See the ‘Sophie’s Choice’ house and other Victorian Flatbush homes
Eye on Real Estate: One of the largest collections of Victorian wood-frame houses in the entire country can be found right here in Brooklyn.
Victorian Flatbush, built more than a century ago, is filled with stand-alone homes with eye-pleasing features like porches and turrets. Architectural flourishes call to mind antebellum mansions, chalets in the Alps or Tudor homes in Midwestern suburbs.
Eleven micro-neighborhoods, some landmarked and some not, comprise the area. The architecture in all of them is lovely and comforting to look at during this terrible moment when New York is in coronavirus lockdown.
The other day, I walked from my work-from-home Bay Ridge apartment to one of the micro-neighborhoods, Prospect Park South. I hereby offer the photos I took as a virtual tour of this historic area, to give your brains a break from coronavirus news.
It took me one hour and 46 minutes to get there — I am practicing social distancing and leaving the subways and buses to people who absolutely need to ride them.
It was worth every second of the long walk there and the equally long walk home to see the old-fashioned architectural eye candy on Prospect Park South’s quiet streets. As a bonus, magnolia trees and forsythia bushes brightened the landscape with their blossoms.
John J. Petit was the star of the show
The main builder in Prospect Park South was Dean Alvord, a developer who worked in Rochester before arriving in Brooklyn.
He got the ball rolling on the construction of Prospect Park South by buying an approximately 50-acre tract of land in 1899, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the area says.
By the way, the Prospect Park South Historic District was designated in 1979.
The first street I looked at was Albemarle Road. It runs east to west through the middle of the area. A landscaped mall stretches down the center of it.
To give you an idea of what homes in the neighborhood were selling for during the past year and a half, Maria Beaulieu paid $2.475 million for 941 Albemarle Road in October 2018, city Finance Department records indicate.
The sellers had paid $1.025 million for it in 2004, Finance Department records show.
Carroll H. Pratt, an architect on Alvord’s staff, designed this house on the corner of Stratford Road in 1901.
John J. Petit, an important architect of yesteryear, designed 1203 Albemarle Road in 1904. It’s located on the corner of Westminster Road. It has Tudor touches and a nifty turret on one corner of it.
Petit was the chief architect Alvord deployed in Prospect Park South, the designation report says.
A Pulitzer-winning playwright
Matthew and Shari Middleman bought 1221 Albemarle Road for $2.4 million in 2019, Finance Department records note. The sellers had bought it for $1.4 million in 2012, Finance Department records show.
William C. Lauritzen designed this Colonial Revival-style house, which is on the corner of Argyle Road, in 1904.
The house at 1306 Albemarle Road, which is on another corner of Argyle Road, belongs to writer David Lindsay-Abaire and his wife, actress Chris Lindsay-Abaire. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his play “Rabbit Hole.”
The couple bought the house for $1.6 million in 2009, Finance Department records indicate.
In 2012, Brave New World Repertory Theatre staged a production of Thornton Wilder’s “The Long Christmas Dinner” in their house, the Daily News reported.
The stunning Colonial Revival-style home, which has a huge porch and a corner tower topped by a conical roof, is another one of Petit’s designs.
Blossoms on Buckingham Road
I’d also like to give a shout-out to Queen Anne-style 1423 Albemarle Road. It was one of the first homes to be constructed in Prospect Park South, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report says.
Petit designed it in 1899.
Now let me show you some of the beautiful houses on streets that run north and south in the Prospect Park South Historic District. First, there’s 143 Buckingham Road, which you see as you turn the corner off Albemarle Road. The day I visited the neighborhood, various trees were flowering on its lawn.
This lovely house is made entirely of brick, which is rare in the Prospect Park South Historic District. Architect Walter S. Cassin designed this home in 1906.
Buckingham Road has a landscaped mall running down the middle of it. The blossoms on the trees were very photogenic.
Another house on this street that’s especially lovely is 104 Buckingham Road.
Pratt, the architect I mentioned earlier, designed it in 1901. Its front entrance has a portico with two-story Ionic columns.
On the next street over, one of the prettiest Tudor houses in Prospect Park South can be found at 187 Marlborough Road. An architect named Woodruff Leeming designed it in 1900.
An inventor named Charles Stillwell, who worked with Thomas Edison, commissioned the house and was its first owner.
According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the neighborhood, he and his family only lived at 187 Marlborough Road until 1907. Stillwell went blind due to an accident he had with an incandescent lamp. After that, they decided to move to a farm in Connecticut.
Stillwell’s 1939 New York Times obituary says he went to Canada in the 1880s to build the country’s first Edison factory — and notes that he was Edison’s brother-in-law.
A bit further down the street, Michael and Sharanya Mitchell bought the house at 228 Marlborough Road for $2.07 million in 2019, Finance Department records show. It’s on the corner of Beverley Road.
Petit also designed this house. He drew up the plans in 1900. It has an enormous porch.
Magnolias on Rugby Road
I turned from Beverley Road onto Rugby Road. Petit designed the beautiful blue house on the corner at 219 Rugby Road in 1900. Alvord, the developer, sold it to a merchant named George C. Brown.
On the day of my walk-around, there were forsythia blooming near the street outside this house.
Up the block, Nicholas Alan Cope and Rachel Beth Cope bought the handsome house at 197 Rugby Road for $2.995 million in 2019, Finance Department records indicate. The seller had purchased it for $2.075 million in 2017, the records show.
Architecture firm Slee & Bryson designed 197 Rugby Road in 1906.
Lovely magnolia trees outside 184 and 185 Rugby Road caught my eye.
The ‘Sophie’s Choice’ house
The exterior of one of my favorite Victorian Flatbush houses, 101 Rugby Road, was used in the filming of the movie “Sophie’s Choice.” It was the rooming house where Holocaust survivor Sophie, played by Meryl Streep, lived. Streep won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role.
Brownstoner.com writer Suzanne Spellen notes that the house was painted pink in the film. Now it’s a soft shade of gray.
The house got a mention in a 1982 New York Times feature story about the Flatbush sites that served as the settings for “Sophie’s Choice.”
An architect named John E. Nitchie designed the house in 1900 for Colonel Alexander S. Bacon — who became a lawyer and was elected to the state Legislature in 1887, the designation report about the Prospect Park South Historic District says.
The house has a round porch with a circular bay of windows on top of it. And on top of that, a conical roof punctuated with elaborate windows looks like a fanciful crown.
A mayor’s son
Next, I turned onto commercial corridor Church Avenue, which was eerily empty because of the coronavirus lockdown, and then turned again onto Argyle Road.
The neo-Tudor house at 165 Argyle Road was constructed by the son of Charles Schieren, who was one of the last mayors of Brooklyn before it became a New York City borough, the designation report about the Prospect Park South Historic District says.
His name was Harrie V. Schieren. He was president of a leather-belt manufacturing company that Charles Schieren had founded.
Architect John B. Slee designed the house in 1905.
A brief digression about Charles Schieren. He’s buried at famous Green-Wood Cemetery. His grave monument is a stunning bronze statue of a crouching figure wearing a cloak called “Azrael, the Spirit of Death.”
Now back to Argyle Road. Further down the block, Arrun Kapoor and Sarah Rasheed bought 189 Argyle Road for $1.8 million in a 2019 estate sale, Finance Department records show.
Three cheers for Benjamin Driesler
At Beverley Road, I walked down the block, then turned up Westminster Road and headed for one of my favorite homes.
Whenever I photograph 173 Westminster Road, the picture winds up on other people’s Pinterest accounts. It’s covered with blue-painted shingles, and its asymmetrical massing is very appealing. Benjamin Driesler, a notable architect of yesteryear, designed this Queen Anne-style home in 1898.
A footnote: Driesler was one of the architects who designed the Renaissance-Revival rowhouses on the Bay Ridge Parkway block between Fourth and Fifth avenues, which was designated as a historic district in 2019.
The block is called Doctor’s Row because there are numerous medical offices in the limestone homes.
Another favorite house of mine, 85 Westminster Road, changed hands in 2019. The buyer, Stuart Matthewman, paid $2.215 million for it, Finance Department records indicate.
It’s got all kinds of great Victorian features: An entrance with columns that are two stories high, a fabulous porch where owners can sit and enjoy fine weather and a turret with a conical roof like a witch’s hat.
George E. Showers was the architect who designed 85 Westminster Road. It was constructed in 1907 and 1908.
Stratford, like where Shakespeare lived
The final north-south street in the Prospect Park South Historic District is Stratford Road. What adds to its appeal when you walk down it is a pair of tiny streets that are perpendicular to it.
The Colonial Revival-style house at 126 Stratford Road stands on the corner of one of them, which is Turner Place.
Architect Robert W. Firth designed the house in 1909. Later, Driesler designed the house’s second-story porch.
Mark and Erin Shea purchased 126 Stratford Road for $1.75 million in 2018, Finance Department records show.
On the corner of the other tiny street, Hinckley Place, there’s a sunshiny yellow and white house whose address is 160 Stratford Road. Arlington Isham designed this Colonial Revival home in 1900.
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s column on Brooklyn’s built environment. During the coronavirus pandemic, I’ll share glimpses of places I saw while practicing social distancing. Fellow New Yorkers — please do the same when you take walks.
Leave a Comment
Leave a Comment