Slew of Wood Frame Houses Slated for Teardown Across Brooklyn

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

23 Comment

  • daveinbedstuy

    Well, if the one depicted comes down, it’s no loss but I hate to think of what is replacing the one on Jefferson on that nice block

  • This is hardly a new story. Wooden houses have been torn down like crazy in the last few years, with little public interest. I’m in an 1871 frame, but there are plenty of buildings much older than my house nearby (South Slope), especially as you head south and west towards Gowanus & Sunset Park. You can see the history of a much older borough.
    Every block around here has had house demolition over the last decade. Many of the properties torn down belonged to property owners (often elderly) who were unaware of their full value. As regards the Slope, I find it ironic that citizens agonize over a hospital expansion, but have no concerns about rampant development a little farther down the hill. Maybe we should do what Jackie’s Fifth wanted to do and secede!

    • (waving my hand frantically) Hey! A lot of us are very concerned about both. I love the South Slope wood frames and it disturbs me to no end that even as more and more of these wood frames are being renovated and made beautiful again, it seems like every south slope block has a big hulking brutalist condo sticking out like a sore thumb. And it’s not as though these are affordable ugly buildings either. I am not sure why the effort to landmark the South Slope (and Windsor Terrace) hasn’t taken hold – that was the point of the Park Slope house tour a couple of years ago, the one that was exclusively South Slope. As is true of the Methodist expansion, I’d think it would take rallying a lot of the neighborhood to support landmarking, in order to counter big $$ development interests. I’d sign on, and so would many others.

      • Thanks for your response! Yes, the more you explore the history of the buildings, the more interesting it gets, and the more you notice houses that have been quietly sitting in place watching 150 years go by. And this is a very different social history than that connected to the grander brownstones. It’s sad how many wooden houses survived until just the last decade or so and then got razed. I have tons of photographs I’ve been accumulating over the years, and have been (sometimes successfully) matching them with earlier photographs or maps.
        Even without landmarking, I think that zoning ought to be further restricted. My immediate landscape has been changed beyond recognition.

  • Oh and there’s a S. Slope wooden house rental just listed in the NY Times for $10,500 a month. What times we live in …

  • Montrose Morris

    The frame house on Pacific Street sits on a nice big lot. That’s true for many of the remaining frames that were built back when many of our neighborhoods were touted as “suburbs.” A drive around all of Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and Bushwick, especially in the old Eastern District area which encompassed BS and Bushwick, can reveal frames tucked away on blocks everywhere. In Crown Heights, especially eastern CH, near Weeksville, the same is true. There are a lot of frame rowhouses in these neighborhoods, as well.

    .

    And of course, in Wallabout, Gowanus, South Slope, Greenwood Hts, Greenpoint, and parts of Williamsburg and Prospect Heights, as well. I applaud Elizabeth of the Wooden House Project for bringing these to people’s attention. We need to at least document these before they are gone. I hope many survive, but depending where they are, I’m not confident they will. And at the rate we’re going, none of them are really safe, long term.

    .

    Elizabeth, if you are interested in any central Brooklyn areas you may not be familiar with, get in touch with me, please. We may not be able to save them, but we should get photos and as much info as possible for posterity. 1480 Pacific will be a notable loss, it’s probably the second oldest surviving house in Crown Heights.

  • williamsburgguys

    Happy to report “most” of us on Orient Ave with the woodies are in the process of restoring them either back to real wood, or at least Hardie plank that is durable, non-flammable, and has that same old-time appearance. We did ours in Hardie as well as had the cornice rebuilt using it. So it looks like it did in 1895 yet should hold up with less maintenance. We did rebuild the front and back canopies in real wood and restored the old double door entrance on the front that was hidden behind old siding. We found a pair of used real 100+ year old doors and hardware. The house next door is restoring theirs to the old appearance as well and are using real wood siding, and the other house next door will be doing theirs in the fall. The folks at the Wooden House project are supposed to come visit and photograph the block and talk to everyone about the restorations planned or currently in process up and down the street.

  • Wooden House Project

    Brownstoner, thanks so much for bringing attention to this issue! I think the important thing to remember is that when these houses are gone, they’re gone for good. They’re very precious because you can’t rebuild wooden houses in most parts of Brooklyn now. Fire laws prevent it. I think if people could see what these homes look like under the siding, they’d be blown away. Most were built with fanciful Victorian details and they’re just wonderful! SO much of Brooklyn is built of wood (just not the landmarked sections, but that’s only a very small percentage of the borough anyway!) I’m confident the LPC will move in the right direction!

    Montrose, thank you for the very sweet words. You’ve been very supportive of the Wooden House project from the start and Chelcey and I are extremely grateful! Please feel free to email us anytime at woodenhouseproj@gmail.com if you have houses you’d like us to write about.

    Cate, please don’t hesitate to write a piece on the Orient Avenue homes! This information isn’t proprietary, and the more people that write about it, the better!

  • dash

    Ooh, beautiful blog. I’ve been curious about the vinyl clad houses all over Brooklyn!

  • Not far away from Clarkson Avenue, 186-190 Lenox Road went down a few years ago, frame houses side by side near Rogers Avenue. Here is another frame house whose demolition is likely forthcoming. It might have been discussed here, and it was definitely discussed on Q at Parkside. CPEX Realty recently sold 368 Lenox Road, a two story frame house a few doors away from Downstate Hospital at New York Avenue. It went for $1,250,000. CPEX describes it as a parcel ripe for “development and conversion.”