When it comes to unconventional architecture, there are plenty of one-of-a-kind buildings to be found all around the island of Manhattan. Brooklyn, on the other hand, is better known for its classic brownstones, and it never really strays too far from the norm. However, there's a neighborhood just south of Prospect Park that was a hotbed for experimental architecture in the early 20th century. And we're not talking Corbu or Neutra-style buildings here, but rather bizarre amalgamations like this Japanese Victorian-inspired home built in 1902-03. We recently visited the colorful house, which is owned by a retired school teacher named Gloria Fischer. Keep reading to learn more about the unique abode that's come into her possession. And lets just say that it's indeed as interesting on the inside as it is on the outside.
131 Buckingham was built as part of a project initiated by developer Dean Alvord back in 1899. Dean purchased 50 acres of land with the intent of developing a residential area that would also be a “park in the city” for the rich. He renamed the numbered streets of the area with British monikers like Buckingham and built plenty of amenities in the area, such as a golf course and tennis courts. Alvord, who also considered himself a horticulturist, planted plenty of trees and laid out park malls across the 50 acres.
The house itself was originally built in 1902-03 as a marketing piece to draw people in to view other homes in the area. Alvord’s ploy worked well, and many came in from around Manhattan and across the country, scooping up surrounding properties. 131 Buckingham cost $26,000 to build, and the property’s current owner, Fischer, and her husband bought it for $86,000 back in 1972. Today the home is valued at more than $1 million.
The design was the creation of architect John J. Petit, of Kirby, Petit & Green, who at the time were also building similarly strange structures in areas such as Coney Island. Petit enlisted the help of three Japanese artisans/builders who oversaw the building, interior and garden. Many of the homes’ original fixtures and finishes remain in place, such as hand-painted Japanese designs, leaded windows featuring dragons and ornate ironwork, and carvings on the fireplaces and ceilings. This is all complemented by a bounty of treasures Fischer has collected around the world and on the streets of NYC. The home, like many others in this Prospect Park South neighborhood, was designated as a historic landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1979.
Plenty of lore surrounds 131 Buckingham, with tall tales ranging from the rumor that it was built for a Japanese ambassador, to word that it was constructed in Japan and flown over and dropped into place. Fischer laughs at the stories and says they are simply myths. However, she did say that there were once bells and gongs at the second floor, but that they were taken away for their metal for use during in WWI.
Interested in checking out 131 Buckingham Road for yourself? Fischer offers 1-hour public tours for just $15. For information, send her an email at [email protected]. Otherwise, for now, check out our photo gallery to peek all the details of this spectacular house.