Formstone, Permastone, Wooden House Project, Brooklyn

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.

So, if you’ll oblige me, I’ll jump into my first topic…

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505 West 160th Street

by Chelcey Berryhill

Today we’re hopping across the East River to introduce you to Charles, one of the original members of the Wooden House Project. While he may not write posts for us, his legacy and dedication to documenting all of the wooden houses in Manhattan certainly lives on! For nine months, Charles scoured the entire island of Manhattan in an effort to document all of its remaining wood-frame buildings. We think it’s safe to say he started the Wooden House Project with this effort back in 1932.

Wood-frame houses are far more scarce in Manhattan than in Brooklyn simply because Brooklyn developed later. Because of fires, Manhattan got its act together long before Brooklyn, outlawing wood-frame construction in its denser sections at an early date. I find myself often scrolling through the nearly 600 photographs in the Charles Von Urban photographic collection online at the Museum of the City of New York. While it’s hard to choose my favorites, here is a crack at it with a handful of photographs that make me smile and say “thank you,” Mr. Charles Von Urban! (all photos in this post presented courtesy of MCNY).

My favorite buildings captured by Charles, and why…

12th-Street

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.

What some of our favorite South Slope wooden houses looked like c. 1980 >

Historic image courtesy of the New York Public Library

WOW.

And today…

greenpoint

We love Greenpoint! Our walking tour of the neighborhood’s great wooden houses is just over a week away. Sign up here!

14th-St
We’re enamored with the pretty little house at 286 14th Street

Building of the Day: 337 12th Street [Brownstoner]
Best Block to Pretend it’s the 1950s [L Magazine]
Architecture: Harlem’s Oldest House [Harlem + Bespoke]
Brooklyn Garden Playhouse [theSweeten]
House of the Day: 250 Cumberland Street [Brownstoner]

Over the river and through the woods…

Don Draper grew up in a pretty great house! [AMC Mad Men Season 6 Episodes]
Before and After: Home Exterior [Better Homes and Garden]
Modern Take on a Traditional Farmhouse in Missouri [Dwell]

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Vinyl siding: Love it or hate it?

Well, apparently pigs fly. Here’s a post I never thought I’d write. When I was in grad school for historic preservation, I would have balked at the idea of reading a post singing the praises of vinyl siding, let alone authoring one. Vinyl siding is the butt of many a preservation joke. It’s just so EASY. Covering your house in plastic? Seriously?

But I’ll admit, since starting the Wooden House Project I’ve developed a soft spot for the stuff, and with this post I offer my argument as to why it’s not as bad as everyone likes to think. I’m aware that this is a highly divisive topic, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we all go out and clad our houses in vinyl siding (or aluminum or asphalt, which I’m lumping in here as well). Why? Watch this. I’m just saying we shouldn’t be so quick to hate on it.

My five reasons, after the jump >

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1925

by Lisa Santoro

Recently, while browsing the New York Public Library’s fantastic photo gallery, I discovered a picture of my beloved Marine Park taken in 1925 with a caption that read “part of one of Brooklyn’s largest developments.” I am very familiar with this row of houses and the scores of others that look just like them; having grown up in Marine Park, I have walked by them almost daily for most of my life.

I live in a wooden house and I didn’t even know it! >

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by Sara Durkacs

Just three blocks south of the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, one finds another odd homage to heroes from the comic book pages: stained glass interpretations of Captain America and Spider-Man on sale at the Stained Glass Store. Opaque shades of red, white, and blue expertly pieced together within veins of lead create a usually archaic or divine object for a new generation. These Saintly Superheroes are for sale!

Or, if you prefer, commission Peter Romano, proprietor of the Stained Glass Store, to create your own object of devotion.

A transom above the exterior door featuring your house number, perhaps?

BH

Brooklyn Heights

taxphoto

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 >

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Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1952:

“Charred (frame) house as wedding backdrop: Andrew Kuriplach and his daughter Jean leave the charred remains of a house at 52 Clay St., scene of recent five alarm fire at a Greenpoint warehouse. They are headed for St. Cyril Methodius R. C. Church where Miss Kuriplach married Sgt. Robert Dolney. The newlyweds had planned to live in this house before it was hit by fire, but now they will make their home in the house behind this one, where the bride’s family resides.”

More on the fire in the New York Times.

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An old wooden building at 20 Goodwin Avenue, just around the corner from the John and Hannah De Coudres House in Bushwick. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library and c. 1923.

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by Chelcey Berryhill

After writing about the soon-to-be loss on 11th Street and 4th Avenue, you can bet we’re excited to see not one but TWO wooden houses up for public hearings this week at the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Although we may be a bit biased here at the Wooden House Project, I must say these houses are quite deserving of the individual landmark status!

Here is what the LPC has to say about them >

doors

Decorate your doors! #woodenhouseproject

14th Street Home Reveals Hidden Secrets During Renovation [South Slope News]
House of the Day: 356 52nd Street [Brownstoner]
Trees and Branches Down Around the Neighborhood [Ditmas Park Corner]
All things Five Points! [Bowery Boys]
Last one to leave the Fourth Avenue development site [DNA Info]
High-Mileage Alterations [New York Times]

Over the river and through the woods…

Inside a Circa 1790s New York Farmhouse [Country Living]
From Fixer-Upper to Refined Farmhouse [This Old House]
‘Save This Old House’ Update: 2011 [This Old House]
Rescue Me: 316 First Street [Newburgh Restoration]

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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.

Not happy about this >

11th-Street-now

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.

I consulted the New York Public Library to find out for sure >