous actress almost became a Brooklyn resident.
Executives at a Midwood film studio called Vitagraph — see related story — built a house for Mary Pickford in nearby Ditmas Park West, which was then a new neighborhood.
It’s a big, glamorous modified neo-Tudor house on a corner lot at 1320 Ditmas Ave.
The high-profile celebrity of yesteryear didn’t ever move into the beautiful house. But to this day, film buffs, preservationists and neighborhood residents refer to 1320 Ditmas Ave. as Mary Pickford’s house.
It’s one of the jewels of this landmark-worthy Victorian Flatbush micro-neighborhood.
Mary Pickford was a film-industry pioneer. In the course of her long career, she starred in “The Poor Little Rich Girl” and oh-so-many other movies, both silent films and talkies. And in 1919 she co-founded film distribution company United Artists with actors Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith. They all set up film studios, too.
Thus Pickford gained creative control over her work — and became a leader in the film business instead of a hired hand.
Richard Alleman’s informative book, “New York: The Movie Lover’s Guide,” explains why Pickford wound up not living in Ditmas Park West.
In 1916, she was in serious contract negotiations with the head of Vitagraph — but ultimately broke off the negotiations. In a matter of weeks, Pickford signed a new contract with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players, the studio for which she’d previously worked.
Historic homes are selling for more than $2 million
Ditmas Park West is full of eye-catching century-old houses. Most of them are made of wood. Many have porches and picturesque turrets.
We recently spent the day there taking photos of the old-fashioned architectural eye candy that can be found at every turn.
A good place to begin a stroll through the micro-neighborhood is the corner of Ditmas Avenue and Rugby Road, where Pickford’s house is located.
Right across from her house, there’s 1323 Ditmas Ave., which was sold for $2.115 million last year, city Finance Department records show. It has an eye-catching turret beside the front door.
An online posting by Corcoran, the brokerage firm that had the sale listing for 1323 Ditmas Ave., says there are seven bedrooms, a library and a den in the 17-room house. It stands on a 36-by-109-foot corner lot and has a detached garage.
Another house at this intersection, 1403 Ditmas Ave., is a lovely wood-sided home with a turret and a wraparound porch. It was renovated after a 2004 fire.
When 1403 Ditmas Ave. changed hands in 2014, the price was $2.025 million, Finance Department records indicate.
Picturesque houses on other parts of the avenue include 1421 Ditmas Ave., which is on the corner of Marlborough Road.
A patchwork quilt of micro-neighborhoods
Parallel to Ditmas Avenue, you’ll find Dorchester Road, where lots of terrific old houses can be found.
For instance, on the corner of Marlborough Road, there’s shingle-covered 1501 Dorchester Road, which is painted a fine hue of electric blue.
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission has not granted protected status to Ditmas Park West. But residents and preservationists argue that it and five other Victorian Flatbush micro-neighborhoods deserve to be designated as a single historic district.
Two of the other unlandmarked but deserving micro-neighborhoods are Beverley Square East and Beverley Square West. We recently published photos of the two micro-neighborhoods.
Next week, we’ll show you photos of unlandmarked Caton Park, South Midwood and West Midwood.
Preservationists see Victorian Flatbush as a patchwork quilt because over the years, several other micro-neighborhoods have won historic district status. They say it’s time to sew together all the pieces of the quilt, metaphorically speaking, so that all of Victorian Flatbush is landmarked.
Landmarking is important because property owners can’t demolish buildings in historic districts or make changes to their exteriors without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s permission.
Suburban-style homes on the site of John H. Ditmas’ farm
Let’s continue our stroll through Ditmas Park West.
There are eye-pleasing houses on every north-south-running street in the micro-neighborhood.
For instance, 456 Marlborough Road is painted the color of lime sherbet and 454 Rugby Road has striped awnings and meticulously painted trim. The Rugby Road house last changed hands in 2014; the price was $1.975 million, Finance Department records indicate.
The charming shingle-covered house at 472 Argyle Road looks like a shoreline summer home in Maine. Rows of pastel-hued houses are especially fine-looking on the Westminster Road block between Dorchester Road and Ditmas Avenue.
Throughout this micro-neighborhood there are stands of impressively tall trees. One place you can see them is the Stratford Road block between Dorchester Road and Ditmas Avenue.
Ditmas Park West’s boundaries are Cortelyou Road, the Brighton rail line running between East 16th Street and Marlborough Road, Newkirk Avenue and Coney Island Avenue.
The presence of the train line encouraged developers to build suburban-style commuter housing in the area.
The Flatbush Development Corp. and several neighborhood groups submitted a request for evaluation in December 2012 asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to consider designating the six unlandmarked Victorian Flatbush neighborhoods as a single historic district.
The request is full of interesting info about Ditmas Park West.
It explains that the area was farmland that belonged to John H. Ditmas, a descendant of a Colonial Dutch family. He sold the land to Lewis H. Pounds in 1899.
The developer went on to become the Brooklyn Borough President, the New York State Treasurer and New York City’s 1932 Republican mayoral candidate, his 1947 obituary in The New York Times notes.
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