The Stories Your House Could Tell: 12 Waldorf Court
|1857: Purple Dot Near Apex of Red Triangle (Gravesend Town Line) Marks Where Waldorf Court Would Be Built from 1903-1907|
After the ornate Waldorf Hotel opened in 1893 on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue – built by the American-British millionaire William Waldorf Astor – the name Waldorf instantly evoked images of wealth and prestige. And so in February 1900 developer Henry Meyer, a former unsuccessful candidate for the mayoralty of Brooklyn, appeared before the Brooklyn Borough President. He successfully petitioned that his Waldorf Court, part of a vacant expanse surrounding surface railroad tracks that ran to the Brighton Hotel on Coney Island, be added to the New York City street grid, along with the other Anglophilic street names that would comprise West Midwood.
|1881: Horse Cars to Rail Line to Brighton |
|1882: Stock for Brighton Line|
The land was originally “purchased” by 17th Century Dutch settlers from the Lenape tribe as part of a huge parcel and through inheritance came to be owned by a celebrated elder of the Town of Flatbush, John A. Lott, a Dutch Huguenot descendant. Lott was the president of the company that built the Brighton Hotel. He was also the principal owner of the 1878 railroad that was laid to take visitors to it. Was it a coincidence that his Brighton line plotted a course through land that he owned, requiring him to sell those unused woods to himself…er, his railroad? History is silent on this matter.
|1877 Sale from Lott to His RR (Newkirk to LIRR)|
|1877 Sale from Lott to His RR (Conveyance Record)|
In any event Lott’s son sold the woodland surrounding the right of way to Henry Meyer. The sale was at the time the largest land transaction in Kings County history that didn’t involve a tribe. It occurred in 1898, the same year the City of Brooklyn was swallowed up by its sister City across the East River, a place so nice, they named it twice, New York, New York.
|1894: Vanderveer Park, Flatbush & Farragut|
|1895: Vanderveer Additions|
Following his 1891 electoral defeat, Meyer, a grocer by trade, had formed a realty firm with three fellow sons of German immigrants that he called Germania, and bought the Vanderveer Farm in eastern Flatbush, developing the second outpost of Victorian frame houses in Brooklyn (Richard Ficken’s Tennis Court along Ocean Avenue – now all gone – was the first and Dean Alvord’s Prospect Park South was the third). Home construction in Vanderveer was more haphazard, resulting in visually less-pleasing block faces, with less separation of homes than would ensue elsewhere. But some of the original charm can still be found around Amersfort Park at Avenue I and East 38th Street, which was originally called Germania Park.
|1903: T B Ackerson Photo of West South Midwood. Waldorf Ct: Vacant Land on Left|
One of the builders who got their start in the Vanderveer Park development was John R. Corbin. Meyer also hired Corbin to construct his new headquarters building on Germania Place (renamed Hillel Place in the 1950s, connecting Flatbush Avenue to Brooklyn College), and Corbin’s father lived there briefly. When he formed his own company in 1902, Corbin appointed as his Vice President John Dreyer, who also served as Germania’s VP. So was it any wonder that Germania favored Corbin for their Lott’s Woods project? They gave him an option on a thousand building lots. But the expanse was so enormous, Meyer engaged other builders here as well: T. B. Ackerson to build a block of two-family homes along Westminster Road – possibly driven by the need to make home ownership more affordable during the Recession of 1902-1904 – and George Baur to build Argyle Road north of Glenwood Road.
|1903 Sep: House Plan Filed by Corbin & Driesler|
|1905 Mar Corbin sells 12 Waldorf lot to Henrietta Segelken|
|1906_Apr Henrietta sells 12 Waldorf to Elizabeth Fairley|
In September 1903 Corbin and his architect, Benjamin Driesler, filed plans with the Buildings Department for a new house, later dubbed 12 Waldorf Court, at an estimated cost of $4,500.
The lingering effects of the Recession likely explains why their typically splendid creation did not sell until March of 1905, when Henrietta C. Segelken, an apparent realty speculator, became the owner. 11 months later Henrietta, now sporting a new surname of Seebeck, filed a $5,000 mortgage on the property and in April 1906 she sold it to James and Elizabeth Fairley, who financed their new home with a $1,300 mortgage from Seebeck (similar properties were then selling for $7,000).
James Fairley was a 40 year old English-born minister who had married Elizabeth Ware Woodward in Boston five years earlier. They had a two-year old son, Lincoln, and Fairley taught at Commercial High School in Crown Heights where his brother was the principal. As a member of the Flatbush Board of Trade in February of 1908, Fairley spoke out against gambling at nearby racetracks, arguing that they were poisoning the community. On November 3, 1908, the first Presidential election to be held since West Midwood had sprung into being, Reverend Fairley was one of the first to vote – which also made him one of the first of many to be arrested by police from the Parkville Station, then an inn at Ocean Parkway & Foster Avenue, charged with voter fraud.
|1908: Parkville Officer in Flatbush|
Residents of the newly populated parts of Flatbush were primarily Republicans. But Tammany Hall controlled the political apparatus and certain quarters of the Police Department. Thus dozens were carted off to Magistrate’s Court on Snyder Avenue that morning – the landmarked building still stands – charged with proffering non-existent addresses. The presiding judge, perhaps noticing reporters who had gotten wind of these fine top-hatted gentlemen being trundled off in paddy wagons, freed them, announcing no more arraignments until the police could produce expert witnesses to testify all about this business with the addresses and such. In defensive remarks to the press, the Precinct Captain explained that the Police Department had been using address directories from 1904, when West Midwood did not exist. Of course his officers had been roaming through the same area for the past three years and would have been well-acquainted with these streets. As Mark Twain once reminded us, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
|1910 Census for Waldorf Court Et Alia|
|1989: Fairley's Anti-Hippy Book|
|1911 Ad for Maid at 12 Waldorf Court|
|1912 May 31: The Broolyn Eagle|
|1912 May 31: The Evening World |
But she was lured back to Waldorf Court to retrieve her uniform and was immediately arrested. Enter Myra Hughes, intrepid probation officer (alas, Agnes had sinned before). Hughes appeared at the arraignment and testified that she found the missing rings embedded in a wig in the maid’s room that had somehow fallen behind a dresser and accused the Detectives of railroading poor Agnes. The accused then miraculously remembered admiring the rings in her employer’s bedroom on Sunday and when the doorbell rang, ran to her room to spruce up before answering. Somehow, Agnes theorized, she must have absent-mindedly taken the rings with her and laid them down on her wig. The judge wasn’t buying it. He remanded Agnes for the Grand Jury. In the end May Lewis got her rings back, Agnes Madison went to jail, and Myra Hughes garnered future press coverage with more theatrics.
In 1915 the next owners, the Barnaby family, appears in the historical record for the first time by virtue of the death of 73 year old Mrs. Fiorella Electra Badger Peabody at 12 Waldorf Court. She was the grand aunt of Nellie Frances Tower Barnaby, who owned the house with Walter Barnaby – thankfully with no multiple surnames – an auditor for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT), which then owned the Brighton line. The Barnabys would rear their five children there.
|1920 Census: 12 Waldorf Court Et Alia|
While Walter was a humble immigrant from Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, Nellie was descended from colonial American stock dating back to the mid-1600s. Her mother, Frances Tower, who would also die at 12 Waldorf Court in 1920, was the widow of Charles Tower, a Civil War veteran. And her grandmother, Frances Higbie, had grandparents who were among the first settlers of Huntington in 1646. Both sides of the Tower family had forebears who fought in the Revolutionary War. In fact, the Battle Pass (Prospect Park) Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution met regularly in Nellie’s parlor.
1918 began as a year filled with promise for the Barnabys. In March, their 21 year-old son, Henry, who had enlisted in the Army weeks after the 1917 declaration of war on Germany, announced while on leave that he would wed Olivia Heindl, a German lass residing at 484 Marlborough Road. He shipped out to Europe a few months later with the 106th Infantry Division. On September 27th, while advancing with Company G in northeastern France to attack the Hindenburg Line, Corporal Henry Barnaby and most of his comrades were killed by artillery fire on an open field in the Guillemont Farm, 45 days before the armistice that ended the World War.
|1918 Sep 28 Fatalities at Guillemont Farm|
|1919 Jan: Bravery of Barnaby & His Fellow Brooklynites Recounted |
|1918 Nov 21: The Times Union|
|1918 Nov 1: Brighton Line Wreck|
In 1921 Corporal Barnaby’s remains were returned to Brooklyn and after a service at 12 Waldorf Court, he was buried in the Green-Wood Cemetery family plot (Lott 34355, Section 5, Grave 3), joining his grandmother and great grand aunt. In 1924, the funeral for Nellie’s uncle John Higbie was also held in the Barnaby home. This parade of grief was interrupted in 1926 when the Barnabys’ daughter Frances was betrothed to a relative of the original inhabitants, George Fairley of 343 Marlborough Road. When the Depression struck, the couple moved in with the Barnabys at 12 Waldorf Court (then worth $11,000 - $171,000 today - per the 1930 Census), along with another daughter, Marie Barnaby, and her husband, Charles Collis.
Back to the grief. In 1932, Nellie Barnaby passed away in the home and joined the family plot. As the Depression deepened, Walter Barnaby made more room for his children’s families by moving to an apartment at 1819 Beverly Road, but in 1939 his son-in-law Charles Collis became the fourth death and sixth funeral at 12 Waldorf Court. The following year Barnaby put the house up for rent or sale, and dozens of ads described it as “8 rooms-3 baths-oil heat-double size garage” until it finally sold in 1944. Walter passed away in 1948 at the age of 85, eight years after retiring from the BMT.
The next-known owners of 12 Waldorf Court were Dr. Abraham Gralnick and his wife, Mildred. Gralnick was a dentist, while Mildred was active in the Williamsburg Jewish community, serving on the YMHA board and as VP of the Charitot Day Nursery. In 1967 the Gralnicks sold the house to Joseph & Toby Charney who were living in the Brigham Park Coop Apartments on Bragg Street in Sheepshead Bay and needed more room for a growing family. One of their children, Douglas Adam Charney, won a fellowship to Johns Hopkins, became a clinical pathologist at Beth Israel and St. Luke’s Hospital, and is now an Assistant Director at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, with more than 30 peer-reviewed articles to his credit.
|2015 Dr Doug Charney, Clinical Pathologist|
In 1980 the Charneys sold 12 Waldorf Court to Anthony & Margie Pye, who were then renting space in the sprawling northeast corner building at Glenwood & Westminster Roads. Anthony was an insurance insolvency attorney and one of his four children, Lorien Pye, followed in his footsteps, working in his Manhattan firm, leaving to eventually found Lorien Pye Resources Inc., an energy and mineral law practice in Tucson, Arizona.
Lorien left behind a teenage diary at 12 Waldorf Court which its current occupants found decades later when replacing a carpet, so Lorien, if you come across this on the Internet, call home!
|1983: 12 Waldorf Court|
|2019: Dr. Adam Chubak|
In late 1986 the Pyes relocated to New Jersey, selling the home to Michael & Susan Chubak, who were renting an apartment on Dorchester Road in Ditmas Park West. Michael rose through the ranks to become the NYC Transit Authority’s CFO (retired 2017), while Susan saw patients as a speech-language pathologist. Their son Adam became an ophthalmologist and was a vascular surgeon at SUNY Downstate before moving to a practice in New Jersey.
|2019: 12 Waldorf Court|
In June of 2012, the Chubacks sold the house to Eric & Sherry Goldberg who were living in an apartment near the Barclays Center and wanted to raise their two young children in a less bustling neighborhood. Eric is an attorney and Sherry is President of GCI Health, a global communications agency. Today, Bria is a 3rd grader at PS 217 while Roen is in the 6th grade at MS 890, the new middle school up Coney Island Avenue near the Park Circle. Despite their busy lives, the Goldbergs have devoted incredible energy to serving our neighborhood. Today, Bria is a 3rd grader at PS 217 while Roen is in the 6th grade at MS 890, the new middle school down Coney Island Avenue near the Park Circle. Eric is an attorney and Sherry is President of GCI Health, a global communications agency. Despite their busy lives, the Goldbergs have devoted a lot of energy to serving our neighborhood. Sherry has been active with the PS 217 Parents Association and Eric has served as President of the West Midwood Community Association since 2018. We can only hope they break the Barnabys’ longevity record at 12 Waldorf Court. By a lot.
|2020: The Goldbergs|