The cost of leasing a house in Brooklyn in 1908

Unfortunately, 544 Marcy Avenue is the address of a building that’s part of the Marcy Houses housing development, constructed in 1949 in Bed-Stuy.

So it’s tough to know what the house for rent at that address—as detailed in the “house agreement” from 1908 excerpted here—looked like around the time it was leased.

Was it a three-story brownstone like the one across the way at Marcy and Floyd Street? Or a charming wood-frame home, the kind still standing in Clinton Hill and Brooklyn Heights?

Whatever kind of house it was, a woman named Agnes D. Davies apparently agreed to lease it to one Ellen McLaughlin from May 1908 to May 1909 for the grand total of $30 per month.

It may not have been a princely sum—inflation calculators claim $30 in 1908 is equal to $718 today.

This part of Marcy Avenue once was rather distinguished. An 1888 Brooklyn Eagle obituary details the death of the man who lived there at the time, Henry Grasser, describing him as a “prominent member” of several lodges and societies.

[Thanks to J. Warren for making this lease available]

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4 Responses to “The cost of leasing a house in Brooklyn in 1908”

  1. Bob_in_MA Says:

    Coincidentally, I was looking into rents ca. 1900 in New York recently. The high end was $175 for top apartments on Riverside Dr. One new building in Brooklyn, on Prospect Plaza, which was ca $40-70 month for several rooms, I think almost certainly a maids room included.

    You could rent a modest hotel room by the week for maybe $10, but that usually included meals. I saw one reference to a girl working in a sweetshop on the lower east side who shared a room with a friend for $1.50 a week, total. I imagine it was a tenement, but she doesn’t make it sound like one of the awful ones.

    Houses varied a lot, but $30 was probably the going rate for a modest home in an OK neighborhood.

  2. T.J. Connick Says:

    Contemporary atlases show the building and its neighbors as small, 2-story, wood-frame rowhouses. No. 544 stood two houses north of the northwest corner of Marcy and Stockton. The row probably went up in the 1870s, before the 1888 arrival of the Myrtle Avenue el, and shortly after the opening, grading, and sewering of the side streets. Brooklyn Eagle real estate reports suggest that most new residential construction in the neighborhood in the 1880s was low-rise tenements. It was also an area of light manufacturing.

    The blocks north of Myrtle along Marcy were always a distinctly working-class district, and brownstones would be hard to find at any time in its history. (If I’m looking at the right spot from your link — intersection of Marcy and Floyd — they’re all frame buildings facing Marcy, with some buried under stucco, others under asphalt shingle.) No. 544 would have been an older, smaller, house than its neighbors on the east side of Marcy.

    Some of the obliterated streetscape can be seen online at the NY City Housing Authority section of the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives. Go to the primitive website and navigate the search mechanism (wear a helmet) to find photos with the string “Marcy Houses” in the description. The 1940s scenes show primarily a mix of brick and wood-frame multi-family rowhouses in various states of dilapidation, all awaiting the wreckers.

    Considering the low rent despite the nearness of the elevated, it’s a safe bet that 544 Marcy was a pretty modest place.

  3. onemorefoldedsunset Says:

    When we were working on our frame rowhouse in Brooklyn, we found fragments of an 1871 newspaper in the walls. Furnished rooms for “gentlemen” or married couples back then (within walking distance of the ferries & car routes, with gas & hot & cold water) were going for $1.50 to $3.00 per week. One ad offered the privileges of bath, wash tubs & stationary.

  4. Don Anon Says:

    The lease begins and ends on May 1, which was traditionally “Moving Day” in New York from the Dutch colonial era until World War II.

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