The Stories Your House Could Tell: 716 Argyle Road

1983 Tax Photo for 716 Argyle Road
In 1905, John R. Corbin assembled two dozen wooden frame homes atop natural stone foundations on Argyle Road north of Avenue H. They all featured attractive interiors with pier mirrors, mantels, pocket doors, wainscoting, bay windows, multiple bathrooms, gas-lit sconces and wondrous parquet floors. Corbin used five basic models, each of which had additional details to set them apart from their neighbors. The age of rugged individualism was in full throttle. Boring ticky-tacky attached brownstone row houses were out. Space, light and air were in. And everyone wanted a home like no others. Even so, all the Corbin houses had front porches. Until a new owner might yearn for an extra year-round room. Enter the enclosed porch. Almost half of the homes on the block have such enclosures, including 716 Argyle Road, which has been occupied by the Givner family since 1979.

716 Argyle (Left) & Church (Right)
At some point, the front of their house was completely rebuilt, without extending an inch beyond the home’s original footprint, to create an open patio on the second floor, and a cottage-like exterior below, with centered bay windows. All of which was covered with a brick façade, mirroring its immediate neighbor, the church on the corner of Glenwood & Argyle Roads. Many have wondered whether the look-alike brick work, which extends along a wall leading to the recessed front door, was an indication that the property was formerly associated with the church.  Photos of the church whilst it was under construction in 1913, and again in 1920, showed the wooden porch for 716 Argyle still intact, as did a 1940 NYC tax photo.

1913: Argyle at Glenwood Looking Southwest
Ergo, the work was done some time between 1940 and 1979. But by whom? It’s time to play “Let’s Find Out!”

1920: Argyle at Glenwood Looking Southwest

The first owner of the house was Harry Palmer (born 1869), then a printer with a shop at 74 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan.
Palmers Moved from 90 Lewis Ave 
in Bedford Stuyvesant in 1905 

He would soon become the wealthy co-owner of one of New York’s largest print shops, Palmer & Oliver, located for many decades next to the FDR Drive on East 37th Street. The 1907 Upington Directory of Brooklyn, an alphabetical list of residents and their occupations, showed Harry’s brother, George, resided at “716 E. 13th St” while Harry was at “716 Argyle.” Hmm. I wonder if they disagreed a lot.

1910 Census 716 Argyle Road
In 1906 David Smith, a 22-year-old chauffeur residing in the home, was arrested for driving while intoxicated after speeding past the Parkville Police Station at Foster Avenue and Ocean Parkway. He was fined ten dollars ($250 in today’s cash). Smith had moved out by the 1910 census, leaving more room for Harry, George, Lillie Palmer (Harry’s spouse), a step-daughter, Minnie Engel, and an 18-year-old African American maid born in Virginia, Agnes White. Agnes was hired via a personal ad offering $18 a month (worth $460 today).

The Brooklyn Eagle frequently reported on Lillie’s hosting card parties with her female pals (particularly on slow news days), leading to her election as President of the Long Island Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1919, the Palmers relocated to Rockville Centre (Harry died there in 1938) after selling their house to the Dalsimer family.

1920 Census 716 Argyle Road

Nathan Dalsimer, born in Louisiana in 1879, was a liquor store salesman living in an apartment on West End Avenue. Then he became a stock broker and moved the family to what the press referred to as “suburban West South Midwood.” Dalsimer was proud of his heritage, forming “an association for Jewish residents in Flatbush” immediately upon arriving. He also advertised in the Eagle for “a white housekeeper” and later “a white cook” but ironically, this racism did not rub off on his son, Samuel, age 9 when he first roamed these streets.

1930 Census 716 Argyle Road
1969: August Obituary, NY Times
Sam Dalsimer’s interest in the media was apparent even as a child, winning contests and engaging newspaper columnists in opinionated dialogue on such matters as comedy routines. He eventually rose to become an executive in the advertising industry and used his position to combat black-listing of former Communists in the 1950s, and to promote religious tolerance and racial integration. As a board member with the Anti-Defamation League, Sam created educational videos on Judaism for Catholic schools, and aligned the ADL with the Civil Rights movement. In 1969, only months after becoming Chairman of the ADL, Sam died of a stroke and although he had long since relocated to Manhattan, his funeral was held at Riverside Chapel on Coney Island Avenue.

June 1936
Meanwhile back in Brooklyn, Sam’s father died in 1935, and his mother, Carrie, sold the house in 1936 to John Schroth, a “master butcher” who had become a realty speculator.

Schroth then immediately flipped the property to William C. Cook and his wife, Lillian (if you’re keeping score, that’s two spouses named Lillian).

1940 Census 716 Argyle Road

In 1930 William C. Cook, then a patrolman, was awarded a medal for bravery. The citation read: “On patrol duty Cook pursued on foot and on the running board of a taxicab a bandit who had held up a storekeeper at 35 Whitehall Street, Manhattan. Shots were fired by both during a long and circuitous chase, and terminated in an alley where the bandit was killed.” Cook was thereafter promoted to Detective, earning $3,900 a year, based on a 50-hour work-week. After being assigned to downtown Brooklyn, he bought 716 Argyle Road for approximately $10,000 ($180,000 today).

1937: Sara Heath Brothers
An interesting footnote to the Cooks' ownership: In 1937, their housekeeper, Sarah Heath Bottoms, was one of a dozen folks honored as one of the first patients in Methodist Hospital, which opened in 1887.

1942: Mrs. Bergere
During World War II, the house changed hands again, passing to Louis Bergere of 1421 Ditmas Avenue. A photo of his wife serving on the local draft board indicates large ornate hats were very much in fashion. In March 1943 the Bergere’s daughter Vivian wed James Costello but not much else was found for the family.

The next known owner was Elvira Iside who immigrated from Italy in 1923 and was naturalized in 1944 while residing in an apartment in Sheepshead Bay.

1944: Elvia Iside's Naturalization Card

Sometime in the late 1940s, Elvira bought the property, then sold it in 1959 to Roberta A. Wendel.

1979: Roberta A. Wendel
Roberta, a widow, was then a 36-year-old nursing home administrator. In 1976, she married a 71-year-old Park Slope native, Tony Catrupi, who served as an Army Warrant Officer during World War II. Three years later, Roberta and Tony sold the house and moved to Bay Ridge, where they passed away in 1985 and 1990 respectively.

Prior to the Givners’ 1979 arrival, they had been renting an apartment on Parkville Avenue. The move cut Howard’s commute to Brooklyn College in half and gave Laura a quiet environment to copy edit while she reared her two daughters. Later, when she taught at James Madison, she was happy to have a short drive to work and her own driveway. Laura recalled that “when we moved in, some of our neighbors said our driveway would last forever because the previous owner was really good with cement.”

Hmm. That’s what I call a clue. The Department of Buildings offered another clue: an unspecified “building notice” was issued in 1971. Hmm. After a lot of digging, I discovered that Tony Catrupi, a life-long bachelor, owned a construction company on 20th Street in Park Slope during the 1970s. And in 1975 Catrupi built a corporate headquarters and distribution center for Hamsley Inc., a steel fabricator fleeing Bush Terminal.

36 Brunswick Ave, Edison, NJ
Built by Tony Catrupi's Construction Company
Online photos of the building in Edison, New Jersey, show lots of cement and a brick façade that extends forever. Finally, Tony and his father listed the same occupation on four different government documents over the years: bricklayer.

Waiter, check please! My theory: Roberta hired Tony to enclose the porch in 1971 and by the time he finished, the widow and the bachelor were madly in love.

December 2018 Update: 1940 NYC Tax Photo

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