10th Street Between 2nd & 3rd Avenues

158 10th Street

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Brooklyn’s fanciest frame rowhouses. Neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, and Park Slope contain remarkable examples of richly-decorated wooden facades of the “gingerbread” type. But if I can be 100% honest, I have a soft spot for Brooklyn’s less celebrated blocks, many of which are lined with tiny frame houses. Eighth Avenue between 19th and 20th Streets is one such example. Tenth Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues in Gowanus is another.

 My old office space was located in a loft building on 2nd Avenue & 10th Street, so for years I walked too and from work along the block of 10th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues. Obvious quirks aside – the Culver Viaduct looms above – I can’t help but feel a certain affinity for the charming little wooden houses that line the south side, just beyond the warehouse in the photo below. Most of them are only 12′ wide!

As evidenced by the 1898 map below, before the viaduct was built in the 1930s there were wooden houses on both sides of the street. They were surely built for the working class, most likely in the 1880s. For those unfamiliar with how to read these fire insurance maps, the pink and yellow blocks represent buildings. Pink is masonry; yellow is wood.

Much of the row on the south side is intact, and the bones are there. They are all only two stories tall and only two bays wide. They remind me a bit of the tiny house movement, though obviously not to such an extreme! No. 158 (the top photo above) is beautifully cared for. Others less so, but I can’t help but picture how charming the whole row could be if there was a concerted effort to combat the imposing subway tracks across the street with some vibrant colors and a little array of restored porches and cornices.

140 & 142 10th Street

A couple years ago I went to an open house for No. 162. There was some modest historic detail left inside and if you’re the type that likes a fixer-upper this would have been a wonderful project. Shortly thereafter it was flipped by a developer, who I assume took out a lot of the internal charm. But – hooray! – it’s now in good hands and is in the process of being renovated. The facade is covered in charred hemlock. See below for the before and after pics (the first photo is pre-flip, and the second was taken recently).

Curious about this block, I visited the NYC Municipal Archives to dig up the buildings’ tax photos. Alas, as is always the case, the print-outs are atrocious. I’m almost embarrassed to put these up – they’re that bad (if you’re interested you can order crisp photos for a fee). Regardless, I hope you can still get a taste for how the block looked circa 1940, and if you’re savvy you can make out the block and lot numbers in the photos. What strikes me as funny are all the geometric shapes plastered onto the facades of those at the west end of the block.

Readers, what are your favorite underappreciated wooden house blocks in Brooklyn? Let’s show them some love!