Ah, the Mansard roof! A wood-frame house with a cherry on top. I must admit, I love ALL Mansard roofs, no matter the house material. Though they are by no means unique to wooden houses, there is something about finding this high-style feature adapted to the vernacular frame house that makes me smile. But what is the genesis of this much-beloved architectural element?
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.
Wooden houses are abundant in the Fort Greene Historic District, and they’re the fun kind; rather than dominating the neighborhood, they surprise you when you notice small clusters intermittently wedged between bricks and brownstones. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report, the detached pair of transitional Greek Revival/Italianate houses at 329 & 333 Adelphi Street are the two oldest wooden houses in the district, built together ca. 1848. No. 329 (the corner house) appears more primitive because it has retained its original height and because of its shingles, though they are actually not original to the building. No. 333 once looked just the same, but was later heightened. Something about the wild landscaping adds to the houses’ country feel.