Brooklyn Structure: A fortress for horses on Vanderbilt Avenue

While the mention of a Brooklyn stable might evoke the vision of a quirky and quaint carriage house, not every horse house was a simple little structure – some made imposing architectural statements of their own.

These include the Charles Pratt Stables at 261 Vanderbilt Avenue, a massive brick and stone fortress in the Romanesque style. The building was designed by Brooklyn architect William Tubby and completed between 1887 and 1890.

The location of the structure behind the Clinton Avenue residences is an important indication of its original purpose.

By the late 19th century, Clinton Avenue was filled with large mansions, while the streets on either side – Vanderbilt and Waverly Avenues – were used for stables, carriage houses, and other service buildings needed to support the large homes.

Brooklyn Architecture 261 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

The particular section of Clinton Avenue behind this structure was the location of a number of Pratt family homes. Patriarch Charles Pratt, whose wealth came from oil, built an Italian mansion of brown stone at 232 Clinton Avenue in 1874 in the middle of a large garden with a greenhouse and other service buildings.

Four of his sons eventually settled in lavish mansions of their own at 241, 245, 229, and 213 Clinton Avenue across the street, all of which were built between 1890 and 1908.

Brooklyn Architecture 261 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

William Tubby was a popular architect at the time, including with the Pratt family, and he was in charge of the design of one of those family mansions – 241 Clinton Avenue, a magnificent Romanesque revival home that was completed shortly after the stable was completed in 1893.

Tubby’s choice of Romanesque revival for the stable was fitting. A distinctive element of the style – round arches – worked perfectly for the large openings required for easy entry and exit of carts. A structure of this size would have had several stables, storage space for carriages and their equipment, and accommodation for coachmen.

While the building has changed over time – especially the upper floor – Tubby’s strong design is still clearly visible. A closer look reveals decorative details such as the ornate capitals of the columns.

Brooklyn Architecture 261 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

Like many stables and carriage houses, it was converted into a garage for horseless carriages in the 1920s. In 1959 it was rebuilt again, this time into a glass factory for the manufacture of thermometers. The factory owners sold the building in 1977 and, like so many former horse residences in Brooklyn, are now home to people.

Although the stable is mentioned in the Clinton Hill denomination report in a description of the Charles Pratt estate, it was not included in the historic district. However, it is included in the Clinton Hill National Register District.

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