The Stories Your House Could Tell: 667 Rugby Road


Drama on Rugby Road!

(The Fourth Installment in a 220 Part Series)

667 Rugby Road

In March 2007, a fire originating in a neighboring building forced Eric, Darnell, Taylor and Savannah Newsum to vacate their beautiful Rugby Road home for more than a year during the rebuild. 

Eric's career in risk management was crucial in dealing with the insurance issues they faced, knowledge which he has generously shared with the community ever since. 

The Newsums have also shared -- with the rest of the world -- the interior of their first floor, which was used in 2017-2018 for a set of the  Emmy-award winning TV series, The Americans. The early history of the Newsum’s home is filled with other drama as well, so let's travel back 113 years…

Master Builder John R. Corbin in 1908

In the Spring of 1905 John Corbin broke ground for a new Dutch Colonial Revival home at the northeast corner of DeKoven Court and Rugby Road. It was one of the 500 lots he had just purchased from Germania Real Estate for $500,000, in the 100 acre expanse then known as South Midwood. 

The house was equipped with the most modern features of “suburban living” according to realtor ads: “electric lights, sewer, water and gas lines,” situated where “the air is pure and sweet, tempered in the Summer by ocean breezes…[with] water the purest in the land, since Flatbush has its own water supply.” 

On September 1, 1905 the Corbin Company sold this home to Alice Warburton, a single woman, who would maintain a financial interest in the property until 1935.

September 2, 1905 Notice in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Alice Warburton was born in 1867, the youngest of four children, in a three family building at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. 

Warburton's Birthplace (Left) Now A Community Garden

Her father, an immigrant from England, was a commercial sailor who became a Ship Broker with an office fronting the East River on South Street in lower Manhattan. But when Alice was four, Samuel Warburton died suddenly, forcing the family to move to a rental on Sackett Street, off the Gowanus Canal. 

In 1870 Sam Warburton Had Office Here on South Street
As a teenager, Alice worked as a housekeeper but after her mother (another British immigrant) died in 1889, she landed a job as a substitute teacher for the City of Brooklyn. She earned a teaching certificate in the Fall of 1891 and was assigned to PS 46 on Union Street, a 10 minute walk from her apartment.

1870 Census Lines 10-15 List the Warburtons. Father Was Ship Broker

It was also a 10 minute walk from that school to a boarding house on Clinton Street where Annie Knox, a “laboress” 20 years older than Warburton was living. 

1870 Census Newton, NJ: Knox Family Lines 13-22

A lifelong resident of Newton, New Jersey, Knox had just moved to Brooklyn following the deaths of her parents and was sharing rooms with a number of female relatives.

It seems likely that Annie and Alice met at about this time, because they would reside together for the next 40 years at a succession of addresses in Flatbush and Flatlands, and always with Alice as the head of a household which consisted only of her maid, Anna M. Knox.

In addition to teaching, Alice was a realty entrepreneur, buying properties, providing seller take-back mortgages to the next owner, and sometimes foreclosing on those loans, leading to auctions that would net her a pretty penny. 


Some of Warburton's Realty Dabblings:


In 1899 she bought a newly erected wooden frame house on Homecrest Avenue near Avenue V and moved there with Annie. 

In 1902 she bought another new home on East 17th Street near Avenue T where a New York State census found her and Annie in April 1905. 

Meanwhile she had been transferred to PS 134, at 18th Avenue & East 5th Street, which probably explains her next move, to 667 Rugby Road, in what was then being called West South Midwood, just before the new school year started. 

415 Argyle Road in 1940
In 1919 Warburton and Knox vacated Rugby Road for another elegant wooden frame house even closer to the school, at 415 Argyle Road (built in 1902 but demolished for a large apartment complex in 1961). 

1912 Mrs. Davisson Bottom Right
At the same time the owners of 415 Argyle Road – the Davissons, childless, middle-aged transplants from the Midwest – bought 667 Rugby Road from Warburton. 

1908 Mrs. Davisson Hosts DAR
at 415 Argyle Road
This would appear at first glance to be a house swap. Except that Alice also took back possession of 667 Rugby Road almost immediately and the Davissons moved to Washington. Not even a take back mortgage would explain this transaction, given the lack of a foreclosure, so it’s all quite mysterious.

In any event, Warburton then sold 667 Rugby Road to Frederick Ruby, who bought the house with a mortgage guessed it, Alice Warburton. [By the way, a Ruby on Rugby is rare indeed, so let's have a round of applause for our Proofreading Department!] 

Ruby, then 48 and childless, would frequently rent out the home, most notably to Herbert Ketcham, an esteemed retired judge who was waked there in October 1930 at age 80.

A Canadian Anglophile, Ruby was quite an interesting character. A coal retailer who supplied most of the homes in the neighborhood with fuel, he made his mark during the blizzards of 1914 when he hired a blacksmith who built custom sleds to carry coal shipments to his Flatbush snow-bound customers. 

January 1935 Ad. 100 Elmwood
Was at Corner of McDonald Ave
The smithy’s forge was conveniently located very close to Ruby’s coal yards on McDonald Avenue next to the LIRR freight line and he would later incorporate a business venture with him. 

December 1922:
Ruby & Smithy Tom Purdie Form Biz

1937: Tom Purdie, Last Smithy In Brooklyn

[Historical Note: In 1900 the behemoth Pennsylvania Railroad acquired the Long Island Railroad, including the freight line that traversed our neighborhood and ran all the way to a barge terminal at the foot of 65th Street in Bay Ridge. 

Those barges would ferry train cars back and forth between Brooklyn to the huge train yards in Jersey City, which provided freight interconnectivity to the rest of the continent. Most of the coal for southern Brooklyn was transported from the coal fields of Pennsylvania on those barges. 

As a result, coal companies sprang up all along the LIRR freight line. In addition to the McDonald Avenue site (called the Parkville Station), large sidings at the Junction (called the Vanderveer Station) also led other coal companies to locate there.]

1914 Jun 24: Paid for Shave
With Coal Stolen from Ruby

1917 Dec 1: Ruby Letter to Eagle
Re: Deadbeat Coal Customer

Alas, Ruby had marital woes. His first wife died suddenly in Marietta, Georgia, in 1926. Fred was then 54. He took another bride, Hedwig, 10 years his junior, in 1928 but Fred had a wandering eye. 

It all came undone in 1930 when Hedwig intercepted a love letter from Indiana. Shortly thereafter Ruby received a telegram from Evansville and dashed off. 

He was found months later in Nova Scotia by detectives who were following Ruby because he looked just like the infamous Judge Crater, then the subject of an international manhunt. Crater had disappeared in midtown Manhattan after dining with his mistress at the same time Fred left Brooklyn. 

The detectives informed Hedwig that at least one disappeared philandering New Yorker had been found and Fred returned home. But he remained unrepentant and in 1934 Hedwig learned Fred had changed his will to leave the Indiana mistress $20,000. 

A divorce petition followed which Ruby defended in court by stating that his Midwest gal was (GASP!) older than he was, implying I suppose that she was not a trophy mistress. 

 The newspapers had a field day and Fred, who was a very successful fundraiser for his local Episcopal church, was ruined.
Within six months of the scandal breaking, Ruby advertised the home for sale for $15,500 but there were no takers. 
1935 Apr 2: Warburton Forecloses

Not long thereafter Alice Warburton foreclosed on the Rugby Road mortgage and sold the house at auction. 
1941 Jun 16: Ruby Loses All

The final indignity befell Ruby just before Pearl Harbor when he lost his business and his McDonald Avenue coal yard in another foreclosure.

1910 St John Baptist Episcopal Church
Ruby Helped Rebuild It in 1930
Webster Ave & Ocean Pkwy
Replaced by Apt House 1970s

Annie Knox passed away in 1932 at the age of 85 in the fifth consecutive private house she shared with Alice, at 1251 East 32nd Street near Avenue L. 

A few months after Annie's death, Alice volunteered, along with 25 other homeowners in Flatlands, to organize financial relief for the needy on their blocks, the Depression then beginning to take a terrible toll. 

Alice also died in the East 32nd Street home, on March 12, 1937. Sadly, there were no obituaries for Alice or Annie and Warburton’s interesting realty dabbling went unnoticed by the press. Annie is buried in Newton and Alice was cremated in Queens. If Alice Warburton had been a man, one senses there would have been more attention paid to her life.

1940 NYC "Tax Photo"
Returning to our chronology, the April 1935 auction of 667 Rugby Road by Alice Warburton was apparently won by Theodore J.  Breitwieser, an attorney living a few blocks to the east, but his stay was brief since the 1940 census found new owners living there. 

And for the first time, the sound of young children could be heard in the home. Dr. Sidney Marshall Reiback and his wife Beatrice had a son and daughter, ages 8 and 4 respectively.
1955 Jun 27: Helene Reiback
Wedding Notice: Daily News

The daughter, Helene, a Cornell grad, married Adolph Bergere, a Dartmouth engineer, and he became a prolific home builder in Broward County where the couple relocated in 1957. 

After Adolph passed away in 2011, Helene journeyed back to Brooklyn and dropped by her childhood home. Darnell and Eric report that Helene was elated to see the house in such great shape since she had so many fond memories of living there.

The Reibacks were civic-minded. Sidney served on the board of the West South Midwood Property Owners League while Beatrice was elected president of the local women's chapter of B’nai B’rith. 
1960 Jul 16: Daily News

It is perhaps not coincidental that the Reibacks sold their home in the late 1950s to Joseph and Rose Handschu. Rose, a 5th grade teacher at PS 208, was active with the Child Guidance League and Save the Children Federation. In 1960 she received the human relations award and her daughter Barbara, a graduating senior at Midwood High, received the brotherhood award, both conferred by the B’nai B’rith.

In 1968, Rose Handschu sold the home to another physician, Stephen J. Seligman, and his wife, Carol, who were then renting an apartment on Ocean Avenue. 

By the 1990s, Dr. Seligman had become Medical Director of the AIDS Program at Kings County Hospital. 

1999 Feb 23: Daily News

In June 1999, having established the record for the longest owner-occupiers of 667 Rugby Road, the Seligmans sold their home to Eric and Darnell. 

The Newsums had been living in an historic brownstone condo in Prospect Heights with their young children, Taylor and Savannah, but like so many West Midwoodians over the past century, they just couldn’t resist the lure of “suburban living.”

The Americans Film Shoot Notice
The Americans Control Room
in Newsum Kitchen

The Americans Film Gear
in Newsum Living Room

Newsums Break Bread with The Americans
in Dining Room of 667 Rugby Road

The Stories Your House Could Tell: 639 Marlborough Court

639 Marlborough Court: An Address By Any Other Name...

1913 September 21: The Brooklyn Eagle

West Midwood has eight cul-de-sacs, but only one dead end features a brick wall separating the street from back yards on the other side. That wall on Marlborough Court originally formed the border of an empty field during the first eight years (1905-1913) of ye olde “West South Midwood,” when the Brighton Line was being depressed into a trench, Newkirk Plaza was being built, and most of the land between Foster and Newkirk Avenues was still empty. 

Marlborough Court Wall

Marlborough Court is unique in other ways: its residents have two other official addresses: Marlborough Road (per the only street sign on the block) and East 15th Street (City tax records attest to that). And, of particular interest, 639 Marlborough Court, sitting at the extreme northeastern boundary of the neighborhood, once had a fourth address: 1500 Foster Avenue. At first a sales shack stood there, used by John R. Corbin and other early realtors. But in 1913 the shack was torn down and replaced by the model home for the “Marlborough Court Bungalow Colony.”

1909 John Corbin Ad - Sales Office at Foster & Brighton RR

1912 Sales Shack Just Below Brighton Tracks

Marlborough "Road"

1908 Edward R. Strong
The Colony was the creation of one man: Edward R. Strong (1873-1940). One of the most notable builders of his day, Strong and his younger brother Arthur, with whom he partnered on many projects, were self-taught men. The sons of an umbrella maker, they started out by selling their father’s wares. By his mid-20s, Edward had amassed a $2,000 stake and began speculating in the rapidly developing Vanderveer Park area of East Flatbush, buying plots from Henry Meyer’s Germania Real Estate for development. Within ten years he had erected  225 buildings, branching out to Parkville, Caton Park and the large South Midwood expanse bought by Germania, extending from Flatbush to Coney Island Avenues south of Foster. 

Strong helped to fill in many of the remaining empty spaces hereabouts in the years leading up to Word War One. In addition to other nearby buildings bordering Foster Avenue (and 1215 Glenwood Road), he also erected the block-long row of stores with apartments on Coney Island Avenue between Foster and Newkirk Avenues across from the PS 217 schoolyard, as well as the 11 attached houses on the north side of Newkirk between Argyle and Westminster Roads. 

But in the Spring of 1911, while his wife vacationed with his daughter in Europe, Strong became embroiled in a local scandal when he commenced an indiscreet affair with his widowed secretary. Apparently, the secretary could be seen “sitting on her employer's lap” every day in his storefront office at the corner of East 17th Street and Newkirk Avenue. 

 Word spread quickly and in retaliation, the lovers filed libel suits against the most prominent gossiper, who had been hosting both of them at her weekly bridge club. A judge tossed out the suits, a divorce ensued and Strong married the secretary, who was at his bedside when he died on December 26, 1940, in his home at 1919 Newkirk Avenue. 

1919 Newkirk Landmark Report

1919 Newkirk

The house still stands as part of the Ditmas Park Historic District, built by his brother Arthur the same year Edward built his Bungalow Colony. Fittingly, it was in the colonial revival/bungalow style, which is the same style used for the nine homes on Marlborough Court, all of which appear landmark-ready if you ask me. 

An ad in the Brooklyn Eagle on September 21, 1913 first announced the sale of “easy housekeeping Bungalows” with “every modern convenience,” including a “large living room with open fireplace (for logs); sleeping porches; tiled bath,” and each house could be “decorated to suit.” The list price was $9,500 ($225,000 today). Then (drum roll please), on November 30, 1913, the Board of Estimate ordered that “the map or plan of the City of New York [be amended] so as to lay out the lines and grades of Marlborough Court from Foster Avenue to a point distant 120 feet north of de Koven Court.”

June 1913 Ad

September 1913 Ad 

2017 Google Maps View

Living on Marlborough Court apparently inspired activism because its original homeowners joined with Westminster Road to form the first community association, The Westminster-Marlborough Property Owners League. In fact, it wasn’t until front-page publicity about a raucous membership meeting in 1922, precipitated by a homeowner (“Mrs. Pennypacker”) hanging the family’s underwear out to dry on her front porch, that the League’s membership spread to the other blocks and led to its being renamed the West South Midwood Property Owner’s League, a name which persisted into the late 1950s.

1922 Nov 17
1923 Jan 23

The first residents of 639 Marlborough Court were Marian Hopper and her husband Willis Stafford, a famous undertaker. In June 1914 they put down a $4,750 mortgage and relocated from 43 Fuller Place in Windsor Terrace. The next summer the Staffords placed an ad for “a girl to do general housework for family of adults at 639 E 15th St.” But in December 1915 Willis passed away in his new house after a long battle with Bright's Disease at age 55. The wake and funeral service, as was often the case in the first half of the 20th century, took place in the home and he was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery.

During the First World War, Max Wolfgang, a wealthy boating enthusiast, bought the property as an investment and rented it to William Carey and his family. The 1920 Census indicates Carey was a publisher's secretary; his wife, Agnes, son William, and Irish maid Mary Brady also resided there. In November 1922 Max Wolfgang then sold the home to an unknown party and in October 1925, the home was sold to Mary Hennessey, a widow, and her daughter, Mary Marshall, also a widow. The 1930 Census identified a boarder in the home, John Lively (age 62), an electrician formerly employed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, who had been residing with the Hennesseys since 1910. The house was then estimated to be worth $12,500.

                     1930 Census: 639 Marlborough Midway Down

               1940 Census: 639 Marlborough Nine Lines Down

In 1934 Mary Hennessey passed away and the house was offered for sale throughout the month of April but it being the height of the Depression, there were no takers. By the 1940 Census Mary Marshall had inherited the property and she estimated the home to be worth $11,000 (again, the effect of the Depression). Also in the home were her brother James Hennessey, a retired newspaper reporter, and Mary's single daughter, Vera, who did painting work. Finally, John Lively, who claimed to have aged only three years since the 1930 census, was still there, celebrating his 30th year as a boarder with the Hennesseys.

Sometime around 1946 the home was sold to Dr. Harry Loeb and his wife, Anna, who had been residing nearby at 1416 Ditmas Avenue with their teen-age children, Alfred and Naomi. In 1951, Naomi graduated Barnard College and became the first female awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship by Princeton. She used it to study English Lit at Columbia. Later that year, she wed Marvin Lipman (a pre-Med student residing in Borough Park) at the Hotel Astor. 

In an interview with an Eagle reporter, 21 year old Naomi Paula Loeb said, “A woman can combine any career with marriage and a family.” She then proved her point by: writing a Master's Thesis on the history of melancholia in medical literature, a work that is still cited today; becoming an English professor at Barnard College; then working as a copy editor at Columbia University Press –  all while raising four children. 

2011 Lipman-Loeb Family
Marvin meanwhile also taught, had a successful endocrinology practice, and in 1967 became chief medical adviser for Consumer Reports, which published more than 300 of his articles. As of this writing, Naomi and Marvin are about to celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary on the Upper West Side.

1985 NYC Tax Photo

2018 Photo
After the Loebs, the house was owned by Frieda Velanos, who died in 1977 at age 76 in Europe and in late 1978 Tessie Stevens (possibly an executor of Velanos’ estate) deeded the house to Kathyrn Grant of Dobbs Ferry. Three years later Grant sold the property to Diane Cucchi and Edward Hobbs of 445A 5th Avenue in Park Slope.

Finally, in February of 1985, Cucchi and Hobbs relocated to Haworth, NJ, and 639 Marlborough Court passed to another Park Slope couple, Melanie Oser and Alan Bennett, who were then renting an apartment on 14th Street, just off Prospect Park West, never dreaming that 30 years later their home would become the locale of the successful Amazon crime drama, Sneaky Pete! Alan and Melanie were attracted by the ample space to raise their family, and a driveway/garage of their own. Not to mention the most beautiful bungalow colony in Brooklyn! 

Sneaky Pete Film Shoots:

42nd AD In Orange
PS In an odd 2012 re-districting only political geeks could possibly fathom, Marlborough Court, along with the north side of Dekoven Court and the east side of Rugby between Foster and Dekoven, a total of 19 buildings, were added to the 42nd Assembly District while the rest of West Midwood remained in the 44th AD (all of us are in the same Senate (17), Council (45) and Congressional (9) District).

639 Marlborough Court aka 639 E 15th St aka 639 Marlborough Road aka 1500 Foster Ave

Stanchion at NW Corner of Marlborough Court

1902–05: 62 Rugby Rd Caton Park Colonial Revival House Edward R Strong

1912: 645 E 17th St Gambrel Roofed Bungalow Cottage E R Strong

1920: 1215 Glenwood Rd. Edward R. Strong

1715 Foster Former Strong Sales Office in 1929

1908: Flatbush of Today Biography

Edward R Strong Homes in Caton Park

E.R. Strong Built This Block Across from PS 217

1917: Strong's Draft Registration Card

E.R. Strong Built This Newkirk Ave Block

Aerial View of Same Newkirk Ave Block
Hedges On Northern Border of 639 Marlborough