It’s walking tour season and Wooden House Project has two upcoming tours for you to join! We’re partnering with Brooklyn Historical Society and Preservation Greenpoint to tour the Wallabout Historic District and the wood frame houses of Greenpoint. See ya real soon!
November 2, 2013
Partnering with Brooklyn Historical Society
Recently landmarked, the Wallabout Historic District contains one of the largest concentrations of intact pre-Civil War wood-frame rowhouses in the entire city! Come take a stroll with Chelcey Berryhill and Elizabeth Finkelstein as we explore the neighborhood’s fascinating early roots and address some of the challenges to preserving these rare historic structures. Along the way, we’ll visit the former home of poet Walt Whitman and discuss the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s role in the development of modern-day Wallabout.
November 9, 2013
Partnering with Preservation Greenpoint
Join Elizabeth and Chelcey as they travel through Greenpoint to discover its hidden gems and industrial history. The tour will take you through the historic district to the jaw-dropping preserved wood frames and beyond the boundaries to highlight some of the sites that make you want to say “Hmm….” From pencil manufacturing to bath houses, this excursion of Greenpoint will have tour goers appreciating and supporting the efforts of the Historic Districts Council “Six to Celebrate” organization Preservation Greenpoint.
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!
Today’s “Then & Now” features some lovely porches & spindles on Dean Street near the corner of 4th Avenue in 1929.
Keramos Hall (photo courtesy Kamen Tall Architects)
By now I’m sure you’ve heard of Greenpoint’s newly-restored Keramos Hall. The project has received much well-deserved recognition of late, as the recipient of the Landmarks Conservancy’s Lucy G. Moses Award and the subject of features in a handful of media outlets concerned about architecture, history and preservation in Brooklyn. A whimsical clapboard building — one hidden under asphalt shingles for decades — has finally come out of hiding. Manhattan Avenue has a new crown jewel.
Well, this is all fine and good. Fascinating history, beautiful building, beautiful restoration. But I couldn’t help but wonder: Why? What would have inspired the owners of this building to invest so much money into an exterior restoration of this scale and quality? This is something you just don’t see everyday, especially when it comes to commercial buildings. I had to find out.
Fortunately for me, my WHP co-writer Chelcey has a contact at Kamen Tall Architects, the brilliant team behind the project. So on a warm spring day last week, I hoped aboard the G train to spend the morning at Keramos Hall with architect Joanne Tall and the building’s owner, Harold Weidman. What I learned from these two gave me more hope in the future of Brooklyn’s architecture than anything I have experienced in the past few years.
My husband and I own a wood-frame row house in Brooklyn, a borough made famous for its picturesque streetscapes comprised of intact brownstone, limestone and brick row houses. Far less appreciated, though certainly no less wonderful, are the scores of 19th century wooden row houses like ours – peculiar little historic treasures from a simpler time that provide a refreshing respite from the formality of bricks and mortar.
The reason why Brooklyn has so many masonry buildings is simple: wood burns, and in such a dense built environment, if one wooden house catches fire the entire row can be gone in a snap. At a certain point in the borough’s history, fire insurance companies began to prohibit the construction of wood-frame houses by extending the “fire codes” further and further into Brooklyn. The fire codes were extended to different parts of Brooklyn at different times (tune into future posts for more specifics on that), but by the turn of the 19th century wooden houses had been outlawed in most of the borough’s densest neighborhoods.
Regardless of their inherent fragility, the existing wood-frame row houses in Brooklyn have proven themselves hearty enough to survive for over a century. The fire insurance map above, from the New York Public Library, shows the South Slope in 1898 – and it’s striking to see how many houses are depicted in yellow, which denotes wood. A large percentage of these are still around today, masked under all sorts of siding, and in certain pockets of Brooklyn they are being purchased and lovingly restored to their former glory.
Brooklynites by nature hate conformity, and there is something about owning a wood-frame row house in a concrete jungle that makes one feel as if they’ve discovered something very unique and special. The Wooden House Project is intended to be a community for those owners and lovers of Brooklyn’s wood-frame row houses, and my hope is that in building this community these underappreciated, hearty little survivors earn the love, recognition, and preservation they deserve.