Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Thursday, March 19, 2009

2009 House Tour: Henry Hulbert mansion

There's not a lot to say about Park Slope's Henry C. Hulbert mansion that hasn't been said many times before, so we won't say much about it other than that it is the starting point for the Park Slope Civic Council's 2009 House Tour, on Sunday, May 19, 2009.

Henry C. Hulbert house, 50 Prospect Park West - Park Slope Historic District

The building was designed in 1889-92 in bravura Romanesque Revivial style by Montrose Morris. Tour goers will have the opportunity to view the interior of the house, which now serves as the Poly Preparatory Country Day School's lower school. The building was recently enlarged by the addition of a new wing in 1st Street. The addition received extra scrutiny because it was being built within the Park Slope Historic District, but built it was, which serves as a corrective to those who would charge that Historic Districts "freeze" all new development. They do nothing of the kind, as this new building and others within the Park Slope Historic District demonstrate:

Addition, Poly Prep Lower School - 1st Street - Park Slope Historic District

Something about the original Hulbert mansion has always seemed slightly unsettling to us. Norval White and Elliot Willensky definitely capture this feeling, in their classic AIA Guide to New York City, in which they describe the building as "cadaverous". Executed in white Indiana limestone, unusual for a Romanesque Revival building, the structure can at times resemble a heap of bleached bones.

Henry Hulbert house, Prospect Park West - 1930s - Brooklyn Public Library

Limestone does not weather well, and can assume a melting look after the passage of many decades. Thus the building also brings to mind W. H. Auden's remark that his own face resembled a "wedding cake left out in the rain." (Auden was a heavy smoker.)

Hulbert made his fortune in the paper industry. One notes a distinct whiff of "new money" about the men of means who built the great mansions of Park Slope: they made their money in such pedestrian areas as cleansing powder and chewing gum... These are not the great patrician fortunes of the old Dutch families. There is an air of the "shop floor" about these men, or so it seems to us. Of course, money is money, in any age. Or at least it used to be!


Rebecca Rice said...

I love the reflections on Hulbert House of Indiana limestone being like a "heap of bleached bones" as well as Auden's comment about his face being like "a wedding cake left out in the rain."

Nice stuff!

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