The Stories Your House Could Tell: 735 Argyle Road

1940: 735 Argyle Road

It’s often been said that there are only five degrees of separation between any two Earthlings. But for West Midwoodians, it’s much less than that. Take 735 Argyle Road for instance – a good choice since that’s the star of this episode. Two of its residents became intertwined with DeKoven Court, a third with Westminster Road, and the building itself has a twin down the block.

The house we now profile was erected by the master builder John Corbin in 1905, a year that yielded a bumper crop of new homes here. Corbin and his architect Benjamin Driesler designed 30 different model houses, but in truth, there were only about 10 basic forms. 735 Argyle was a “Model C,” crafted by Corbin in his large assembly plant alongside the sprawling Vanderveer Park station in the Junction (above which now sits the huge Philip Howard apartment building on Flatbush Avenue).

Historical Anecdote: As a wild child circa 1959 my pals and I would often descend into that abandoned area. There was a rotting wooden platform at ground level and nearby a hobo colony usually keeping warm around a fire emanating from a steel barrel. There were plenty of coal chips lying around since the sidings there had once been a delivery hub. Freight cars laden with coal from Pennsylvania mines were ferried across New York Harbor on rail barges to the 65th Street dock in Bay Ridge and thence transported along the LIRR tracks to coal bins in Parkville (below where the ShopRite parking lot now sits), the Junction, and points east.

OK, back to John R. Corbin. His Model C’s were usually crowned by a triangular gable that contained a smaller, off-center gable under which sat a single window on the 2nd floor, while off to its right would be a three-sided bay window. Now take a stroll south down Argyle, past other Corbin models. They are all different, aren’t they? But linger awhile in front of 775 Argyle. There is no second gable. There are no bay windows on the 2nd floor. And yet the footprint of this building is identical to 735. Corbin mixed up the front of his houses because individuality was a big selling point in the suburban expanse south of Prospect Park after the decades of same-old row houses in brownstone Brooklyn. Of note, these two houses were both constructed with wrap-around porches, but 775’s survives while 735’s has long since been enclosed. 

1907 Insurance Map of Argyle Road, East Side


I have often wondered why so many of our original porches disappeared. Most seem to have been enclosed in the Roaring 20s. My hypothesis: West Midwood houses were more modest in size than the rest of Victorian Flatbush and the extra room an enclosure provided was sorely needed. Either that, or winters were so brutally long-lasting atop Argyle Heights, homeowners needed that extra insulation.

Anyway, 735 Argyle sold quickly. According to George Upington's 1,252 page General Directory of Brooklyn for1906, Devan Bloodgood was already residing there, and he had a book binding business listed as “Blankbooks, 158 Williams St, Manhattan.” BTW, per the 1904 Directory, the Bloodgoods had been renting at 574 Bedford Avenue, a grand old brownstone apartment house that still survives at the corner of Rodney Street in BillyBurg. And as a further aside, out of the 150,000 Brooklyn listings in 1904, only 131 were for farmers, almost all of them residing to the south and east of us.

1906 Upington Directory

Bloodgood and his wife Lillie had no children, but for most of their 33 years on Argyle Road, their home swarmed with activity because they rented rooms to male boarders, providing home-cooked meals to boot. Their ads in the Brooklyn Eagle were so numerous over the decades that they were enlisted by the paper to sing its advertising praises – in return for a discount one assumes.

 


One of the Bloodgoods’ last boarders was Harvey F. Raymond who fell in love with Nancy C. Farrington, a 19 DeKoven Court lass. Both were blue bloods descended from colonial American big wigs. They were wed in 1938 at St. Paul’s Church, still standing just east of the Church Avenue station, and settled in Brightwaters – a suburban community in Suffolk County developed by T. B. Ackerson after he built Beverly Square West and our own Westminster Road. (Exhaustive bios of Corbin, Driesler and Ackerson can be found here.)






When Lillie Bloodgood died in March 1938 at the age of 75, Devan sold the house and eventually became a boarder himself at the Brooklyn Home for the Aged on Classon Avenue in Fort Greene where he passed away in 1945 at the age of 83. He and Lillie are buried together in Cyprus Hills Cemetery.


The Bloodgoods’ house was valued at $14,000 in early 1930 at the outset of the Great Depression, but by August of 1938, Edward Bull Realty at 2110 Cortelyou Road began running this ad for it: “$6,750-1 family-2 car garage-40x100-near Glenwood-5% mortgage.” Dozens of ads would follow over the next few months. Then in November 1938 the listed price increased dramatically: “Near Brooklyn College, express BMT, newly reconditioned, $7,750.” An open house on December 8th still listed it at $7,750, but no sale.


1939 Eagle
Finally, in June of 1939 Walter J.  Goetz bought the building. A photo accompanied the story of the sale and it was apparent that the wrap-around porch was toast, perhaps a victim of the 1938 “reconditioning.” Goetz was an interesting character. When he registered for the draft in 1917, he was deemed unfit because he had lost the fingers on his right hand. At the time he was employed as a chauffeur for an unnamed potentate at 716 Ocean Avenue, off Beverly Road. The building, known as “The Valence,” per the name engraved in cement above its entrance, was honored last year with an entry in architectural critic Andrew Alpern’s new book, Posh Portals: The Entrances to New York's Grandest Apartment Buildings.

 

"The Valence"

Goetz was a radio salesman per the 1930 Census when he and his spouse were renting an apartment at 15 Woodruff Avenue for $15 a month. But by 1940 he was unemployed with no source of income. When he passed away in the home in February 1947, his death certificate listed an occupation of photographer. His widow Ethel sold all his dark room equipment that summer and later that year sold the house to William Byrne, who needed more room for his growing family, which included a toddler named Eileen. Three years later the Byrnes moved on, but Eileen became a home-owner herself decades later when she and her husband Tom Brennan bought 26 DeKoven Court, where they have hosted many a Progressive Dinner and provided me with more scotch than I deserve.

1983

In June 1950 Jack M. Zinner, a dentist with an office in the Williamsburg Bank Building, bought the house from the Byrnes when it had an assessed value of $9,000. Zinner grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint where his father, an Austrian immigrant, owned a millinery store. Zinner died in 1972 and his wife Therese followed him into the hereafter a decade later. The Zinner estate then sold 735 Argyle Road to Alvin Berk and Judy Brandwein in September 1984.

Alvin Berk At Work

At that time Alvin & Judy were renting an apartment a half block from Brooklyn College. Alvin was an education administrator who had already been serving on Community Board 14 for five years and Judy was a social worker. Alvin would eventually become the CB 14 Chairman for three decades, earning a reputation for even-handed leadership during a tumultuous time in Flatbush history. Anyone who witnessed the way Alvin chaired a contentious Community Board meeting in 1992 attended by a thousand concerned neighbors (at Murrow HS), plenty of reporters and some devious demagogues can tell you he was truly a profile in courage.

 

Judy Brandwein at PS 217
Meanwhile Judy became a volunteer dynamo at PS 217,
which the three Berk children attended.

She inaugurated the Parent Involvement Program, getting caregivers from diverse cultures to work together to support common goals for their kids. Anyone who’s ever attended a PS 217 holiday show and watched the children of immigrants from Pakistan, Bangla Desh, Russia, Haiti, Korea, Guatemala, the Dominican and Syria perform together with native-born kids – to their parents’ utter delight – can thank Judy for getting that train started.

Finally, the Berk children have all moved on. Amanda is living down in North Carolina with her husband Ben Allen, and Emily lives nearby. Jonathan also decided to break away from Argyle Road, but he headed out west, where he is now raising a family of his own on Westminster Road. 

2021

Alvin & Judy: Long May You Run




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