This Year’s BHA House Tour Featured Architectural Hot Potato, Bossert Lobby

This year’s Brooklyn Heights House Tour featured many great properties and provided guests with a peek inside the exquisite lobby of the Bossert Hotel.

If you were on the tour, please post your comments below.

Of note, other than the palatial Bossert interior wonderfully restored and maintained by the Watchtower, is the inclusion of 123 Joralemon Street (nee 125 Joralemon) on this year’s tour. The location was originally home to an “out of place” 50’s era home. The New York Times provided some background in 1993:

josephstella.comIn 1952 Leon Berk, a podiatrist, demolished some frame buildings at 125 Joralemon Street, next to the Chauncey mansion, to build a home for himself. Designed by Morris Rothstein, Dr. Berk’s one-story building is the antithesis of the dense, Victorian urbanity of the Heights. With a gable-end facing the street, recessed doorway and “colonial” door, this pinched little building makes a riveting comparison with the expansive Chauncey house and even the area’s more generic brownstones and 19th-century frame houses. Awkward and insignificant, perhaps, but the only one of its kind in the Heights.

josephstella.comIn 1993, architect Joseph Stella was commissioned by its owner, Malcolm Fein, to do minor renovations to the structure. He proposed a larger project utilizing the maximum amount of space allowed by law on that lot. The result of his vision is the modern carriage house on today’s tour. However, not everyone in Brooklyn Heights seemed to be tickled by this new addition.

Stella quotes Heights Landmark District pioneer Otis Pearsall as saying, “These 1990’s experiments in ersatz history by Joseph Stella…use a variety of historical references largely foreign to indigenous Heights architecture, to produce what strikes me as a Disney-like mockery of historic preservation.”

He adds a quote from The Brooklyn Eagle’s Henrik Krogius, also not a fan. Lacks any depth in architectural detail; it is flat as a stage backdrop… [the] “1950’s one-story ranch-house building that [that 125 replaced] though certainly a curiosity in the Heights, ought to have been preserved as part of the Historic District”.

Today’s tour was an opportunity for the Carpenters, 123’s new owners, to show off their spectacular 2005 interior renovation complete with wine cellar.

Also on the tour — 146 Hicks Street, home of banker Alan Delsman and HOPE Program Executive Director Barbara Edwards Delsman.  Aside from reportedly being the second oldest building in the neighborhood, it was also a prime filming location for the Coen Brother’s Burn After Reading last year.

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  • Andrew Porter

    Although the ceiling of the Bossert’s lobby was a glorious sight, if you’d gone up the few stairs and looked into the balltoom now used as a dining room (with long rectangular tables densely packed in the room) you would have seen that the previously gorgeous ceiling had been replaced by a dropped acoustic tile ceiling which would not have been out of place in any institutional building anywhere. Hopefully the original gilded and ornate ceiling is still underneath, waiting for restoration.

    I have postcards showing the original ballroom of the [Leveritch] Towers Hotel which I showed to the Bossert’s receptionist. He said that the 2-story high space had been basically destroyed, with the first floor another anonymous institutional room, and the newly created second story now office space. The Witnesses restore and keep these architecturally significant public spaces, but apparently destroy anything not visible from outside. How sad…

  • Cyrus P. Smith

    Who said 146 Hicks Street is “the second oldest building in the neighborhood”? Early, yes, but there are at least 10 older frame houses in the north Heights.

  • Homer Fink

    Came from a story about the Burn After Reading shoot, hence “reportedly”.

  • Claude Scales

    Funny – I moved to the Heights in 1983, so the little house at 125 Joralemon was here for ten years of my residency. Seeing the picture reminds me of it, though I have no memory of what must have been a lengthy construction project that led to the Stella monstrosity now occupying its space. Walking that block, though, I’ve often gotten the feeling that something is “wrong”.

  • Yuppers

    Something is wrong with the “new” (or 15 years old) monstrosity, I agree… the old house wasn’t exactly in keeping with the neighborhood, either. It must have been loathed when it went up back in the day.

    But at least the old house wasn’t pretending to be something it wasn’t, which at the end of the day is really what is wrong with the newer home. Which may be why Claude has had 15 years with the current house and 10 with the old (that is, 60% of his 25 years here have been with the new place) and yet he still senses the wrongness.

  • bornhere

    What’s not being shown in the pictures is the bizarre landscaping that’s been added. I thought I could never find flowers and green and trees (and gaslights) “bizarre”; but there’s something just “off” about what’s been “installed” there. And maybe that’s the problem — it all looks too “installed.”

  • notbornhere

    Oh stuff it will ya? The house and the plants and the gaslights look lovely.
    You are probably a rent-control tenant living in the same threadbare apartment you were born in .

  • nabeguy

    If the picture on this link is correct, Mr Berk did not tear down frame houses but what appear to be brownstones, so we’ve gone from atrocity to monstrosity to mediocrity.
    [BHB ed. note: I turned this into a proper link, since it was overlapping the column]
    Joralemon Street

  • Cyrus P. Smith

    Great find on that picture, but it’s actually Joralemon looking west FROM Henry (not TO Henry) – i.e. it’s the block between Henry and Hicks. Click on the “verso” link on the NYPL page to see a more complete description. There’s another picture in that series showing the north side of Joralemon from Sidney Place to Clinton — the site of #125 is too hard to make out in the background, but you can see a couple of frame houses to the east (also demolished) that must have been similar.

  • bornhere

    Notbornhere — It’s interesting how many times you can be wrong in a 3-sentence post. And differences of opinion are cause for snarky attitude on something as earth shattering as posts on this blog? Nice.

  • nabeguy

    You’re correct Cyrus. 52 years here, and I still can’t get my bearings! I’m not sure which north side picture you’re referring to, but you have to love the one of Furman Street looking north in the pre-Promenade days.

  • bornhere

    For whatever reason, I am unable to include the link to the BPL; BUT — if you look for “Henry and Joralemon, Brooklyn,” in digital collections, you will find a couple of pictures of the breathtaking Packard house that stood at 241 Henry, the NE corner of H and J. I am really, REALLY familiar with the co-op that’s there now; all one can say is, where was the notion of Landmarks Preservation when Packard was razed and 245 was built!

  • clarknt67

    I’ve noticed 125 J before and while it’s obvious it’s a modern build, I’ve always appreciated that the builders made a nod to the neighborhood. I mean, before you gripe, contemplate the REAL monstrosities and eyesores around, such as the Court House Apartments, the movie theater and the awful 5 story addition on 110 Livingston.

    I took the tour and loved the interior and would have moved in in a heartbeat.

    BTW, I’d encourage people to be kind and diplomatic in their assessments of these homes, after all, people opened them up to the public for the good of BHA. Rather than snark on what you didn’t like, maybe discuss what you loved?

    RE: Bossert, I noticed there once was a restaurant/night club on the roof (was it called the Marine club?) that was apparently once quite the hot spot. It is my fondest wish that the new owners reopen it!

  • Homer Fink

    Well said, Clark.

  • Claude Scales

    Clark: Francis Morrone’s An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn says this, among other things, about the Bossert: “It was once famous for its Marine Roof, opened in 1916. This two-level restaurant and night club with a nautical motif was built atop the building facing west, affording magnificent views of Manhattan. Jimmy Walker and Al Smith were among its patrons. It closed in 1949, twelve years after the Bossert family lost control of the hotel during the depression.”

  • Andrew Porter

    The Marine Roof on the Bossert was designed to look like a ship, with round porthole windows, a smokestack, and fore and aft ventilator funnels. Remember, this was done in the days before air-conditioning changed the way we lived and dined. During the tour, a diagram of the original Marine Roof was on display in the Bossert’s lobby. I also own a full color postcard of the Marine Roof. The caption reads, “MARINE ROOF, ATOP HOTEL BOSSERT. Unequaled anywhere for open-air dining and dancing. Designed in every possible detail to suggest the promenade deck of a steamship in motion. Affords a full view of the wonderful panorama of New York Harbor.” FWIW, the card cost me $12.

  • clarknt67

    Well, it’s understandable the JWs wouldn’t have wanted to have anything to do with the Marine Roof Club, but let’s hope whoever buys it finds someone interested in reopening it.

  • bornhere

    Interesting about the roof and all closing in 1949. I thought it had been a beloved go-to place for the Brooklyn Dodgers (before and) after that.

  • Claude Scales

    According to Morrone’s book, the Marine Roof “was apparently briefly revived in the 1960s.” Of course, that was after the Dodgers had left.

    Let’s hope that it has a third incarnation, and that it proves to be charmed.

  • Peter

    Among some very old family things, I found a remnant of the
    Marine Roof, Hotel Bossert- That is a hand painted womans
    fan. (hand held) wood and paper. I wonder if it has value ?

  • Howard George

    I am trying to locate photographs of the interior of the roof-top Marine Room at the old Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn during it’s hey days – 1930’s-1940’s. Can anyone help?

  • Publius

    If you haven’t already, call or visit the Brooklyn Historical Society’s photo archive collection. They would likely have what you’re seeking.

  • Angie

    I am wondering where I could find information on a tea room my Great Aunt Marie owned back in the 1930’s. It was located in Brooklyn Heights across from the Hotel St. George. Any help would be greatly appreciated.