Tax Photos

Over the years, the beauty of Brooklyn’s wood-frame row houses has been masked under all sorts of siding. The average passer-by has no way of knowing that underneath the siding could lie the bones of something magical.

Fortunately for us, the NYC Department of Records (aka the Municipal Archives) possesses a fantastic collection of photos that allows us to peel back the siding for a peak at what lies beneath. One only needs to know the home’s block and lot number (which can be searched HERE) to view its “Tax Photo” for free on microfilm at the Municipal Archives, or to order a clean copy for around $35.00. Tax Photos were taken by the City in the years between 1939 and 1941 as a tool for appraising properties, and in that time they snapped a photo of every single building in all five boroughs of New York. Today the collection is an invaluable tool for anyone looking to restore their house or research the history of their neighborhood.

It was not until the 1970s – long after these photos were taken – that vinyl siding really made a splash on the mass market. Aluminum was introduced earlier than vinyl, but in general homes depicted in the 1940s tax photos are portrayed with their original facades. The City repeated the process in the 1980s (these photos are also available to view at the Municipal Archives), but by then New York was already deeply entrenched in the siding trend.

The ca. 1940 Tax Photo above depicts 28 Russell Street, a wood-frame row house located near the corner of Engert Street in Greenpoint. Today the house is covered in green siding and is virtually unrecognizable. It’s lovely to imagine restoring color and dimension to this and the scores of other wood-frame homes whose whimsical original facades never see the light of day.

Homeowners: The Wooden House Project wants to see your tax photo! If you own a wood-frame house in Brooklyn and have your tax photo, send it our way!