His Honor’s House (continued)

Pamphlets on how to research the history of a Brooklyn home mostly gave advice on tracing the chain of title. Searching for deeds and mortgages brought back unpleasant memories of my worst grade in law school in the first- year Property course, and so I had little inclination to do that research even if I had the time. But as the years went by, more newspapers put back issues online, and these could be easily searched by computer. Occasionally, I would put the address of the house into the query box and find some bygone social news, such as this in 1896: “A cake and candy sale under the auspices of the Brooklyn Women’s Dumb Animal Aid association for the benefit of the Foundation fund was held from 4 to 10 P.M.” at the house.

Sometimes a story indicated the changing nature of urban life and services. An 1877 story reported on city hearings about garbage collection. No name was given, but a resident of the house testified, “Our ashes have been taken regularly for some time, but we have lost all faith in the swill man and burn our garbage.” The Landmark’s report had indicated that Samuel Booth owned the house until 1883, so presumably that person dissatisfied with the swill collector was a Booth or connected to one.

That report said Booth sold the house to Charles and Kate Glatz in 1883, and the Glatz family lived there for more than a decade. A report on March 16, 1893, said that their daughter, Henriette Caroline Glatz, was married, but it seems that something happened to the Glatz family soon afterward. A newspaper auction notice appeared April 28,1896. It did not mention Charles Glatz but did say that the house for sale was the “former residence of ex-Mayor Booth” and full particulars could be had from one Wilson Powell of Wall Street, attorney for the plaintiff, or with Benjamin Wright of Park Row, “attorney for some defendants.” Plaintiffs and defendants indicated some sort of dispute, but I could not find anything that indicated the nature of the legal matter that caused the auction or even whether the bidding happened. The painful memories of my law school property course continued to torment me, so I never traced the deeds to find the next owner. However, it is clear that others expected the auction to happen. In the “Positions Wanted” portion of the newspaper at the time of the sale notice, cooks and maids working and living at the house were advertising for new employment.

From the Landmark’s report, I know the first two owners of the house—Booth and Glatz—and the last two—us and the couple we bought it from, but I don’t know who any of the other owners were in the intervening seventy-five years. Perhaps, however, it was John Griffin who bought the house at the auction or shortly afterwards. A New York Times listing of deaths on April 30, 1904, said: “John Griffin, a sailmaker who was well known in yachting circles, died on Thursday at his home (our address). Mr. Griffin was seventy-two years old. He was one of the oldest sailmakers in this city. Wilson & Griffin, the firm of which he was a member, having been in business in South Street since 1862. The firm has made sails for a number of the defenders of the America’s Cup. Mr. Griffin has been retired from active business for several years. Two daughters and two sons survive him.” This brought some thoughts. The notice said that he had been retired, but being a typical New Yorker, I wondered how he had commuted from our house to South Street on lower Manhattan’s east waterfront in the days before subways. (One of the present advantages of our location is that many subway lines stop near the house.) Were there nearby horse-drawn omnibuses or trolleys that took him to the waterfront to catch a ferry over the East River? Did he regularly walk the three miles going over the Brooklyn Bridge, which had been open for twenty years? And, if Griffin was the owner, what happened to the house after his death? I don’t know.

A few short newspaper entries from the 1920s also had me wondering. A position wanted ad on September 7, 1921, stated, “Chauffeur, mechanic, Japanese, 35, married, 14 years constant experience. . . . Write Sadao” at our house’s address. Not many Japanese people lived in Brooklyn at that time. How did Sadao get here? To whom was he married? Why was he looking for a job? Where did he live in the house? Did he continue to live in Brooklyn decades later during World War II?

A brief report stated that on September 22, 1925, a marriage license was issued to Frank Caccaro, 25, and Mildred Bottomley, 21. What caught my eye is that both gave an address of our house. Hmmm. Did they meet and fall in love in the house? Did they openly live together before marriage? Did they continue to live in the house after the nuptials?

Perhaps Sadao, Frank, and Mildred were connected to the owner of the house, and, of course, they may have been servants. However, they also might have been roomers. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were broken up into rooming houses during World War II. We are not far from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. During WWII the Yard was booming and workers poured into it, many of whom wanted a nearby place to lodge. Investors and speculators bought once-stately homes and chopped them up to make rooming houses with the result that many nineteenth-century details—marble fireplace mantels, ceiling moldings, massive doors—were lost or damaged.

Well before homes were bastardized to accommodate war industry workers, however, it was common for owners of Brooklyn homes to let rooms. Newspapers had regular listings of such offerings. Our address along with many others appeared frequently from the 1890s to the 1940s. For example, on May 18, 1902: “Large, cool rooms, handsomely furnished; two large closets; house has all improvements, first class board; terms moderate; reference.” The house was not a rooming house, but it had roomers. And I wonder what happened to those closets because I could never find them.

(continued January 7)