At the turn of the 20th century, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park South neighborhood served as a real estate showcase for developer Dean Elvord, who wanted to create a “high class” suburban community. About 205 houses in Prospect Park South, the so-called “Garden Suburb,” were built in styles ranging from Queen Anne and Colonial Revival to Italian Villas and Spanish Mission. There is even a Swiss chalet. However, even today, the Japanese House is certainly one of the unique buildings in the area and is the only Japanese house in Brooklyn. In 1997, the New York Times called it “perhaps the most unusual residence in New York.”
There have been many myths about the house over the years, including that it was built by a Japanese consul in the United States, and that it was brought piece by piece from Japan. But none of them are true. The house was built in Prospect Park South in 1902–03. The goal was to attract the attention of the press, and by July 1903, Elvord used the building as an advertisement for his project.
The house was designed by architect John Petit (Kirby, Petit & Green), from the same firm responsible for Coney Island’s Dreamland. The architects brought in Japanese consultants and hired three Japanese craftsmen to ensure stylistic authenticity: a contractor, a decorator, and a master gardener.
The original cost of the house was about $12,000, and then it was put up for sale at a price of $26,500, which was a very high price for the area at the time. Nevertheless, it took several years to sell the house.
Although the house was a success in the press, in 1906 it was sold to Dr. Frederick Kohle, a pioneer in radiology, for a lower price. Kohle and his wife Loretto Elaine Duffy, a film screenwriter and writer, sold it in 1908 to real estate agent Fitch Herbert Medbury and his wife Lulie, who lived there until 1910. They then sold the house to Herbert O. Hyatt, a manufacturer from Brooklyn. The last owners, Gloria and Albert Fisher, purchased the house in 1972 for $80,000. According to 2019 data, the house is valued at more than $1 million.