122 Pacific Street

Remember when we told you Cobble Hill would gain a new (but actually old) wooden house? Well, guess what?! The restoration on the facade is complete! Updated images after the jump.

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As the unrelenting city summer finally gives way to a cooler fall, it’s just about the right time to tackle some outdoor projects and consider the pretty little plants above. They’re the source of one of the most reliably simple and time tested wood treatments in the wooden house owners arsenal of upkeep and repair. This treatment also happens to be one of the most sustainable and earth-friendly wood finishes. Oh, and did I mention, it’s also easy on the wallet?

More on this wonder-product, after the jump…

What a pleasure it was to read the responses to my last post. It seems that not only do folks notice and recognize PermaStone, but they really are interested in finding out how to remove it! I plan to delve a bit more into that process in today’s write up but first would like to practice some preservationist due diligence. In many cases, an encapsulating layer of reasonably waterproof (albeit aesthetically questionable) material may be the best thing for protecting anything historic and wooden behind. If you aren’t sure you have the time, money or DIY skills required by the demolition process, it’s probably best to do some waiting, saving or professional help-seeking first. That caveat stated, let’s get our hands dirty!

Much more on demo, after the jump…


If you haven’t yet jumped aboard the wooden house train, hopefully this one will convince you. Earlier in the week we received an email from a wonderful couple who – yay! – recently purchased a house on 11th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues in Gowanus. I am familiar with and love this eclectic little block (I’ve never written about this one, but have covered adjacent blocks here and here).

The c. 1940 tax photo above is clearly channeling Webster Place, but like so many other little gems like this, it wound up with the aluminum treatment.

Fortunately, it’s in good hands >


Spindles add whimsy to wooden houses in the South Slope, Fort Greene, Greenwood Heights and Clinton Hill

Spindles = Instant Gingerbread! We’re in love with many things about today’s featured house at 223 Washington Avenue, but the small architectural details on its facade truly make the house special. The small covered entranceway is decorated with a ribbon of beautiful spindle work, giving it an added layer of pure whimsy. The ornamental use of spindles along porches and railings became popular during the Victorian era and was found in homes designed in the Eastlake and Queen Anne styles.

Where can I find some of these beauties?


69 Vanderbilt Avenue is on the corner of Park Avenue, in the shadow of the BQE in Wallabout. We get more inquiries about this house than we do about about any other wooden house in Brooklyn. I’m not sure why. Well – wait, that’s a lie. I know exactly why. First, it’s really, really old – and obviously so. The house dates from c. 1850. Second, it’s in absurdly bad shape. Third, the “sister” next house next door (presumably built at the same time) is in impeccable condition, making for a shocking contrast.  Fourth, it’s landmarked. So what’s the deal?

The full scoop on Wallabout’s creepiest house >


Cobble Hill’s oldest house is about to come out of hiding! This is the kind of news that makes my geek heart skip a beat. On Tuesday, May 14th, the Landmarks Preservation Commission will consider a proposal to reclad the front of 122 Pacific Street in clapboard, which was discovered under the stucco facade during a recent probe (evident in the photo above, adjacent to the top right corner of the door).

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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!

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I was captivated recently by a thread on the Brownstoner forum, on which a homeowner had inquired about the possibility of converting a frame house to brick. Now, I’m not an architect, so I can’t speak for the feasibility of this, and in any case I certainly don’t advocate for it. As I hope I’ve established so far, frame house are a precious and unique part of Brooklyn’s past that don’t receive nearly as much appreciation as they deserve. But looking back throughout history, perhaps this homeowner’s dream isn’t so ludicrous after all. Many of New York’s early, Federal-era rowhouses are in fact built of wood but have brick fronts.

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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!


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Have a question about your wooden house and need some expert advice? The Wooden House Project is launching an exciting new feature: Ask an Architect! We have retained a panel of trusted architects with experience in frame house restoration that is ready to tackle your toughest questions! Questions and answers will be featured regularly on the blog. To ask a question, email elizabethfinkelstein (at) gmail (dot) com or fill out the contact form HERE.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Architect Linda Yowell sends along the following tip in response to our post on Novelty Shingles: “Wolf Creek Cedar is a source for ready-cut novelty-shaped cedar shingles (most of the cedar we use today comes either from the Northwest US or from Canada).”

Thanks Linda!

Back in 1995, when the NY Times reported on the wooden house at 59 South Elliott Place in Fort Greene, historian Christopher Gray referred to the whimsical blue shingled house as an “ice cream sundae amidst the roast beef of its more prosaic neighbors.” I like that.

What makes this eclectic house stand out is not only its eccentric massing, its recessed columned porch, or its open oriels that project from the top floor in a castle-like fashion (it is also not just because Othniel Boaz Askew lived here until 2003, when he was dramatically killed by the police moments after assassinating his local councilmember on the balcony in City Hall). What one instantly notices on this house are the blue scalloped shingles, which were first added to the facade in 1892 and restored not all that long ago when the house underwent a significant renovation.

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Are you considering purchasing a frame house in Brooklyn? I’m taking a break from history for a moment to focus on the more practical side of that decision. Today’s expert opinion comes from Richard Perri of Professional Home Inspections, a licensed professional home inspector, structural and civic engineer, and recognized authority on New York City townhouses. Richard has performed thousands of home inspections throughout the city, and can walk you through the ins and outs of ensuring your frame house is in good condition. Luckily for us, he’s agreed to lend some advice to The Wooden House Project!

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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.

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