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 >

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by Chelcey Berryhill

There are precious few wood-frame houses remaining in Prospect Heights today. Two of them — Nos. 578 & 580 Carlton Avenue — have long since been loved, but work is being done on both. No. 580 is today a mere shell (only the facade stands), and today the Landmarks Preservation Commission will hear the application to demolish parts of No. 578 in preparation for a renovation. The hearing on the new design will take place in the coming weeks.

But what did these gems used to look like?

158 10th Street

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about Brooklyn’s fanciest frame rowhouses. Neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Fort Greene, and Park Slope contain remarkable examples of richly-decorated wooden facades of the “gingerbread” type. But if I can be 100% honest, I have a soft spot for Brooklyn’s less celebrated blocks, many of which are lined with tiny frame houses. Eighth Avenue between 19th and 20th Streets is one such example. Tenth Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues in Gowanus is another.

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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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