Brooklyn’s Mansion on the East River

I was walking down Hudson Ave today in Brooklyn’s Vinegar Hill neighborhood when I realized I’d never taken any of the roads leading east. Why not? I guess I’ve always just assumed everything in that corner of Brooklyn to be ConEd-type utility plants, never a good place to do any sort of filming. Always looking for something new to explore, I decided to make sure my assumptions were right.

Commandant's House 01

I took a right down Evans Street, passing by Harrison Alley on the right. Apparently, this mysterious alley is nearly always gated; it was wide open as I passed, and had I known, I would have definitely gone down to take some pictures.

Commandant's House 02

At the end of Evans Street, you can turn left onto Little Street…But the pair of enormous iron gates on the right had my attention…

Commandant's House 03

The gates appeared to be surrounding an enormous mansion with a huge lawn, the absolute last sort of thing I’d expect to find in Brooklyn so close to the river. It’s like someone picked up an estate from Long Island’s Gold Coast and plunked it down in Vinegar Hill.

Commandant's House 04a

This incredible mansion is known as the Commandant’s House, formerly a part of the sprawling Brooklyn Navy Yard. Built in 1805 (just a few years after the Navy Yard land was purchased in 1801), the 3-story house has been in private ownership since the Navy Yard was decommissioned in 1964 (repeat: PRIVATE OWNERSHIP!). The current owner’s identity is a mystery…

Commandant's House 04b

It’s tough to get a good vantage point through the fence, but some broken links offer a bit off a view…

Commandant's House 05

The house up-close – note the balcony on what I believe is an addition, which must have sick views of the East River.

Commandant's House 06

Look at any picture of this property from the last ten years and you’ll find this old car perpetually parked in the driveway. Wonder if it came with the place? Who out there can identify it?

Commandant's House 07

Bing’s 3-D satellite maps offer an aerial view of the front of the house, with it’s massive balconies and wrap-around driveway. Note the houses at the end of Harrison Alley, located in the upper left corner of the picture, which are reputed to be former stables for the house.

Commandant's House 04b

This photograph from the Brooklyn Public Library’s amazing collection of historical Brooklyn photographs was taken in 1954:

Commandant's House 11

This one, from the same collection, was taken in 1935.

Commandant's House 10

You can catch a bit of this angle as you’re driving down Navy Street…

Commandant's House 08

I stood on my car for this one. Nice to see the greenhouses still in good shape. The position of that brick utility building seems pretty damn unfortunate.

Commandant's House 09

I know this certainly isn’t a surprise for a lot of you, but the fact that I was unaware of it means there’s gotta be one or two readers out there who will be as taken aback by it as I was! You can find more info in this NY Times write-up of the property. Surprisingly, not a lot is known about the house. Yes, it might have been designed by Charlies Bulfinch (architect of the US Capitol) and yes, the dining room might have the same proportions as the Oval Office…but no one seems to know for sure.

And again, check out the Brooklyn Collection for some amazing historical photographs, courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library!

-SCOUT

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34 comments

  1. That is an amazing find! No idea who owns it though?

  2. yea! I found that spot a couple months ago snoopin’ around D.U.M.B.O. out of curiosity. nice

  3. I think the old car is a Studebaker, probably from the early 50’s.

  4. Car should be a Studebaker Champion, third gen, produced between 1946 and 1950.

  5. According to OasisNYC (http://www.urbanresearchmaps.org/oasis/map.aspx) and a couple of other websites,

    The property is owned by Charles Gilbert. The current house was built in 1901. Block 2023, Lot 100.

    I’ve wondered about that house off and on since the first time I saw it in the late 80’s. I’ve just always been in the middle of something else and never bothered to get out of the car when I was near it.

    And look! The miracles of the internet provide answers from my couch! Woohoo!

    First one who gets in to scout it gets a dozen donuts!

  6. Unrelated, you’ve got a nasty dustball on your camera’s sensor! I recommend this:
    http://www.visibledust.com

    :-)

  7. good find! and yes, definitely owned by Charles Gilbert. Rockefeller University is also listing on the title, since at least 1997.

    Do the same block search at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/jump/acris.shtml

    More on Charles Gilbert: http://www.rockefeller.edu/research/faculty/abstract.php?id=48

  8. This is amazing. What a cool find! I want to live there, pronto.

  9. When my father served in the Army in Germany in the early 1960s, he was trained at a now decommissioned base in Baltimore where Army Intelligence used to be and then they were loaded up on a buses and taken to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where they were shipped to Germany. (No flying troops around back then.) As they were leaving they passed under the still under construction Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. When he returned, the bridge was completed. Hope to take my dad down to that area to explore the area around the Navy Yard when he visits next. Will definitely look up this post.

  10. This a great blog. My friend just sent me this post because I love this sort of thing (I’m an archivist). My favorite thing about this house are the old cars. The owner, Gilbert, obviously has a yen for the past as well.

  11. I have scouted the place. It does have an oval dining room that, according to the owner, predates the oval office. It’s an amazing property.

  12. Wow, I knew nothing of this property either – what a wonderful hidden treasure. And a fabulous car, to boot!

  13. I almost bought a building around the corner from the mansion in Vinegar Hill. That was back in 2006 and that car was there. In fact, I think that there were a few old cars there back then. Gorgeous place!

  14. Did I read that article right? Matthew C Perry lived there? As in, coerced the opening of Japan Matthew C Perry? Wow.. a house with so much history.

  15. Yes, that’s a ’48 to ’50 Studebaker – probably a Champion, but could be the pricier Commander.

  16. ~10 years ago there used to be a parking lot across the street from the Commandant’s house. It was full of old cars of all vintages. It’s where the new condo/apt-bldgs are now. It was all an amazing thing to stumble on down in Vinegar HIll, for sure.

  17. Richard Sussman

    A fireman told me he performed fire safety inspections there in the 1960’s. It was occupied by an Admiral. The one thing that impressed him was that the house had absolutely NO NAILS. Everything was secured with wooden dowels.

  18. Awesome find!!

    One wonders if its a secret governmentt or mafia house, maybe that’s why you can’t find any information on it……

  19. The car in question MIGHT be a Hudson. It is so rare that I CANNOT identify a car in a photo…

  20. Excellent post!

    I discovered this house today while taking a walk through DUMBO and was blown away. I’d love to find out who owns it.

    I actually thought of scaling the gate. Probably best that I didn’t.

  21. inquisitivegeorge77

    I believe this is the Mansion my father did handy worked for his boss that owned this property. It does have an Oval office with a secert hidden bathroom located inside the wall.

  22. I Go To The School Around The Corner And I Often Visit This Site I Learned That In Sometime In May There Was Shooting A Scene In A Tv Show InSide The House My Dream And Goal Is To Become Rich And Buy That Same House

  23. I just came across another article on this house and found your write up while googling the house. Awesome post. I love that you stood on your car to get a better pic of the greenhouse. Old stately homes are my passion and I am now intrigued to learn more about this home. Another one I have been a bit interested in lately (because it’s for sale)is the Steinway Mansion in Queens. Beautiful home in the most ridiculous place.

    Great site!

  24. This house is being used for filming boardwalk empire. I worked there today to service.Some toilets for them

  25. They use this house a lot for Boardwalk Empire as Nucky’s house. Just did a small role and we filmed in this house for four days. I wanted to see the rest of the house but couldn’t! Amazing. It does have a plaque from 1805 by some Lt. but I forgot the name..Hope this helps!

  26. i just happened to run by this house and had never ever heard / seen anything about it before so googled it and found your post, very cool. i don’t believe that car was parked outside today! i may not have noticed as i hadn’t seen your post first but am almost positive..

  27. this house is used for filming in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. it is Nucky’s house. I know because I have worked on the show. In fact this whole portion of vinegar Hill is used for repeated theme of old time neighborhood featured on the show. It’s pretty awesome. And the mystery House next door with the long driveway shrouded in IVy lleaves, and with a numerous postings for video surveillance is where they hold the actors and prepare the extras and costumes.

  28. Gorgeous! FYI, what led me here is that the hit CBS Sherlock Holmes show “Elementary” just had a wonderful episode that featured the house prominently!

  29. I have been inside that house it does have an oval office. I have meet the owner my father was one of his personal chefs and ect. The owner is a very private a Man. I don’t know what became of him after we moved. My father lost contact and since 2009 my father passed away. I had beautiful memories running around the mansion. As a a girl from the housing projects in bushwick ny.

  30. This was used to film the house that Moriarty led Sherlock to in the Risk Management episode of Elementary! I knew I saw it from somewhere!

  31. The house was used in the second to the last episode of this past season of the show Elementary. Holmes and Watson find Irene there. She was being held captive by one of Moriarity’s minions.

  32. Was shooting in Dumbo and stumbled across it and was just amazed that it was there – seems so out of place but amazingly so!

    Nice footnote on the day,
    JB

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