Brooklyn is slated to lose a number of its wood frame houses to development this year. Often these houses are some of the oldest in the borough, although they may not look like much, at least from the outside.
Just like so many other aging wood frames in Brooklyn, this little house on Chauncey Street in Bed Stuy, above, is meeting the wrecking ball soon. Demo applications were filed last week to knock down the two-story home at 201 Chauncey, as well as a shed and row of garages on the property. We don’t know the home’s exact age, but our columnist Montrose Morris noted that it is at least as old as 1880, but probably older, in this Building of the Day post. There’s no word on what will replace the house, but we’re betting it will be an apartment building. An LLC bought the 50 by 108.5 foot lot in February for $1,400,000 — seven times its last sale price in 2004.
Now that warmer weather has set in (apart from yesterday, of course), the applications for demo permits have ticked up in the building department. A large number of the houses marked for demo are wood frames.
We wondered if that’s because they tend to be in worse condition or less expensive than their brick and stone counterparts. Preservationist Elizabeth Finkelstein of The Wooden House Project attributed the trend to rising real estate values in working-class neighborhoods, some of which happen to have a large concentration of frame houses.
“I think the wooden houses right now are especially vulnerable because of the trend in people moving to places like Bushwick and Greenwood Heights,” she said. “People can’t afford to buy in Brownstone Brooklyn anymore, so they’re moving to frame-heavy neighborhoods. Developers follow. While Park Slope and Cobble Hill have been expensive for a long time, homeowners in Bushwick have only recently been able to cash out. I think they’re taking advantage of the market, at the expense of some of these houses.”
A few examples we have covered recently are 111 Clarkson and 50-54 Clarkson Avenue in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, 664 Jefferson Avenue and 447 Decatur in Bed Stuy, and, of course, the six 19th-century wood frames at 233-301 11th Street in Gowanus, which will be replaced by a large apartment building at 470 4th Avenue.
Next up are houses from Crown Heights to Bushwick, including: 1480 Pacific Street, 1168 Greene Avenue, 45 Cedar Street, 726 Monroe Street, 341 Sackett Street, 539 Van Buren and 1255 Decatur Street. The house at 1480 Pacific, which was a Building of the Day in February, is part of the proposed Crown Heights North III Historic District expansion.
With the notable exception of Brooklyn Heights, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the first to be landmarked, Landmarks has not typically designated areas with lots of wood frame houses, although some were included in the historic districts of Greenpoint and Wallabout, which are both primarily wood-house neighborhoods. Partly this is because wood frames tend to be highly altered and covered in siding, which can make them ineligible. But there is hope, said Finkelstein.
“Greenpoint is an interesting example of a neighborhood that was landmarked while much of it was still covered in siding (I’m actually surprised the LPC did this). Many of the houses still are, but you can see the positive effect landmarking has had on some of the wooden houses on Milton and Noble streets.” Although, she added, the LPC focused on the most brick-heavy part of Greenpoint and called that the historic district. “So while the historic district does contain some wooden houses, they still brought their brick bias with them.”
Another possible explanation for the demise of wood frame houses: They are sitting on more land and have more FAR. This is certainly the case with 201 Chauncey Street.
— Cate Corcoran and Rebecca Baird-Remba
Photo by Christopher Bride for PropertyShark