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Lefferts Manor Historic District


The Lefferts Manor Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Portions of the text below were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Lefferts Manor Historic District is located on all or part of eight blocks bounded by the south side of Lincoln Road on the north, the north of Fenimore Street on the south, the west side of Rogers Avenue on the east and a line running approximately 150 feet east of Flatbush Avenue on the west. The Lefferts Manor Historic District is in a primarily residential area in the neighborhood known as Prospect-Lefferts Gardens at the north end of the former town of Flatbush in Brooklyn, Kings County, New York. The Lefferts Manor Historic District consists entirely of one-family residential buildings. Most of the houses are stone, brick or brick and stone rowhouses. There are also a number of freestanding frame houses and freestanding masonry residences in the Lefferts Manor Historic District, as well as a significant number of contributing garages. The boundary of the Lefferts Manor Historic District was drawn to include all of the land within the Lefferts Manor development. On the blocks surrounding the Lefferts Manor Historic District are a mix of one- and two-family rowhouses and frame dwellings, apartment houses, tenements and commercial buildings. Immediately to the north of the Lefferts Manor Historic District on Lincoln Road between Flatbush and Bedford avenues is a group of six-story apartment houses dating from the 1920s, one freestanding house and a small church. To the south of the Lefferts Manor Historic District, across Fenimore Road, are rowhouses, frame dwellings and apartment buildings. To the east of the Lefferts Manor Historic District, across Rogers Avenue, are four-story tenements, many with commercial ground floors. The streets that stretch to the east from Rogers Avenue consist of a mix of frame houses, rowhouses and tenements. To the west of the Lefferts Manor Historic District is Flatbush Avenue, one of Brooklyn's major commercial arteries. Flatbush Avenue is lined with apartment buildings with commercial ground floors and with two- and three-story commercial buildings. Development in Lefferts Manor began in 1896 and the last contributing building was erected in 1935. The Lefferts Manor Historic District consists of 677 contributing buildings, including 568 contributing residences and 109 contributing garages; there is also one contributing site, an elaborate garden at 95 Maple. There are 6 non-contributing houses and 8 non-contributing garages. The Lefferts Manor Historic District and the vast majority of its buildings retain an exceptionally high degree of integrity.

The earliest buildings in the Lefferts Manor Historic District are two frame houses at 107 Fenimore Street and 115 Fenimore Street. These two houses, like the other nineteen frame houses on Fenimore Street, dating from 1905-09, are relatively simple Colonial Revival style buildings. All were originally clad with clapboards and shingles and had wooden porches. Most of the houses have been re-sided and some of the porches have been removed or enclosed, but all of the houses retain their basic form. The only other street in the Lefferts Manor Historic District with frame dwellings is Lincoln Road between Flatbush and Bedford avenues. The fifteen houses on this street, dating from 1907-16, are somewhat larger than those on Fenimore Street and more sophisticated in design. These buildings, all of which were designed by the architectural firm of Slee and Bryson, are in the Colonial Revival or neo-Tudor styles. The Colonial Revival houses have clapboard and shingle siding, while the neo-Tudor houses have brick bases with stucco and half-timbering on the upper floors. All of these houses have open porches and some have contributing garages set to the rear. These houses retain their integrity to a very high degree. There is also one brick house on Lincoln Road dating from 1922.

The vast majority of the buildings within the Lefferts Manor Historic District are single family rowhouses. The earliest rowhouses in the Lefferts Manor Historic District date from the late 1890s and are examples of the Romanesque Revival/neo-Renaissance style. The buildings are generally faced with Roman brick and rock-faced stone. The brick and stone is generally earth toned. This use of color and texture reflects the influence of Henry Hobson Richardson and of the Romanesque Revival that swept through American architecture during the 1880s. In addition, these rowhouses are ornamented with Romanesque Revival style Byzantine carving. The Romanesque Revival houses in the Lefferts Manor Historic District are late versions of the style. Examples of these late Romanesque Revival style rowhouses are 63-81, 93A-99 and 36-44 Rutland Road.

Many of the rowhouses in the Lefferts Manor Historic District that display Romanesque Revival features are also ornamented with more naturalistic Renaissance-inspired carved detail and are crowned with galvanized-iron cornices that are also ornamented with Renaissance forms. This reflects the increasing popularity of Renaissance design during the late 1890s. Notable examples of transitional Romanesque Revival/neo-Renaissance style houses are the twenty rowhouses at 51-71 and 52-72 Midwood Street between Bedford and Rogers avenues.

The majority of rowhouses in the Lefferts Manor Historic District were designed during the early years of the twentieth century in the neo-Renaissance style. Most of these houses are faced with white limestone, although a few are faced with the more conservative brownstone or with light-colored brick. All of the houses have Renaissance-inspired carved forms such as cartouches, garlands, swags and foliate detail. The houses are crowned with galvanized-iron cornices. Many of the houses also have curved or angled bays. The larger houses are three stories above a basement and are ornamented with exuberant detail. Most of these were designed by Axel Hedman. Examples include the row of sixteen at 20-50 Midwood Street and the long rows on Maple Street between Bedford Avenue and Rogers Avenue. This street includes several unusual rows designed by Hedman that include angled bays with Spanish tile roofs. The simpler neo-Renaissance style rowhouses are two stories with very modest carving. Most of these were designed by Benjamin Driesler and they can be found along the eastern edge of the Lefferts Manor Historic District.

During the second and third decades of the twentieth century, Colonial Revival style rowhouses were erected in the Lefferts Manor Historic District. These red brick structures combine Georgian and Federal motifs, such as doorways with transom windows or fanlights, Flemish bond brickwork, peak roofs with dormer windows and multi-paned window sash. Most of the Colonial Revival houses in Lefferts Manor were designed by Slee and Bryson. Examples can be found at 17-49 and 74-88 Midwood Street. At the same time that the Colonial Revival houses were being erected, neo-Medieval style rowhouses were also being built in the Lefferts Manor Historic District. Slee and Bryson were responsible for a number of these brick houses that are ornamented with pointed arches, drip lintels and medieval-inspired plaques and moldings. Examples of these houses are 69-87 Fenimore Street and 92-94 Midwood Street. Also erected during this period are two rows of neo-Tudor houses (15-31 and 16-32 Rutland Road), designed by Peter J. Collins. These unusual rowhouses have brick bases and stucco and half timber on the upper floors.

Among the final houses erected in the Lefferts Manor Historic District are the freestanding brick dwellings that line both sides of Maple Street between Flatbush and Bedford avenues. Among these houses are Colonial Revival style houses, such as those at 32, 36 and 71 Maple Street. Most of the Maple Street houses have original garages in the same style.

Significance

The Lefferts Manor Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as a distinctive, intact example of a turn-of-the-century urban middle-class residential subdivision in Brooklyn. The development of Lefferts Manor can be seen within the context of the rapid development of Brooklyn — especially Flatbush — between c.1870 and c.1930. From its inception in the early 1890s, when James Lefferts decided to subdivide his Flatbush farm, Lefferts Manor was intended to evoke the desirable "suburban" qualities of more exclusive enclaves for its middle-class residents. Like all the other late-nineteenth century developments in Brooklyn, the form of Lefferts Manor was somewhat dictated by the urban grid, which had been legally mandated for the city in 1869. Nevertheless, Lefferts followed the lead of such developers as Richard Ficken, who laid out a development known as Tennis Court (demolished) in Flatbush in 1886, in providing a plan for Lefferts Manor (effective through restrictive covenants on each lot sold) that would, in a variety of ways, distinguish the subdivision from its immediate surroundings and enhance its character as an exclusive enclave. To this end, Lefferts's restrictions dictated the minimum size and value of residences, the placement and orientation of houses, outbuildings and fences on individual lots and — most important — the number of families permitted to occupy each lot. By strictly ensuring a development of single-family residences offered at substantial — but not exorbitant — prices, Lefferts hoped to attract stable, affluent, middle-class buyers who would assist him in rapidly filling the development with similar individuals and families. While Lefferts's attempts to control the appearance and character of the development appear to have been motivated by the desire for financial success, the attractions of Lefferts Manor were probably inspired to some extent by the growing popularity of the "suburban ideal" in this period, as more and more middle-class Americans aspired to reside in single-family houses in low-density neighborhoods separated by some distance from their places of employment and situated so as to permit in some way — large or small — more direct contact with nature. For many middle-class New Yorkers, developments such as Lefferts Manor, which were planned to suggest a suburban atmosphere within the constraints of what were essentially urban settings, offered a chance for them to demonstrate upward mobility and to participate in what began — in this period — to be the most common manifestation of the American ideal of home. Lefferts Manor retains its distinctive qualities through the survival of its plan, its unusual grouping of single family residences, its variety of popular period residential designs and its restrictive covenants; this remarkably intact development is significant in recalling important themes in architecture and community planning in Brooklyn.

The Lefferts Manor Historic District is located in the northern part of the Dutch Colonial village of Midwout or Flatbush. Flatbush was a farming community that was first settled in 1652. Among those who settled in Flatbush during the seventeenth century was Leffert Pietersen van Haughwout, who settled the area in 1660. The Lefferts's Flatbush farm was only a piece of the family's vast land holdings in Brooklyn (the Clinton Hill South Historic District is located on another Lefferts property). The farm descended in the Lefferts family until it was inherited by James Lefferts in the late nineteenth century. James Lefferts lived in the family homestead, a Dutch Colonial house that had been erected in 1777-83, replacing an earlier house that had been burned by the British during the Revolutionary War Battle of Brooklyn. This late-eighteenth century house was originally located facing Flatbush Avenue between Maple and Midwood streets; it has been moved to Prospect Park (National Register listed).

By the 1890s, residential development in Brooklyn was moving south towards the Lefferts Farm. It was clear that development would soon reach the northern part of Flatbush. Thus, James Lefferts chose to subdivide his farm in anticipation of the construction of a "high-grade" residential development that he dubbed "Lefferts Manor." James Lefferts sought to assure the success of the Lefferts Manor development by establishing a restrictive covenant for each lot. This covenant clearly defined the type of building allowed. As was typical of many property documents of the period, the Lefferts Manor deeds prohibited such unsavory uses as commercial stables, pig pens, forges and foundries, as well as hospitals, apartment houses, tenements and theaters.

In addition to restrictions on use, Lefferts had a number of restrictions placed in the deeds that regulated the type of building that could occur in the area. No house was permitted that was worth less than $5000 and all buildings were required to be one-family residences built of brick or stone (this latter rule was not adhered to on Fenimore Street and Lincoln Road). All houses had to be back from the street at least fourteen feet. Bay windows and bow fronts were allowed to project no more than three and one-half inches over the building line. All private stables and outbuildings were to be at least sixty feet from the street and fences were to be placed at least twelve feet from the curb line.

Lefferts placed these restrictions on the lots to ensure that the area would develop in a uniform manner. By restricting the area to fairly substantial, although not exorbitantly expensive or excessively grand houses, Lefferts hoped to attract a stable middle-class population that would give the newly developing area an aura of respectability. Lefferts undoubtedly saw a need to restrict building to one-family residences due to the growing popularity of two-family rowhouses in Brooklyn. In the 1890s, two-family rowhouses that, from the exterior, looked identical to one-family rowhouses, began to be erected in Brooklyn in large numbers. Many of these were erected in Crown Heights, the neighborhood to the north of Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Lefferts's restrictions ensured that his estate would not be developed with these two-family houses. While all of Lefferts Manor was built up with one-family homes, the surrounding blocks were developed primarily with two-family rowhouses or tenements.

Building in the Lefferts Manor vicinity was quite sparse before 1890, but by the middle of that decade frame houses were being erected in the area. The two earliest houses within the Lefferts Manor Historic District, 107 and 115 Fenimore Street, built in 1896, are Colonial Revival style frame dwellings that are typical of the houses erected during this period. Development within Lefferts Manor began in force in 1897, when forty-four houses were built. Major development within the Lefferts Manor Historic District took place in three separate periods. The first period of major development spanned the years between 1897 and 1899, when just over 150 homes were erected within the district. Most of these houses were either Romanesque Revival, neo-Renaissance or transitional Romanesque Revival/neo-Renaissance style brick and stone rows. The majority of these were erected on Rutland Road between Flatbush and Bedford avenues and on Lincoln Road and Midwood Street between Bedford and Rogers avenues. Development slowed in 1900-01 and stopped completely in 1902-03. It is possible that this occurred because of over-development between 1897 and 1899. Lefferts Manor was still, at that time, quite far from Brooklyn's more popular residential districts and a commute from Lefferts Manor to downtown Brooklyn or to Manhattan was still somewhat arduous.

The major developer active in Lefferts Manor during the first period of development was William A.A. Brown. Brown was born in Brooklyn in 1856 and moved to Flatbush in 1861. In 1898, Brown entered the real estate market, buying land primarily in Brooklyn. Brown was responsible for the forty transitional Romanesque Revival/neo-Renaissance style brick and stone houses that line both sides of Midwood Street between Bedford and Rogers avenues and for the exceptionally handsome transitional rows designed by William M. Miller at 51-71 and 52-72 Midwood Street. In an advertisement for these houses printed in the Brooklyn Eagle, Brown bragged that "probably no better houses in the city are better built, from foundation to roof, in trim and finish, in arrangement and appointment than these houses" (December 1898).

Several prominent Brooklyn architects worked in the Lefferts Manor Historic District during this early period of development. These include A.E. White, an architect who was responsible for many handsome Romanesque Revival style houses in the Park Slope Historic District (National Register listed) and in Crown Heights and who designed similarly styled houses on Rutland Road between Flatbush and Bedford avenues and John J. Petit, best known for his large freestanding suburban residences in the Prospect Park South Historic District (National Register listed). In Lefferts Manor, Petit was responsible for two rows on Rutland Road, Nos. 37-45, a neo-Renaissance style row, and Nos. 47-55, an unusual Colonial Revival style row.

After two years during which no new construction occurred in the Lefferts Manor Historic District, building picked up slightly in 1904 (six houses were built), and by 1905 new building had again begun in earnest. During the second period of development, the years 1905-1911, over 270 house were erected in Lefferts Manor, 155 in 1909 alone. Almost all of these were stone structures designed in the neo-Renaissance style or Colonial Revival and neo-Tudor style frame houses. A few of these houses were built with garages that were designed in the same style as the house. Entire blocks were built up during this period. Most notable are Maple Street between Bedford and Rogers avenues, with its long rows of limestone neo-Renaissance style houses, and Lincoln Road between Flatbush and Bedford avenues, with its Colonial Revival and neo-Tudor style frame dwellings.

Although William A.A. Brown was still active in the district during these years, the two most prominent developers during this period were Frederick B. Norris (later incorporated as the Frederick B. Norris Company) and Realty Associates. Like Brown, Norris was born in Brooklyn, where his father had been a builder of some importance. Norris remained active in the Lefferts Manor Historic District until 1925. Norris favored the work of two of Brooklyn's most popular early-twentieth architects, Axel Hedman and the firm of Slee and Bryson. Although Hedman was responsible for hundreds of extremely fine neo-Renaissance style rowhouses in Brooklyn, as well as many frame buildings and apartment houses, little is known about his life. He joined the Brooklyn chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1894 and completed his earliest recorded building, located in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District (National Register listed), shortly thereafter. His most prominent commission was for the design of a courtroom in Brooklyn's Borough Hall (National Register listed) in 1898. In the Lefferts Manor Historic District, Hedman designed a large number of neo-Renaissance style rowhouses, such as those on Maple Street, just east of Flatbush Avenue.

The firm of Slee and Bryson was founded in about 1905 by John Slee and Robert Bryson. This firm was active in Brooklyn for over a quarter of a century. Early in their careers, both men worked for John J. Petit, notably at Prospect Park South. They designed many freestanding Colonial Revival and neo-Tudor style houses, including those on Lincoln Road within the historic district, as well as some of Brooklyn's finest Colonial Revival and neo-Medieval rowhouses. Examples of these can be found in Lefferts Manor on Bedford Avenue, Fenimore Street, Rutland Road and Midwood Street (these date from the third period of development), as well as in the Albemarle-Kenmore Terraces Historic District (National Register listed) and in the Clinton Hill Historic District (National Register listed).

Realty Associates was a real estate firm founded in 1901 with the intention of building lower priced houses on a very large scale. They were extremely successful in this venture. In Lefferts Manor, for example, there are 105 virtually identical, simple bow fronted neo-Renaissance style houses arranged along the eastern edge of the Lefferts Manor Historic District. All of these houses were designed by the architect Benjamin Driesler. Driesler moved to Flatbush in 1892 and is known to have designed many frame houses as well as rows of simple masonry dwellings. Although he used the same styles favored by Axel Hedman, Driesler's work lacks the finesse and originality that Hedman brought to his designs. Besides the Lefferts Manor houses, examples of his work can be seen in the Prospect Park South and Park Slope historic districts.

The final period of development began in 1914 and extended, with some small interruptions, until 1925. Approximately 120 houses were erected during this period. Most of these houses are brick structures that reflect the popularity of styles derived from American Colonial and English Medieval architecture during this period. Many of the houses erected during this final building boom in the Lefferts Manor Historic District were constructed with small garages that were designed in the same styles as the houses. These reflect the increasing importance of the automobile in America.

The most active developer during these years continued to be Frederick Norris, who was responsible for most of the Colonial Revival and neo-Medieval style brick rowhouses in the district; these were designed by Slee and Bryson. Also active in the Lefferts Manor Historic District was the Brighton Building Company, which erected two unusual neo-Tudor style rows and a Colonial Revival style row, all on Rutland Road between Flatbush and Bedford avenues. The president of the Brighton Building Company was Peter J. Collins, who was not only the builder of these houses but was also their architect.

It was during this final building period that most of the freestanding masonry houses on Maple Street were erected. This is the only street in the Lefferts Manor Historic District that contains large masonry homes. These were designed in the Colonial Revival neo-Medieval and Mediterranean styles by a variety of architects. There are also four contributing houses dating from after 1925 (one each from 1926, 1927, 1934 and 1935).

Lefferts Manor has always been a well cared for, stable community. The early residents were middle-class business and professional people. Today the Lefferts Manor Historic District remains a middle-class community. The buildings remain in excellent condition and the Lefferts Manor Historic District retains its integrity to an extraordinarily high degree with few alterations or intrusions.

References

Flatbush: The Ideal Homeland. I. "The Realm of Light and Air." Brooklyn: Eagle Press, 1905.

Fisher, Edmund D. Flatbush Past and Present. Brooklyn, 1905.

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Prospect-Lefferts Gardens Historic District Designation Report. Prepared by Andrew S. Dolkart. NY: Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1979.

  1. Dolkart, Andrew, and LaFrank, Kathleen (N.Y. State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation), Lefferts Manor Historic District, nomination document, 1991, National Park Service, National Regiser of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

See Map

Street Names: Bedford Avenue, Fenimore Street, Maple Street, Midwood Street, Rutland Road

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