What Could Have Been

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229 11th Street

I left the world of preservation advocacy over a year ago, and in the time since I’ve focused much more on education, research and writing. I’ve always been drawn to the celebratory side of things – I prefer to “slip historic preservation into the drink,” as Chelcey likes to say. But sometimes, circumstances come along that leave me no choice but to make a big fuss. The planned demolition of a significant portion of one of my favorite streetscapes is one of them.

Eleventh Street between 3rd & 4th Avenues was one of the first blocks I wrote about after starting the Wooden House Project (a photo of the block is our Facebook profile picture). Those of you who came on our Gingerbread Houses of the South Slope walking tour earlier in the month heard me say how special it was — that it would be worth visiting this block in a few years to see a beautiful and cohesive block of restored wooden houses (only a very small handful of houses on the end of the block are brick). Something that would change our perception of these homes as disposable. The renaissance has been in full swing here for several years — an inspiration to wooden rowhouse owners everywhere. And an inspiration to me. I used to walk down this block every day on my way to my old office in Gowanus. It reaffirmed all my reasons for starting the Wooden House Project.

Brownstoner broke the news back in May that permits had been filed for the demolition of the six easternmost houses on the north side of the block: 233 – 243 11th Street.

 

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233 – 243 11th Street are the six wooden houses slated for demolition

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The houses in 1930. Look at those beautiful canopies! (courtesy New York Public Library)

It would be easy to write these houses off, considering the fact that most of the historic detail is gone (save for the beautiful cornice on the corner building). But in fact, most of the houses on this block looked just like these until very recently. For the naysayers out there, take a look at what has happened to the others since.

 

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I once came across two c. 1940 tax photos of the south side of this street, courtesy of the NYC Dept of Records. Porches abound! The house in the center of the top photo is 204 11th Street. The bottom photo is 212.

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I’ll be sad to this intact collection of early rowhouses disrupted by what will surely be a large, towering development. I will still be very much in love with this block, but it will certainly have a much different future than I had anticipated.