Prospect Park South is a landmarked area in the northwest corner of the broad Brooklyn area known as Flatbush. Its free-standing homes - some with sizable gardens - range from extravagant urban estates to modest two-story Victorians.
Prospect Park South is an architectural treasure, and the perfect destination for a self-guided walking tour of Victorian homes. Visitors are often amazed that this kind of neighborhood exists in the middle of Brooklyn.
Prospect Park South: Where and What it Is
When it was built in the late 1890s and first years of the 20th century, Prospect Park South was considered the leading residential development in the town of Flatbush, which belonged to the then-independent city of Brooklyn.
Among the turn-of-the-20th century residents who lived in this bedroom, the community was wealthy merchants, businessmen, bankers, and industrialists.
Today, about 1,000 residents live in Prospect Park South. Because Prospect Park South is landmarked, homeowners are obliged to maintain the exteriors of their houses in accordance with a set of regulations that ensure the area will keep its Victorian ambiance. Ironically, the shopping area nearest to Prospect Park South is Church Avenue, a vibrant, multi-cultural commercial strip catering to a large Caribbean population in the area.
Where it Is
This Victorian preserve is located just south of Prospect Park, between Flatbush and Coney Island Avenues. It is near to the neighborhoods of Ditmas Park and Kensington.
Directions: To go by subway, take the Q to Cortelyou/East 16th station.
By car, drive down Coney Island Avenue, and turn left the brick entrance markers onto Albemarle Road.
Albemarle Road Garden Mall
Albemarle Road is one of the best-known streets in the Victorian-era enclave of Prospect Park South.
Both of the lushly planted median strips in this residential neighborhood are now known as "Flatbush Malls."
However, this mall, running along Albemarle Road, was originally known as Albemarle Mall. Planted today with large old trees and shrubs, it was designed to create a sense of graciousness in this upscale suburban development of once-rural Brooklyn.
Large, elegant, and architecturally varied homes still line both sides of the street.
1501 Albemarle Road, a Queen Anne-style Mansion
This Queen Anne-style home was built by Elmer Sperry, of Sperry-Rand fame, in 1905. It's one of the area's architectural gems. Sperry was an extremely successful and talented entrepreneur. His obituary, printed in 1930 in The New York Times, notes that Sperry drove the first American-built car through Paris, in 1896. He is buried in Brooklyn's Greenwood Cemetery.
Note the leaded windows, large porches, and the Tudor and medieval style decorative flourishes.
1510 Albemarle Road, Colonial Revival Home
The word "stately" describes this large home built by the area’s architect, John J. Petit, for himself in 1900. Although Petit built many homes in Prospect Park South in varied styles, the one he designed for himself was quite traditional. His home is in austere colonial revival style, with none of the decorative turrets or gables of nearby houses.
Continue walking to the end of Albemarle Road, and turn left onto Buckingham Road.
Buckingham Road Mall
Less than a block long, the median strip running down the middle of Buckingham Road was part of the original design of Prospect Park South. In that era, horses and buggies, not automobiles, were the standard mode of transportation.
Today, this garden strip is marked by a sign simply saying "Flatbush Malls."
131 Buckingham Road, Japanese House
Prospect Park South architecture was not always staid or conventional: witness the so-called "Japanese House." It's one of the most famous in the area.
This beautiful home was designed at the turn of the century when Orientalism was a fad. Importing elements of Asian style was seen as a chic and exotic, particularly among the well-heeled classes. In that era, Japan had only been open to Westerners for fifty years, and trans-oceanic travel would, of necessity, have involved an arduous journey by boat. The Japanese House on Buckingham Road, while elegant and sophisticated, was perhaps a little showy.
Indeed, 131 Buckingham Road was used in 1903 in advertisements to showcase the broad range of outstanding homes being built in Prospect Park South. A century later, the house today still stands out as an unusual building in a neighborhood of beautiful homes.
When first built, this home was sold for $27,000 to Dr. Kolle, a prominent physician and a pioneer in the field of radiology.
Returning to Albemarle, turn right on Rugby Road.
101 Rugby Road, Site of “Sophie’s Choice” Film
Many Brooklyn homes and buildings have been used as memorable movie sets, and entire neighborhoods have been used for film locations.
Nestled deep behind large trees today, 101 Rugby Road in Brooklyn was used as a film set for the popular 1982 movie "Sophie’s Choice" about a Holocaust survivor's life in Brooklyn. The movie, starring actors Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Peter MacNicol was filmed using the outside, not the interior, of this home.
Like all the homes in this neighborhood, 101 Rugby is today a private residence.
305 Rugby Road, “Honeymoon Cottage”
This charming 1920s home is said to have been built for one of the daughters of the famously wealthy Guggenheim family. It is known as the "Honeymoon Cottage."
Exploring More of Prospect Park South
The above tour takes visitors through only a fraction of this historic neighborhood.
Many other homes on the above streets, as well as along Argyle, Beverley and Marlborough Roads, are worth seeing.
Those with an interest in historical details might enjoy reading the original 1979 New York Landmarks Preservation Commission report for this area, entitled "Prospect Park South Historical District".
Further afield is the wonderful Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Learn when to go, how to get there, and what to expect in different seasons at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Explore, and enjoy!