Victorian Flatbush~The Early Years:
A young couple considers the real estate prospectus before them.
Already they are parents to three small children; their
fourth is expected in just
a few months. Their home, one of Park Slopes pretty row brownstones,
was comfortable enough when they first married, but now the lack of
space is becoming an issue, and the noise from the street below never
seems to cease. Besides, the young husband is rising quickly at his
Wall Street job and his wife would like to move to a more socially elite
area. An area with clean sidewalks hemmed by lush lawns and trees, spacious
housing and an opportunity to pass Mrs. Guggenheim or some other socialite
on an afternoon stroll. The wife points out a photo in the prospectus
to her husband. Five healthy children smile out at the camera, while
the caption below explains, A group of merry kids, a familiar
scene showing what the suburbs will do for children. Fiske Terrace
(Transformed from woods into city in 18 months.) Well then,
says the husband, looking over at his delighted wife, we shall
pay the real estate company a visit tomorrow morning.
It is early in the 1900s, and interest in the new community of Brooklyns Victorian Flatbush is growing. It was only a few years ago, in 1898, that Brooklyn joined New York City as a borough. Change is transforming Brooklyn at a startling rate. With its racetracks and beaches, Coney Island has become the wealthy mans summer playground. (see below)
Further to the north, in an area once occupied by farmland and pasture,
grand new Victorian-style mansions are being built, offering space and
luxury to their prospective buyers. It is the perfect time, the perfect
place for development, and Dean Alvord is capitalizing on his acumen.
A well-to-do man himself, Alvord recognized the need of societys
upper class families for morecomfortable living. Close enough to Manhattan
for working husbands, yet far enough away to assure a healthier, more
country-like way of life for mothers raising children, Alvord pronounced
it, Country living in the city.
Calling his new development, Prospect Park South, as it
was a few short blocks away from Prospect Park, Brooklyns version
of Central Park; Alvords Victorian mansions drew the families
of bankers, ship captains, inventors, and industrialists. Journalisms
It girl, the fearless reporter
Nelly Bly, bought a home on 184 Marlborough Road. Just across the
street stood the house of Thomas Edisons brother-in-law and colleague
in science, Stillwell, on whose chimney hung a sturdy steel S.
Later he would have an avenue named after him in Brooklyn. Closer to
the Prospect Park, a large mansion with distinct Japanese styling to
it, the work of a Japanese architect and landscaper hired especially
for the job, was proving a bit of a challenge to sell. At WHAT PRICE?,
it was expensive even for wealthy home buyers. Alvord was obliged to
reduce the price down to (WHAT?) before WHO? the inventor of the X-ray,
bought the mansion.
Given the huge space of his Prospect Park South mansion, Admiral Sperry,
inventor of among other things, the gyroscope, might be forgiven for
thinking that he could build an airplane on the third floor. It was
not until the airplane was completed that Sperry realized out that getting
the airplane out of the house might be a bigger challenge than building
it. As he started to dismantle the mansions beautiful oak staircase,
his wife quickly came to her homes defense. The staircase was
spared, but the plane was not. Though the Sperrys did move from
their home on 100 Marlborough Road to a bigger mansion on the corner,
his indoor airplane manufacturing days were over. His wife and the Prospect
Park South development company saw to that.
More and more of New Yorks wealthy were seeking country
living in the city, and Alvord was not the only developer to see
gold in the pastures of Brooklyn. Thomas Benton Ackerson, commonly referred
to as T.B. Ackerson, had saved up a significant sum of money while working
for the Knickerbocker Ice Company. When Ackerson asked his boss what
to do with the money he had saved, his boss answered, Real estate!
Acting on the advice, Ackerson bought a small piece of land and proceeded
to build a house. Though his first attempt was not exactly successful;
the house went up in 1898, took a year and a half to sell, and made
a mere $21 profit, Ackerson had not lost faith in real estate. At a
cost of $83,500, Ackerson went on to purchase ten acres of farmland
from owner Catherine Lott, calling the new property, Beverly Square
West. And this time the houses sold quickly, though the asking price
was substantial, at an average of $7,000. One of the building specifications
stipulated that no two homes be alike. Despite this added challenge,
Ackerson built 42 family homes on Westminster Road, and within a year
and a half, most of the houses were sold. Ackersons boss had advised
In keeping with his vision of an upscale community, Ackerson got permission to rename the streets of Beverly Square West from their original East eleventh through fifteenth, the English names of Stratford, Westminster, Argyle, Rugby, Marlborough and Beverly. Rival builders jokingly referred to the renamed streets as Ackermans swarm of bees. Swarm was formed from the first letter of each street (S for Stratford, W for Westminster, etc.) and B was for Beverly Road.
Though it's "country living in the city", one of the selling points of Victorian Flatbush is its proximity to entertainment. Famed throughout the world, Coney Island is a short train or carriage ride away to the south. Prospect Park is just up the block, if one wants even more trees and green grass for their young ones to play in. Nearby Flatbush Avenue is a renowned shopping district. It's certainly a favorite among the ladies, who stroll over to Flatbush Avenue for the latest hats, fine dresses, and fashionable accessories. Distraction was available in the evening as well; families could attend the Flatbush theater to catch one of the silent films, popular at the time. The Brighton Theater offered theatrical fare; and vaudeville shows were still drawing crowds.
And so the powerful settle in to Victorian Flatbush community. Life is good, and convenient. It's still early in the 1900's, but already the nearby subway stations of Beverly Road and Cortelyou Road make for a simple train ride for the husbands who work in Manhattan. Disturbing rumors were afoot however. Some were saying that City engineers were planning to elevate the subway tracks running through Victorian Flatbush. If the rumors were true, it would be horrible news. Having recently paid princely sums for their luxurious homes, the wealthy were not eager to see subway cars and waving passengers literally running through their backyards. They had not moved out of Manhattan for this!
It just so happened that a homeowner on Rugby Road, Charlie Potts, was (conveniently enough!) a city subway engineer. Victorian Flatbush community members prevailed upon Potts to speak to his boss. A persuasive man, with powerful backing, Potts was able to sway the City's plans. As a compromise, an 18-foot deep pit was dug for the subway tracks. Not only did this put the trains out of sight, but the subway noise was now muffled. Though one crisis had been averted, another seemed imminent.
Of all the stops that existed along the New York City subway line, none were a mere block apart. None except the Beverly and Cortelyou Road stations. Homeowners enjoyed the fact that a mere short walk separated them from two possible train stations. When the city raised the possibility of closing the Beverly Road station, community members gathered. A walk all the way to Church avenue or all the way to Cortelyou Road was unthinkable. Charles Potts was again asked to intervene.
Successful once more, Potts assured the existence of the two closest subway station stops, right into the next century. In a show of appreciation for the persuasive Mr. Potts, the homeowners threw a huge banquet in the ballroom at 1305 Albermarle Road. Quite a few years later, the stately mansion would be featured in the film, Reversal of Fortune.