The landmarked Brooklyn Lyceum at 227 4th Avenue will become condos. Interestingly, the developer plans to put only two or three luxury units inside the relatively small building — it is 12,200 square feet — but will put up a 12-story rental building next door with as many as 70 apartments, Crain’s reported.

Real estate investment firm Greystone just closed on the Lyceum, which it purchased at auction for $7,600,000 in October, as we reported at the time. It is in the process of buying the empty lot next door at 225 4th Avenue for $13,500,000, Crain’s said.

We had speculated in October the building, a public bathhouse built in 1910, was unlikely to become apartments because there wasn’t enough room for more than a few, unless Landmarks allowed an addition on the roof.

By buying both sites, the developer can transfer about 20,000 square feet of development rights from the Lyceum to the empty lot and build bigger there. Greystone is also planning to restore the exterior of the building.

The developer plans to start construction in the spring and finish early in 2017. Work on the Lyceum will begin whenever Landmarks approves the plans, the firm told Crain’s.

“We’re looking forward to restoring the building,” a Greystone exec told Crain’s. “This is a brownstone neighborhood, so we’re going to try to create something in context with that, inside with the units.”

What do you think of the plans?

Landmarked Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope Slated for Condos [Crain's] GMAP
Developer Buys Landmarked Baths on 4th Avenue for $7.6 Million [Brownstoner]

Update: We just received a press release from Greystone, which says 225 4th Avenue will have 68 luxury rentals and 3,500 square feet of stores on the ground floor. Amenities will include a gym, bike storage, and roof deck. RKF is going to be the leasing and sales agent for both buildings.

crown heights autumn 112014

We’re happy to report that Historic Districts Council has chosen Crown Heights as one of the six neighborhoods where it will focus its preservation efforts in 2015. As part of its Six to Celebrate program, the Historic Districts Council will help the Crown Heights North Association revive its preservation campaign. Although Crown Heights has two historic districts, some of the neighborhood’s historic buildings are still at risk for development and demolition. Landmarks calendared Crown Heights North Phase III three years ago, but never voted on the expansion.

Another important — and ambitious — Six to Celebrate project is “Landmarks Under Consideration, Citywide.” These are 150 proposed landmarks that are unprotected, 96 of which Landmarks said it would “decalendar” before backing off the plan last year. The Council plans to “document, publicize and conduct community outreach” for all 150 sites to gather support for designation and to help LPC with its backlog. In Brooklyn, the list includes Green-Wood Cemetery, the Lady Moody-Van Sicklen House, and the Forman Building at 183 Broadway.

The Council offers help with research, landmarking, publicity and zoning to community groups in Six to Celebrate, and it hosts walking tours to raise awareness about a chosen neighborhood’s history and architecture.


Hats off to Times reporter Matt Chaban for his piece yesterday about the sad story of 69 Vanderbilt. The owner, 85-year-old retired lawyer Louis Somma, grew up in the house and lived there among piles of refuse and with a cracked foundation until the city ordered him out in 2009. He has refused offers for as much as $800,000 to buy the house. He is holding out for $3,000,000, he told the Times, but now that the city has demo’d the lot, he believes it may be worth $5,000,000. (In 2013, the renovated twin house next door sold for $1,000,000, and Landmarks rules prevent a building taller than four stories.)

Meanwhile, he owes $120,000 in back taxes, and the city has sold the lien, so if he does not pay, the bank will foreclose, leaving him with nothing.

“It was such a nice house, so full of memories, until Louie filled it up with his junk,” said his youngest sister Marie Brown. “He defies everybody. I still don’t know what he thought was going to happen here.”

An Eyesore, Also a Piece of History, Is Demolished in Brooklyn [NY Times]
69 Vanderbilt Coverage [Brownstoner]
City tax photo below via NY Times


69 vanderbilt avenue wallabout 122014

The city has finished demolishing the mid-19th century wood frame at 69 Vanderbilt Avenue in the Wallabout Historic District, DNAinfo reported. A construction fence went up around the home in August, after the DOB responded to a complaint in June that the house was shaking and leaning. The HPD filed demolition permits to knock down the house in December. The house was still standing when we passed by January 4, although demo may have started earlier.

Preservationists had spent years fighting to save the house, which was built in the Greek Revival style with Italianate details. Wood turner Richard Pease built the home – as well as the much better-maintained twin house next door at 71 Vanderbilt – no later than the summer of 1850, according to the historic district’s designation report, although it could be older.

The LPC decided the building had deteriorated too much, and sued the property owner to demolish it, said DNAinfo. Once the court ruled in favor of the LPC, the city moved forward with demolition. Now the vacant lot is in the process of being sold, according to DNAinfo.

164-Year-Old Landmarked Home Reduced to Rubble in Clinton Hill [DNAinfo]
Closing Bell: City to Demolish Landmarked Greek Revival Wood Frame in Wallabout [Brownstoner]
Photo by Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project LDC


The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved the proposed renovation plans for the historically significant 1839 Greek Revival house at 70 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights, we hear from readers who attended the hearing this morning. Two caveats: The LPC asked the owners, Grand Theft auto creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna, to retain the existing ironwork and the front door, shown in the recently revised and approved front and side elevations, above. The rear porch, however, is history.

70 Willow Street Coverage [Brownstoner]
Rendering by Bories & Shearron


At the last minute, as the Landmarks Preservation Commission prepares to hear more testimony about the proposed alterations at historic Heights’ home 70 Willow this morning, more information has come to light about the history of the highly contested porch on the rear of the building, which the current owners would like to remove.

Last night we received documents and an email exchange between preservationists about the porch. The most important of these is the 1887 Sanborn map, above, which appears to show the porch is much earlier — or much later, depending on your view — than previously thought. (On these old fire insurance maps, pink indicates brick and yellow shows wood — in this case, the porch.) An earlier map, the 1855 Perris map, does not show a porch, according to the historic consultant for the renovation, Patrick W. Ciccone.

Ciccone had previously thought the porch dated from about 1900 — and it was replaced entirely in the early 2010s, he told us last week. (Click through to see the porch in 1958 – with Truman Capote leaning against it.)

This new information doesn’t affect the proposed renovation, Ciccone told us. The design “is based on the historic signficance of the 1839 Greek Revival design as the basis of restoration. It didn’t have the porch according to the 1855 map — and we argued that alteration, including those in the 19th century, lacked signficance on their own.”

The Historic Districts Council, a coalition of community groups from designated historic districts, feels otherwise. The group received documents about the porch from an anonymous source and forwarded the information to Landmarks yesterday with a strongly worded email arguing the porch should remain.

“A glaring omission in the applicant’s original presentation was the absence of the rear ‘tea porch’ in the 19th century. For this reason, the applicant purported that the current porch has no historic value, and therefore lending a green light for demolition. The attached packet provides documentation of an extant rear porch in 1887 via a Sanborn map (the earliest map the applicant provided of an extant porch was 1922) and also photographs of the porch throughout the years, showing a consistent and historic configuration that remains today. One final consideration is that this house’s porch is visible from the street, as there is a wide driveway. In short, the demolition of the porch would be a crucial loss.”

Owners Plan to Restore Historic Heights Home 70 Willow Inside and Out [Brownstoner]
Landmarks Sends 70 Willow Reno Plans Back to Drawing Board [Brownstoner]
Landmarks to Consider Alterations to Truman Capote’s Old Brooklyn Heights House [Brownstoner]
Image above via Historic Districts Council; image below via New York Magazine



The massive, neighborhood-transforming conversion of the 150-year-old landmarked coffee warehouse Empire Stores in Dumbo should be ready in about six months, according to a story in Crain’s. After signing high-profile tenant West Elm in 2013, the leasing team at Jones Lang LaSalle is now looking to fill 250,000 square feet of offices and retail. Prices range from $65 to $85 per square foot, and firms who move to the borough are eligible for city subsidies of as much as a $15 per square foot discount.

To drum up buzz, Jones Lang LaSalle has been sending out “handsome coffee-table books detailing the project along with bottles of Brooklyn-distilled whiskey,” said the story.

Separately, Jones Lang LaSalle released a slew of new renderings today and also has a website where they can be seen in their entirety, along with historic photos of Empire Stores. Above is a revised and current rendering showing the outside of the building, which was released in 2013. Click through for the new renderings of the rooftop, interior and courtyard spaces.

Dumbo-born and based tech company Etsy was rumored to be looking at the space, but last year announced it will anchor another high profile Dumbo conversion, the Watchtower printing plant properties, as we reported at the time. In 2013, Brooklyn Bridge Park said construction would wrap in third quarter of 2015.

Drumbeating Begins for Empire Stores [Crain's]
Empire Stores [Official]
Empire Stores Coverage [Brownstoner]
Rendering above via Brooklyn Bridge Park, renderings below via Jones Lang LaSalle



Call us naive, but we always thought brownstones in Bed Stuy, at least the habitable ones, were pretty much immune from development. (We’re not quite sure why we thought that — perhaps because, in the past at least, the numbers wouldn’t pencil out for a developer?) But now, with construction booming all over the place, we see that is totally false.

Take, for example, this two-story Neo-Grec with a bay window at 580 MacDonough Street, close to Ralph Avenue. If you click through to see the rendering on the construction fence, you will see that the owners are planning to add one more story and completely redo the facade so it looks like a modern “Fedders”-type building. There will be a balcony, and the facade will jut out in a triangle above the bay window (that is not a wrinkle in the rendering).

It’s unfortunate for the block and, we think, a wasted opportunity. The developer could have kept the original facade and maximized FAR with a setback. And not only that, if he had, the house would be more valuable and he would reap a bigger profit, we bet.

The house is in the proposed Stuyvesant East Historic District. Until about a year ago, this area was nothing but row upon row of mostly well-preserved historic homes, almost all dating from the 19th century — including quite a few early wood-frame ones. Now that intact streetscape is quickly being lost. GMAP



Patrick W. Ciccone is a historic preservation consultant and real estate development adviser. He is perhaps best known as the co-author of a forthcoming edition of the late Charles Lockwood’s classic brownstone bible, “Bricks and Brownstone.” He is the historic consultant on the renovation of 70 Willow Street, one of Brooklyn’s most important historic homes.

After speaking with him this week over email, we realized our previous stories about the renovation did not give a complete picture of the plans. The house’s new owners, Grand Theft auto creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna, who purchased the 1839 Greek Revival mansion for a record breaking $12,500,000 in 2012, are planning an extensive historic restoration of the property inside and out. Ciccone is working with the owners and the architects, Richard Bories and James Shearron of Bories & Shearron, on the project.

As we have discussed in detail elsewhere, such as Building of the Day posts, Dutch colonial descendant and Revolutionary War era reverend Adrian Van Sideren built the house, one of the oldest in the Heights. (The photo above shows the house as it appeared in 1922.) Subsequent notable owners included Tony Award-winning Broadway stage designer Oliver Smith.

Four large color plates in the revised edition of “Bricks and Brownstone” show the house’s famous sweeping oval staircase and the front and rear parlors of the house, with their full-height windows, a black marble mantel and extraordinary Greek Revival wood work, columns with anthemion motifs and doors. Extensive pictures from the house’s previous restoration can be seen on the website of architects Baxt Ingui.

We spoke to Ciccone in more detail about the house and what they have in store. (Note: Some of our questions below were constructed after the fact, for ease of reading.)

Brownstoner: The proposal calls for replacing the famous rear double-decker porch, where Truman Capote, who briefly rented in the house, wrote and entertained, and which he wrote about in his essay, “A House on the Heights.”

Patrick W. Ciccone: The current porch is one-story and wood. It may be visually similar to the one Capote wrote about but it was entirely replaced in kind in the early 2010s. No historic fabric remains. The new porch is double height and iron.

BS: Can you tell us more about the style of the original porch and when it was built?

PC: The first version of the porch dates from circa 1900 — the house had no wooden porch from 1839 to 1900. (Unlike many other house in Brooklyn Heights, which had rear tea porches.) It’s a simple, sort of picturesque wooden porch. It later had a two-story portion added and later demolished sometime in the mid-20th century. The current wooden porch is an in-kind replacement of the original severely deteriorated one, circa 2011 or so, I believe. So if one is taking the George Washington Slept Here/Truman Capote Drank Martinis here approach, it is not the same porch.

BS: Other plans include changing the color of the house from yellow to red, which the owners said was its original shade, according to Curbed. (more…)


The first-ever Evelyn and Everett Ortner Preservation Awards will be given out Thursday at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, according to an email we received from one of the winners. The awards “recognize projects that are compatible with the historic architecture of Park Slope and interventions by individuals or groups to protect the neighborhood’s historic character,” said the Park Slope Civic Council, which chooses the winners. And they are:

*The award for Exterior Rehabilitation will go to 107 Prospect Park West, a single family mansion built in 1899 that was abandoned in the ’80s. After buying the house in 2011, Horrigan Development gutted and restored the decayed building, which had holes extending from the roof to the cellar and extensive water damage. The developer converted it to condos and rehabbed it into “a stately neo-Italian dwelling…that enhances the appearance of Prospect Park West,” according to the council.

*The Lincoln Place Block Association wins the award for Neighborhood Intervention. “As a result of their joint efforts, the residents were able to prevent alterations to a brownstone on their landmarked block that would have been detrimental to the appearance of their streetscape and backyards,” said the council in an email to us.

*And the Second Empire Victorian-style Henry Bristow School building at 417 6th Avenue, P.S. 39, pictured above, will receive the Exterior Restoration award. Brice Architecture revamped its severely damaged outside by replacing the cornice, fabricating and installing new decorative copper work, reconstructing the slate mansard roof and repointing the brick and stone masonry. Built in 1877, it’s one of the oldest continuously operating school buildings in the country.

*The award for Best New Construction will go to the energy-efficient two-family townhouse at 319 4th Street. Aspen Equities built the house in only eight months and incorporated green building materials, including a solar water heater, EnergyStar appliances and low VOC paints and adhesives throughout.

The Ortners, of course, were the noted preservationists who did so much to save Park Slope and helped launch the brownstoner movement across the country.

Ortner Coverage [Brownstoner]
Photo by New York Architecture Images


The Landmarks Preservation Commission has rejected plans to alter one of Brooklyn’s most important historic homes, 70 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights, where Truman Capote once lived. The house’s new owners, Grand Theft auto creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna, who purchased the Greek Revival mansion for a record breaking $12,500,000 in 2012, proposed an extensive remaking, billed as a “restoration,” Curbed reported.

The plans would have replaced much of the existing fabric of the 1839 house, including the iconic double-decker porch in back, where Capote wrote and entertained. (And which he wrote about, in his essay “A House on the Heights.”) Click through to Curbed to see the dramatic difference between the existing porch, which is curved, like the house’s famous round interior staircase and skylight, and the proposed deck, which would be modern and rectangular.

Other plans included changing the color of the house from yellow to red, which the owners said was its original shade, replacing the front entryway, adding shutters, replacing the rear verandah with a two-story deck, replacing the existing driveway gate with a solid one, changing the windows, adding onto the house and extending the base of it, and adding a shed and a pool in the backyard. The commissioners were not pleased, said Curbed:

Commissioner Michael Devonshire, who is an experienced preservation architect, called it “replicating” rather than “restoring,” going on to say that the situation presented an “amazing conundrum.” Still, he called the proposal “perfectly period appropriate.”

The couple also plans an extensive interior renovation, a gut, according to plans filed with the DOB — which they are free to carry out, since the LPC regulates only exteriors. What do you think of their proposal and the LPC response?

Capote House Alterations Do Not Sit Well with Landmarks [Curbed]
Landmarks to Consider Alterations to Truman Capote’s Old Brooklyn Heights House [Brownstoner]
Photo above by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark

Update: We just received an email from Patrick W. Ciccone, the historic preservation consultant and real estate development adviser who is the co-author of the most recent edition of Charles Lockwood’s classic brownstoner bible, “Bricks and Brownstone,” which we believe contains interior photos of the house in question. Please click through for his comments and our response.

Second update, 4:46 pm: We have just learned, from his comment below, that Mr. Ciccone is the historic consultant on this renovation project. We have asked him for more information about the house and the restoration plans, and will update when we hear back.



One of Brooklyn’s most famous houses, and its most expensive, the grand Greek Revival at 70 Willow Street where Truman Capote once rented, may be in for some big changes. The owners, Grand Theft auto creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna, who purchased the house for a record breaking $12,500,000 in 2012, want to alter the side and rear facades of the 1839 house and excavate the backyard and install a pool.

Exactly what the alterations will entail and whether they will change the appearance of the exterior will be revealed at a hearing to consider the proposal Monday, January 6. The owners also plan to refurbish the front but we expect the new front door and ironwork will be indistinguishable from the existing one, since the house is landmarked. Inside, they are planning what sounds like a gut to us, with “new partitions, doors, flooring and interior finishes,” according to an alteration permit approved in October.

Here’s the full text of the notification on the LPC’s website: “Application is to replace front doors and ironwork, remove sills, strip paint, alter the side and rear facades, excavate the rear yard, install a shed, pool, and paving.”

The house is famous for its rotunda and sweeping circular staircase. Capote wrote and entertained on the back porch and had Jackie Kennedy over. Click through to see a photo of the building, including the detached side, taken in 1922.

Photo above by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark; photo below via New York Public Library