Brooklyn Structure: The Horse on Vanderbilt Avenue

Editor’s Note: This post was originally run in 2013 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

I have a thing for service buildings like the stall at 183 Vanderbilt Avenue. Stables, carriage houses, summer kitchens, laundry buildings, whatever; These are the buildings that made it easier for the bastards on the hill or around the corner to lead their fabulous lives, and often these buildings are more appealing than the ornate and sometimes over-the-top mansions of the wealthy. (Not that I usually don’t like the crowded mansions either, don’t get me wrong – these can be great architectural tidbits too.)

The building in 1942. Photo by PL Sperry via the New York Public Library

In the early days of historical preservation, often in the hands of the doyennes of gracious life themselves, only the homes of the rich and historically important were considered worth preserving, hence there was a great hue and cry to preserve the Monticello mansions , Mt. Vernon and the like, but don’t rush to rescue the stables and slave quarters.

We have come a long way since then and now see that the buildings that housed the workers and everyday people also have historical significance, giving us a fuller picture of the lives and times of those who lived and worked in them . After all, many of us are them, not the people in the villas.

Brooklyn Architecture 183 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

This relatively small stable was built sometime between 1886 and 1907. Vanderbilt has long been the back street to the mansions on Clinton Avenue, and most of the lots between Myrtle and Lafayette Avenues once housed stables and carriage houses or were the backyards of those mansions. It’s pretty ironic that here in Brooklyn the Vanderbilt name is associated with service buildings, not the mansion streets, given how prosperous and wealthy one branch of the family has become.

Brooklyn Architecture 183 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

The pad in 1886. Map on the New York Public Library

In 1886, there were only six timber frame mansions spread across the Clinton Avenue block behind that block. Some of the properties had service buildings on Vanderbilt, including the building that comprised that location, but it wasn’t this building. By 1907 all villas had disappeared or were replaced by terraced houses and larger masonry houses. This building was here at the time, along with a number of larger carriage houses that also still exist.

I would guess this stall served one of the houses in the Brownstone Group that is 174-180 Clinton Avenue, maybe number 178, which is just beyond it. This group was also built sometime between 1886 and probably 1893. After that, brownstone had fallen out of favor as a building material. All of the stables were likely built between 1893 and 1900 (the atlas maps only cover 1886 and 1907). At the time, light brick was one of the building materials of choice, as was the cleaner lines of the Renaissance Revival style.

Brooklyn Architecture 183 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

What makes this building so eye-catching is the noble bust of a horse that protrudes into the sidewalk as a recognizable mark that it is actually a stable. Which makes you think maybe this wasn’t a stall for one of the houses on Clinton Avenue, but a small public stall, or a farrier’s business, or someone who repaired or sold tack or some other horse-drawn carriage-related business. The bust of the horse could have been signage. I had nowhere to mention this address so it’s only a guess. Maybe it was the owner’s favorite horse. It’s a fabulous bust and it’s a miracle she survived.

Tax photo from the 1980s.  City Archives.

Tax photo from the 1980s. City Archives.

After the days of horses and carriages were over, this building has been used for various types of business over the years. Everyone respected the bust and it was never removed. A 1982 tax photo shows the building as the home of a welding company, and even then his sign had a cutout to include the horse. Newer owners have also received it and converted the upper floor into an apartment. Like almost all of Clinton Hill’s former stables, it is now a wonderfully intimate and individual work and living space. I bet someone on the way called the horse. I would.

Brooklyn Architecture 183 Vanderbilt Avenue Clinton Hill

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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