Large, detached Victorian houses, sprawling estates even, with big yards on both sides? Including garages and driveways? In a city known for apartments, townhouses, and rowhouses packed tightly together, with rather small backyards that don’t always have grass?
No, the subway didn’t go through a timewarp, nor did you get on the wrong train or miss your stop by several hundred miles. You’re in the western part of Flatbush, Brooklyn, home to the largest concentration of Victorian houses in the U.S.
Copyright Beyond My Ken
Victorian Flatbush was developed from farmland in the early 20th century. Its dozen mini-neighborhoods and districts were among the city’s very first suburbs, representing the best of both worlds, proximity to the heart of New York and large houses to call home. It was originally advertised as The Village in the City.
Borders are Prospect Park on the north, Avenue H on the south, Coney Island Avenue on the west, and Flatbush Avenue on the east. Many of the streets have aristocratic names—Marlborough, Albemarle, Rugby, Argyle, Beverley, Stratford, Westminster, Buckingham, Clarendon, Newkirk, Cortelyou.
Victorian Flatbush contains Ditmas Park, Prospect Park South, Beverley Square East and West, Fiske Terrace, West and South Midwood, Albemarle-Kenmore Terraces, Caton Park, Newkirk, Midwood Park, and Ditmas Park West. To date, five of these dozen districts have been designated historic districts, and the other seven are working on recognition.
No two houses are alike, and a wide variety of architectural styles are represented—Queen Anne (my favorite!), Tudor (my second-favorite), Shingle, Victorian, Georgian, Colonial Revival, Spanish Mission, Bungalow, Craftsman. Homes are set thirty feet back from sidewalks.
The Albemarle–Kenmore Terraces, pictured above, consist of 32 houses on two cul-de-sacs and were built from 1916–20. The majority are Colonial Revival, but six are in the English Arts and Crafts style, inspired by the Garden City movement (self-contained communities with greenbelts, a countryside environment in an urban locale).
The Kenmore cottages have something quite rare in Brooklyn, actual driveways and private garages, not just a reserved parking space on the sidewalk next to a house.
Also in Kenmore, though not in the historic district, is the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church parsonage house (seen below), built in 1853 and moved to its current spot in 1918.
Copyright Beyond My Ken
The Beverley Squares were built from 1898 to the early Aughts, starting along East 19th St. Developer Thomas Benton Ackerson, who created much of Victorian Flatbush, initially offered East houses at a starting price of $10,000 and West houses starting at $6,500.
Disappointed by lacklustre sales, he erected relatively simpler houses in the remainder of the neighborhood. Unlike many modern luxury real estate developers in the city, he modified his strategy when he realized there was a limited market for his product.
Beverley Square East
Beverley Square West
Fiske Terrace began development in 1905, after the tragic razing of a forest, and has about 150 houses. Its Avenue H subway station, built 1906 and seen below, is the city’s only wooden cottage with such a purpose. In 2004, it was designated a landmark.
West Midwood was developed 1899–1908, by the abovementioned Ackerson and another company, Germania. To maintain the Village in the City vibe, front yard fences were forbidden, and utilities were buried underground.
The 42 houses along Westminster Rd., created by Ackerson’s company, originally sold for $10,000.
Copyright Beyond My Ken
Prospect Park South (represented above) began development in 1899, and is perhaps the most grandiose of all dozen districts. These houses have a mandatory minimum square footage of 3,500, some reaching over 10,000. One of the largest mansions in this district has a floor-through ballroom in its top story.
Original prices were over $5,000.
Ditmas Park contains the additional Ditmas Park Historic District, with 172 houses built from 1902–14, plus the 1910 Neo-Georgian Flatbush-Tompkins Congregational Church. After the original wealthy residents moved out, many people from other parts of the city were attracted by the spacious houses for what used to be fairly cheap prices.
Many films and TV shows are shot in Ditmas Park because of the large concentration of Victorian houses.
My characters Fyodora and Leontiy move to Ditmas Park in 1949 after the ugly discovery of just what their dream of suburbia is like under the surface. They’re viewed with hostility and suspicion because of their Russian origins, and their son Oliver immediately notices only white people live there. Ditmas Park provides the big house they wanted to upgrade to without leaving the city they so love.
My characters Nestor and Yustina also move to a large estate in Ditmas Park right after their wedding, and my Minnesota character Anton has a third home there.