The de Blasio residence in the South Slope
Now that our new Mayor has been in office for a few months, the cat is out of the bag … de Blasio is a wooden house fan!
Well, he’s never said such a thing, but hear us out. We’ve done a little digging and discovered Mayor de Blasio owns at least two wooden houses in the South Slope and will soon be moving to one of New York City’s grandest old dames, Gracie Mansion, which is also a wooden house. To prove our point, let’s look closer at these homes.
The Hugo Tollner House, 421 Franklin Avenue
Interior Designer Dionne Rivera dishes on everything—from what inspires her, including her favorite wood-frame house; to regional design motifs; favorite museums and decorative arts collections across the globe—to a breezy walk around Park Slope, her home for the past 24 years. A Seattle native, she earned her degree in Fashion Design in Los Angles. “I’ve always wanted to design interiors, so I was lucky it worked out that I was able to have a home-based business and still be close by for my children.”
Which are some of your favorite wood-frame houses in Brooklyn?
There is a house in Bedford Stuyvesant that has always captured my attention. Looking up the address (421 Franklin Avenue) I found that it originally belonged to Hugo Tollner, son of Eugene Tollner, co-founder of Gage and Tollne. It is an asymmetrical wood-frame Gothic house with a mansard roof. And the wood-frame house that I’ve loved for years on 12th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.
A meticulously restored Wooden House next to a diamond in the rough (321 15th Street)
by Arthur T. Rollin
Hello Wooden House Project fans! For some time now I have consumed the bountiful images of our borough’s wood-framed beauties on this site. Like you, I’ve gazed longingly at the detailed and colorful results of many a dedicated homeowner’s labors as they restore and preserve our unique built environment.
I’m Arthur Rollin, an architectural preservationist, history nerd and New Yorker with roots that run deep into Brooklyn’s past. I have recently been welcomed into the Wooden House Project team as a contributor of articles on conservation tips and techniques, and I hope my architectural experience and insatiable curiosity proves beneficial to the site’s readership.
Whether you have questions about restoring a wooden house of your own, or simply are interested in looking at this city with a different perspective, I’ll be here to help. Please do chime in or share photos of your own restoration project or something curious you see while walking down the street. I’ll always be looking for new topics and hope to tailor posts to be as useful as possible.
457 12th Street
By now you all know that while I don’t entirely hate vinyl siding, I still love to dream about what’s underneath it. But you know what’s also fun? Looking the other way — at what some of my favorite restored houses looked like way back when. Back in, say, the 1980s. Bring on the vinyl!
Fortunately for me, the New York City Department of Records (aka Municipal Archives) has digitized the “tax photos” they took of every single building c. 1980 (they did this as well c. 1940). So for today’s post I’ve rounded up some of my favorite South Slope gingerbread houses — the ones I talk about a lot here! — and compared them back to what they looked like pre-restoration. All historic photos below are presented courtesy of the Municipal Archives.
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.
Just around the corner from where I live are 382 & 384 11th Street, two of my favorite twin frame houses in the South Slope. Something about their simplicity just speaks to me. Besides that, they’re the only two houses on the block that have porches. Since porches were a very common feature on early wooden rowhouses, it occurred to me that others on the block probably once had them as well.
This coming Saturday, the residents of the beautiful block of 14th Street between 5th & 6th Avenues (a wooden house haven!) will be hosting a block party. The Wooden House Project is excited to be attending the party and helping to man the history table. Stop by for a visit!
I had gotten excited upon finding a photo in the collection of the New York Public Library that was labeled “14th Street looking west from 6th Avenue,” which would have meant that it was a photo of that block. Alas, the label was wrong — this is actually looking west from 7th Avenue — but that’s ok. A beautiful street nonetheless!
Hey Park Slopers, there’s a new mansard roof on the block! A wooden house renovation project just finished up over at 392 Dean Street, and the developer (Seth Brown of Aspen Equities) was kind enough to send us over a before-and-after shot, as well as the ca. 1940 tax photo. Read on to see!
The Wooden House Project is now on Instagram! Follow us here and be sure to tag all of your photos #woodenhouseproject – we’ll be featuring a photo from the pool each week. Or visit our Get Involved page for other ways to connect with us!
Today, a personal observation: I have missed you. As many in the community are aware, I took the last year off from my historic preservation work and the Wooden House Project in order to help my husband grow his digital design agency. After much hard work, our collaborative efforts have paid off! Color + Information has expanded by leaps and bounds and is now situated in a beautiful new space in Greenpoint serving happy clients (and if anyone was wondering who was the behind the beautiful design of the Wooden House Project – well, now you know). Meanwhile, Chelcey has been hard at work making the Brooklyn Historical Society the phenomenal place that it is. Now that the dust is settling on other fronts, we’re pleased to announce that the Wooden House Project is back!
Today’s Ask an Architect query comes from Catherine, the owner of a lovely frame house in the South Slope. Her question is being answered by Joseph Vance of Joseph Vance Architects, a full-service architectural firm located in Brooklyn with extensive experience in townhouse renovations. Have a question for an architect about your wooden house? Send it our way!
Q: We will be redoing the front of our frame house next summer. Is it necessary to patch up holes/gaps on the brick under the siding in a brick-filled frame house? We did this on the back of our house, but the contractor for the front of the house is saying it is not necessary.
A: The brick you see in your exterior wall is there to provide some level of fire protection and is not structural. It is not necessary for the mortar joints to be tight but it would be a good idea to fill in any holes that are a half brick in size or larger. However to give some added solidity to your house (in the wake of what could have been much higher winds during Irene) I suggest having the contractors GLUE AND NAIL the new wood sheathing (beneath the new siding) to the exterior. A heavy construction adhesive like PL 400 should be used. Be sure they use galvanized or stainless steel nails or staples. Also be sure they flash above all window and door openings AND properly install an air barrier like Tyvec.
As a bonus Catherine sent us photos documenting the renovation of the rear of her house (and just to clear up any confusion, Joseph Vance was not affiliated with this). Enjoy!
Ninth Street in Park Slope developed earlier than most other streets in the neighborhood and was once lined with lovely villa-type homes (many of them wooden), such as those depicted above. The Van Brunt Post Office stands in their place today.
Historic image courtesy New York Public Library
295 13th Street
Some shots of the lovely “gingerbread” houses in the South Slope.
In response to our recent post on Webster Place, a homeowner sent along the following tip regarding the street’s lost porches:
“You mentioned that there used to be more porches. This is, indeed, correct. You’ll notice in the old photo taken from Prospect Avenue, that there are porches built on both sides of the street. Apparently, one of the residents on the west (left) side of the street decided to take his down, sometime in the early ’50s I believe. As all of these porches were interconnected and his house was in the middle; the rest went down, too. I wouldn’t want to have been in that guy’s shoes…”
Earlier this week I did a little digging into the history of 307 13th Street, a lovely frame house in the South Slope. Richard, the owner, was kind enough give me some insight into his restoration process, which I’ve shared below. I especially love his last point, which taps into why I strongly believe that working with a home’s unique and special qualities benefits the entire neighborhood.
If you own a frame house in Brooklyn and want to share your experience, let me know!
When did you buy the house, and what made you decide to purchase a frame house in the South Slope?
We bought the house in December of 2005, did a little work and moved in January of 2006. I don’t think we were looking specifically for a frame house, but this house had a good feeling about it. We could see great potential. As to the South Slope, we were drawn in by the heterogeneous nature of the blocks. Rather than long rows of brick or brownstone houses there is variety, both in the building types and in the setbacks from the street which makes the street edge much richer.
I met Richard, who is an architect, when I was conspicuously standing on the street pointing my camera lens at his front door. That I chose to gawk at his house is not surprising; it’s one of those lovely, set-back frame houses with a wide porch and a sprawling front garden. Uniquely for Park Slope, it’s also, for the most-part, freestanding (according to Richard, a small rear addition is the only part of the house that abuts its neighbor). Richard and his wife purchased and restored the house about five years ago.
Because I work for a historic preservation advocacy organization, I am in constant contact with architects performing work on historic properties. Where this is concerned, my experience has taught me that most architects fall into one of two distinct camps: those who see a building’s history as a burden to overcome, and those who see it as the building’s greatest asset. If Richard’s own house is any indication, I’m pleased to say that he falls into the latter category. Having clearly done his research (his c. 1940 tax photo – shown right – was hanging in his living room), I could tell that he and his wife are incredibly loving stewards of this very special home.
When I was in graduate school I had the fortunate opportunity to assist Francis Morrone with the research for his book The Park Slope Neighborhood and Architectural History Guide, published by the Brooklyn Historical Society. Since meeting Francis on one of his walking tours several years ago, I have always considered him my go-to source for any and all New York history/architecture-related questions (clearly I’m not the only one who has been impressed; Travel and Leisure Magazine just ranked him one of the 10 best tour guides in the entire world). He has authored far too many books, chapters and periodicals to list here, but the most relevant for our purposes include the Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn, The Architectural Guidebook to New York City, Brooklyn: A Journey through the City of Dreams and The Fort Greene/Clinton Hill Neighborhood and Architectural History Guide. A former art and architecture critic for the New York Sun, Francis also designed, developed, and continues to teach New York City’s first sequence of continuing education courses on New York City history and general urban history at New York University. I am thrilled that Francis has agreed to lend his expertise to The Wooden House Project!
Yesterday I wrote about Webster Place, which features one of the most pristinely-preserved rows of 19th century frame houses to be found in Brooklyn. Those interested in living on this very special block might consider purchasing either 8 or 14 Webster Place, two frame houses for sale just across the street.