(Courtesy of the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection)

Yesterday we became fascinated by three photos from the Brooklyn Library archives, all showing the same adobe-style house, which existed nearly a century ago in Brooklyn. All we knew was that the home was in Brooklyn Heights in the 1920s, and if it was street-level, it certainly was no longer there.

We soon discovered with the help of one commenter, however, that it was still sort of there, and that it was not street-level, but housed on top of the roof of 220 Columbia Heights, now overlooking the Promenade. A Corcoran listing showed the property as it is now, and much of the structure appears to be gone, though some features remain.

So where did this unusual rooftop come from? Philip Sutton in the Milstein Division at the NYPL did some sleuthing for us—below is what he found, including a classified ad advertising the roof garden and its attached duplex in 1924.

  • The home was "at one time was occupied by Henry K. Shelton," who was possibly the original owner.
  • According to the New York Tribune's August 29, 1920 issue, it was architect Lathrop Finlayson who was responsible for this rooftop structure, which appears to have been built sometime that year.
  • Sutton tells us, "According to Finlayson's entry in the American Architects Directory of 1956, he was a 1914 graduate of Columbia, and would have been at the start of his career, working at the firm of Clinton & Russell, in New York City, post being demobbed out of the Army after service in WW1. Clinton & Russell was the firm responsible for the Beaver Building, and the Astor Hotel."
  • There's an article about the roof garden at Brooklyn Life, also from 1920. At this time, the home is referred to as belonging to Mrs. Jerome H. Pennock, who had just renovated.

That article highlighted the Italian feel that the rooftop now had following the makeover—"After more than a half century, the old Sheldon [sic?] house, at 220 Columbia Heights, has just been remodeled by Lathrop Finlayson, the well known architect, into a charming duplex apartment, on the style of the luxurious apartment houses on Park Avenue, in Manhattan."

From the 1920s, the caption reads: "No, these are not tourists exploring a convent in Italy, but three attractive Brooklyn misses at tea on the roof at 220 Columbia Heights, where Lathrop Finlayson has built a quaint roof garden."

It is described as having an electric elevator, "exclusively for the use of" the rooftop apartment, which houses servants quarters on the street-facing side. The interior featured "antique woodwork with a heavy beamed ceiling, stained and oiled, from which are suspended two old iron candelabras. In walking through the garden one may easily fancy oneself wandering through some fascinating corner of old Italy, with its white stucco gleaming in the brilliant sunshine and its air of soft, lazy old-worldness. Then, a turn of the head, and there range the towering skyscrapers of New York, and the harbor filled with ships that move out to all corners of the earth."

This rooftop addition was originally meant to have a summer house feel—"Deciding to emphasize this feature to its fullest advantage, he had Mr. Finlayson design a roof garden with a summer house at the far end looking directly out upon the harbor. This is decidedly the most delightful feature of the house. With true artistry, the architect has made of the roof an old Italian garden, on the style of the Italian."

Present day. (Corcoran)

Something that appears to be missing from the rooftop today is also described in this article—"an old belfry tower with a characteristic little staircase leading up into the archway."

Here is a classified ad from the Tribune, dated October 12, 1924, advertising the roof garden and its attached duplex: