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Litchfield Villa

Litchfield Villa was originally built as a residence for the Litchfield family in 1857. Edwin Litchfield, a railroad magnate and real estate developer, purchased nearly a square mile of meadow and swampland for his estate in 1852 which extended down to the Gowanus Canal. He hired Alexander Jackson Davis, a prominent architect of the time, to design his hilltop home. The mansion was named Grace Hill for his wife, Grace Hill Hubbard. However Olmsted and Vaux’s design for the new Prospect Park included Grace Hill and its surrounding property, and in 1868 Litchfield was forced to sell his land to the Brooklyn Parks Commission. After Litchfield’s death in 1885 the Villa was occupied by park administrative offices and park police. It currently houses the Brooklyn headquarters of the NYC Department of Parks and offices of the Prospect Park Alliance. A two story annex designed by Helmle, Huberty and Hudswell was added on the south side of the Villa in 1911. Litchfield Villa was designated a New York City Landmark in 1966.

Litchfield Villa, c. 1900. Bob Levine Collection.

The building is exemplary of the Italianate Villa style, with an asymmetrical and picturesque design composed of square towers of varying heights, corner turret, wraparound porch, and a mixture of flat and sloped roofs. The building goes up to four stories in the main entrance tower and has a full basement. There are numerous wooden balconies, and roof decks at the towers are wrapped in decorative wood railings. Skylights occur throughout the roof area, and the top floor contains a plaster domed ceiling. The exterior was originally finished in stucco decorated to mimic stone; the stucco was removed c. 1930, and the common brick facade has been exposed since that time.

The interior contains highly decorative wood moldings and plaster walls and ceilings. The entrance vestibule opens into an octagonal rotunda, with a double staircase to the second floor. A skylight tops the rotunda space. All major spaces open from this rotunda, with staircases in the towers to the upper floors. The colorful floral decorative glass bordering several of the upper story windows are rare surviving examples of pre-Civil War American-made stained glass. The interior has been completely converted to office space, so that little of the original furnishings or finishes remain. The Litchfield family may not have had very long to enjoy their beautiful home, but the Villa’s absorption into Prospect Park ensured its survival.

The Annex received renovations in 1987. The Villa’s roof received much needed repairs in 2002. In 2007 a grant from Edwin Litchfield’s descendants allowed the Prospect Park Alliance to undertake a restoration of the main entry parlor and the skylit rotunda. Reproduction floor tiles were specially manufactured in England where the original Minton tiles were produced. The project also included the recreation of nineteenth century decorative painting techniques and the use of period lighting.

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