Clinton Hill

An 1870s Clinton Hill mansion gets White House-style columns and a black aluminum facade

What were they thinking? Darth Vader meets “Gone with the Wind”?

April 24, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Here's a look at the new aluminum facade that's planned for 489 Washington Ave. Rendering by Beam Group

It’s a renovation fit for a president — or unfit, depending on whom you ask.

A classic 1870s mansion on Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill is being transformed — some would say desecrated — with a riot of Classical columns, a Juliet balcony, vase-shaped pillars on the entry railing, and a black metal facade.

The architect said he was just following orders.

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“The client literally said, ‘I want the White House,’” designer Josh Felix said.

Changes were in store once the Evergreen Church of God in Christ sold the Second Empire mansion at 489 Washington Ave. to GB Properties for $2.7 million in 2015, records show.

The company envisioned enlarging and rebuilding the home into a 21-unit rental apartment building.

That’s where J Goldman Design came in. Felix, a senior designer at the firm, added synthetic stucco pillars on either side of the front door and lined up two vertical rows of windows, which he surrounded with lightweight limestone and topped with a Classical cornice.

Felix said a Classical facade wouldn’t make sense on the rest of the building, which has structural columns that aren’t evenly spaced. For those parts of the building he chose black aluminum, which has a contemporary look, to contrast with the Classical columns.

To the untrained eye, the building looks out of place.

“Is this a belated April Fools’ joke?” a commenter named Marc posted on New York YIMBY, which first published the J Goldman Design rendering. “What a travesty to destroy the existing historic mansion and build this mismatched collision of quasi-classical/undistinguished modern conglomeration using all the wrong materials and out of scale building details. A truly horrific additional for the neighborhood.”

Another commenter said the building “belongs to tasteless new construction areas of Sheepshead Bay or Manhattan Beach.”

Some were left speechless.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that we’re losing an historic mansion for … whatever that is,” wrote a commenter identifying himself as Christopher. 

Felix said he had anticipated online snark.

“I don’t think anytime anyone on our design team produces work that we expect everyone to love it [but] my obligation is to the client,” Felix said. “It’s a challenging role, often.”

A House with a History

The mansion is just outside the Clinton Hill Historic District, so its facade did not require the Landmarks Preservation Commission approval.

Its first residents were Lascelles E. Maxwell, his wife Grace Georgiana Tone Maxwell and their seven children.

Grace was the only grandchild of Wolfe Tone, a leader of the 1798 Irish Rebellion and the father of Irish nationalism.

After that, the house was owned by the U.S. Grant Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans’ group.  

The building, then known as Grant Hall, had 14 rooms, a ballroom and a large reception room, according to a 1928 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle.

 The designer of the renovation on Washington Avenue says his client wanted “the White House.” Photo courtesy of the White House


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