Brooklyn’s famous Japanese House is more than just a home to current owner Gloria Fischer. Fischer, who bought 131 Buckingham Road with her husband in 1972, sees the one-of-a-kind historic house as part of the larger community. Owning the home has led her on a lifelong path of learning about historic preservation and the history of her own house. Untapped New York Insiders recently got to tour the interior of the Japanese House and see the treasures the Fischers have collected through the years.
This colorful home was constructed between 1902 and 1903. It was built as part of a speculative real estate endeavor by developer Dean Alvord. At the time, due largely to the success of the Japanese pavilion at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893, Asian aesthetics were popular in American architecture and interior design.
Brooklyn’s Japanese House was built as a marketing and advertising initiative and, according to Clay Lancaster’s book, The Japanese Influence in America, is the only home like it east of the Mississippi. Though it may not look like a typical bungalow, Fischer says the large porches, sun-soaked windows, and many french doors, are inspired by the bungalow-type houses of India where these features are incorporated to promote the circulation of fresh air through the home.
When the Fischers bought the home, the Prospect Park South Historic District was not yet designated by the Landmarks Commission. It was through the landmarking process, which Fischer was an instrumental part of, that she started to see her home in a larger context. She would come to learn that her home wasn’t just special to her and her husband, but that it meant something to many people, both in the community and from all over the world. “It was like I was given a new prism to look through. It wasn’t just my house anymore,” Fischer reflects.
One of the earliest signs that Fischer found of the wide appeal of her home was an old advertisement for Brooklyn Union Gas that featured an image of the Japanese House. Since then, she has amassed of a large collection of Japanese House-related memorabilia. Among the numerous magazine articles, books, and other ephemera, there are postcards from around the world, featuring the Japanese House, that people send and bring to her.
Throughout Flatbush, there are a number of gorgeous Victorian mansions that Fischer became enamored with. She began to create booklets about the various historic homes nearby. These self-published books featured histories of the homes and the families that lived there. Eventually, these books sparked a larger project. For years, Fischer and a few neighbors worked with an architectural historian and photographer to create Prospect Park South: The Heart of Victorian Brooklyn, a book about the historic homes of Prospect Park South.
Unfortunately, like many historic homes, the Japanese House can often be difficult and very expensive to maintain and repair. Currently, the second-floor balcony is in urgent need of restoration. Fischer is in the midst of researching various funding options, like historic grants, and collecting quotes from various contractors. The repairs necessary are very costly and require careful attention to the intricate details of the home and materials in order to be historically accurate. Fischer is looking to connect with contacts in the preservation world who may be able to offer assistance in this restoration project. If you have any leads on potential funding sources or are a historic craftsperson, you can reach out to Gloria Fischer at 131buck [at] gmail.com.
“A building like this should always be supported because it is something beyond an individual person’s home. It has a lasting quality about it that needs to be preserved,” Fischer says. Throughout the pandemic, Fischer hosted musical performances on her porch. She hopes to continue hosting cultural events like this in the future and to open her home to more people who can appreciate its beauty and architectural significance, for generations to come. “It was built as an oddity,” Fischer recalls, “and it continues to be one and to draw people in.” Check out more Japanese House interior and exterior photos from our Untapped New York Insiders tour hosted by Gloria Fischer below:
Next, check out A Guide to the Victorian mansions of Flatbush