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.

1940 NYC Tax Photo

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

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