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The Alice and Agate Courts Historic District consists of 36 row houses set on two halfblock cul-de-sacs designed by Brooklyn architect Walter M. Coots in the Queen Anne style.
Located on the north side of Atlantic Avenue between Kingston and Albany Avenues, the houses were built in 1888-1889 for industrialist Florian Grosjean. These row houses form a quiet residential oasis in the midst of the heavily commercial Atlantic Avenue and are characteristic of the late-19th-century development of Bedford-Stuyvesant spurred by transportation improvements. Swiss immigrant Florian Grosjean co-founded the importing firm of Lalance & Grosjean in the 1850s, and by 1863 had opened a tin stamping factory in Woodhaven, Queens.
The company’s success, mainly from the manufacture of enamel-coated iron utensils known as agateware, was reflected by Grosjean’s extensive land holdings, including the property speculatively developed as Alice and Agate Courts. A native of Rochester, New York, W.M.
Coots relocated to Brooklyn in the 1880s and became prominent as the designer of row houses and other mainly residential buildings. Constructed of red brick, brownstone, bluestone and terra cotta, the buildings of Alice and Agate Courts feature asymmetrical facades, but use collective symmetry within the rows themselves and repeating decorative details to create an interesting overall composition. Among their prominent features are conical-roofed corner turrets, projecting or swelled bays, rock-faced and carved stonework, foliate- and geometric-pattern terra-cotta and metal trim, elaborate ironwork and stained glass windows. To a large extant, the rows retain their original appearance and much of their original material. Situated just north of the busy thoroughfare of Atlantic Avenue, these Queen Anne-style houses form a quiet enclave on two cul-de-sacs and represent the small-scale residential development of late-19th-century Bedford- Stuyvesant.
The land under the row houses in the Alice and Agate Courts Historic District was part of the Lefferts Family property, belonging to John L. Lefferts and his brother Judge Leffert Lefferts.
The judge’s property in the area was subdivided and sold at auction in 1854, and J. L. Lefferts’ heirs and descendants relinquished their holdings in the subsequent decades. The City of Brooklyn, which had acquired the portion of the block that formerly served as the Brooklyn & Jamaica Railroad right of way – whose original northern boundary is contiguous with the northern boundary of the district – sold its holdings to Nancy Wheeler in 1885. Grosjean began to purchase land around the site of Alice and Agate Courts in the mid-1880s,32 at the time Bedford’s 23rd Ward was being developed into fashionable row houses. He sold the assembled parcel – a large portion of tax block 1871, including the land on which the row houses were constructed and some adjacent property – to architect Walter M. Coots in April of 1888.33 Having already designed a number of row houses for speculative developers, records indicate the Coots himself attempted to develop the Alice and Agate Court buildings. According to Department of Buildings records, the new building applications filed in May of 1888 for the first row constructed, 2-18 Agate Court, list W. M. Coots as the owner, architect and builder.34 By September of the same year, Coots had sold the property, which was encumbered by an outstanding mortgage of $53,000 to Grosjean (from the original purchase), a lien of $20,000 to Grosjean, and a mechanics lien against Coots for $2,546.65, to Grosjean’s son-in-law, A. J.
Cordier.35 The additional encumbrances may indicate that Coots did not have the money necessary to finance the buildings’ construction, listed at $6,000 (2 Agate Court) and $32,000 (4- 18 Agate Court at $4000 each) on the permit applications. Wording in the later deed does not indicate that construction had begun on the row houses. Within the same year, Grosjean purchased the property from Cordier and is listed as the owner on the subsequent building permits for 1-17 Agate Court and 1-17 and 2-18 Alice Court.36 Coots remained as the architect.
An article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in September of 1888, described the demand for houses in Brooklyn as “very good,” with “the greatest demand for [houses having] medium rents, ranging from $400 to $500.”37 An extra deep block – almost 335’ wide as opposed to the standard 200’, created by the abandonment of the LIRR track in the 1860s – allowed more flexibility in the layout of the speculative properties.38 Coots laid the row houses out on 36 small, 16’ by 77.5’ lots, although those at 1, 2, 17 and 18 are slightly wider, set perpendicular to Atlantic Avenue and the established street grid. The creation of two cul-de-sacs allowed Coots (and later Grosjean) to maximize the number of houses built on the property (which is over 149’ deep) while also creating a quiet oasis adjacent
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