11/19/13 9:00am

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Soaring prices in Brooklyn for move-in-ready brownstones are attracting high-end flippers who renovate problem properties from the ground up with structural reinforcements, change C of Os from SROs, add central air, and restore or re-create historic details. It might be more accurate, in fact, to call them developers rather than flippers, since construction can last as long as a year.

In neighborhoods such as Carroll Gardens, Park Slope and Cobble Hill, where a 19th century brownstone with state-of-the-art mechanicals, kitchens and baths combined with historic detail in the formal rooms and bedrooms command prices of about $1,000 per square foot, a high-end renovation will sell faster and for a better price than a standard flip job, said developers working in these areas.

Take, for example, 377 6th Avenue in Park Slope, a HOTD here last year. The Anglo-Italianate brick row house with a bay window was listed, went into contract, and closed within two and a half months, according to StreetEasy. The ask was $2,975,000 and it sold for $2,847,500, according to PropertyShark.

Developers Nick Faselis and William Ruggiero reinforced the structure, repointed all the brick inside, changed the C of O from a two-family to a single family, and added herringbone floors, gothic marble mantels, built-ins, a marble bath, and other top-of-the-line finishes usually seen only in custom renovations.

The final sale price worked out to $972 a square foot, even though the house is less than 17 feet wide. (more…)

09/18/13 9:00am

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The front hall still has its original painted decoration from 1886. The parlor floor is described as “museum quality” — in fact, photos of the whole house are in the Brooklyn Museum’s archives. Four pages in the brownstoner bible “Bricks and Brownstone” show the house’s rear parlor, entry way, and wood work and plaster details. The Evelyn and Everett Ortner house is for sale. You might say this house, at 272 Berkeley Place, saved Park Slope and launched the brownstone movement across the country.

The house is on the market following the death of Everett Ortner last year. (Evelyn Ortner died in 2006; the couple left no immediate family.) Passionate historic preservationists, their accomplishments, well-documented in countless articles, are almost too many to mention. Evelyn Ortner’s obituary in the New York Times said that she, along with her husband, “was among the first, the most vocal and the most effective champions of the brownstone revival that spread from Brooklyn to the rest of the country.” Most crucially, she ”did much of the historical research that persuaded the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee to designate the Park Slope historic district in 1973.”

As for the house, it comes with one, presumably rent controlled, occupant. We were surprised to see the layout is not original on every floor. The kitchen was moved upstairs and replaced by a ground-floor bedroom. The upstairs floors appear to have lost their pass-throughs (going by the floor plan). The house is configured with rentals in the front rooms of the top and third floors. The “printable feature sheet,” well worth reading, that accompanies the listing notes the house contains original gas fixtures (adapted for electricity), the original furnace (still working), and a “historic inclinator,” aka a staircase lift for handicapped accessibility, dating from the 1920s. Click through to the jump for some photos of the interior.

The Ortners bought it in 1963 for $32,000. We hope whoever buys it next won’t paint over the front hall. Oh, by the way, the new price is $4,800,000.

272 Berkeley Place Listing [Coldwell Banker Bellmarc/Vandenberg]
Photo above by PropertyShark (more…)

08/26/13 11:30am

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When we passed by the Timber Shed in the Navy Yard recently, the roof was gone. In May, the building was stripped down to the rafters, beams and posts while they reinforced the structure. But it looks like the brick sides are going back up. The frame structure peeking over the top appears to be scaffolding. The Navy Yard is rebuilding this historic building brick by brick.

Timber Shed Is Just a Skeleton [Brownstoner]

06/11/13 12:00pm

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The years-long restoration of the Sand Street entrance at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is just about done, and it’s looking stellar, in our opinion. They have even restored the turrets on the brick and marble gatehouses. A reader sent in these photos showing the progress to date. The finishing touch, a custom-made black metal gate, is a great improvement over the old chain link one that was there before. Click through to the jump to see the gatehouses. (more…)

06/11/13 11:00am

wood-frame-houses-brooklyn-061113Blogger Elizabeth Finkelstein started The Wooden House Project to explore Brooklyn’s wood frame houses. She is a visiting professor at Pratt, and previously was Director of Preservation & Research at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, a researcher at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and Program Manager at openhousenewyork. Her three contributors have equally interesting backgrounds in historic preservation.
Brownstoner: Why did you found The Wooden House Project?
Elizabeth Finkelstein: A few years ago, my husband and I were involved in the process of buying a wooden house in the South Slope. It was a tiny house and utterly charming — two bays wide, only two stories tall — and, as I found out shortly after seeing it, the oldest house on the block. That was my first time ever being in a wooden house here. And my first thought was — “wow! This does NOT feel like Brooklyn!” It felt like an urban cottage. But as I did more and more research, I realized that it actually was VERY Brooklyn — that entire neighborhoods here are made up primarily of wooden row houses. Not just the South Slope, but also Greenwood Heights, Greenpoint, parts of Williamsburg, Bushwick — the list goes on. People just don’t think of these houses when they think of Brooklyn, because the brownstone has become so iconic. I searched and searched, and I couldn’t find anyone writing about them. So I thought, well, I’ll just start the discussion.
BS: You recently told Brooklyn Based “there’s a restoration movement happening.” Could you tell us more about that?
EF: The neighborhoods that have the largest concentrations of wooden houses also happen to be some of the ones that people are moving to right now. Young couples just can’t afford a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights anymore. They are moving to Greenwood Heights, to Bushwick, and discovering these homes. They want to restore them. My hunch is that in 15 years, these neighborhoods will look very different.
After the jump, what it takes to restore a wood frame house… (more…)

05/23/13 2:40pm


All the bricks are gone from the Navy Yard’s Timber Shed, one of the two historic buildings slated for preservation amidst the supermarket development here. The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation began removing the bricks this spring (the bricks will be preserved) and the developer, Blumfield Development Group, is tasked with actually reinforcing the structure. In the picture after the jump, you can see how the ceiling frame is sinking in. This extensive restoration will be done to national preservation standards — no word on how long it’ll actually take.
Work on the Timber Shed Ramps Up [Brownstoner] (more…)

04/09/13 9:29am

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Work began last Friday on the Timber Shed, one of two Admiral’s Row buildings that were slated to be preserved under a 2009 agreement between the federal government and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. (The other nine historic buildings are heading for the scrap heap.) After being reinforced back in 2011, the historic structure lay fallow while plans for a large adjacent supermarket fell apart under a cloud of scandal and got put back together again. More recently, there have been some questions about whether the shed was beyond repair. Andrew Kimball, president of the Navy Yard, assures us, however, that it will be preserved and the removal of bricks is just a part of the stabilization process. The stabilized structure will ultimately be handed over to the developer, Blumenfeld Development Group, who will perform the restoration to national preservation standards that will make them potentially eligible for historic tax credits.

04/01/13 9:00am

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To many New Yorkers, Bloomberg is known as the developer-friendly guy who upzoned much of New York City, paving the way for Atlantic Yards, skyscrapers in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City, and tons more developments. But to the Wall Street Journal, he’s the Mayor of Preservation: Under his appointee, Chairman of Landmarks Preservation Commission Robert Tierney, the City has landmarked 41 areas, more than any of his predecessors. (And to be fair, as Bloomberg upzoned, he also downzoned, limiting building to preserve the character of some residential areas.) Some of those landmarkings were not based on historic merit but driven strictly by a desire to control development, claimed Michael Slattery, Research Associate of the Real Estate Board of New York. Take, for example, the controversy over extending the Bed Stuy historic districts. “This is a very old-fashioned sort of neighborhood where everybody says hello, where people sit on the stoop,” said Claudette Brady of the Bedford Stuyvesant Society for Historic Preservation. “A lot of it was about new buildings — three-story things that were set back two feet or three feet from the street. Just god-ugly things.” Is the Mayor unfair to developers? Or could it be that the LPC is finally getting around to its backlog of requests going back many years? What do you think?
Mayor of Preservation [WSJ]
Image by Stuyvesant East Preservation League

02/26/13 4:00pm


This week the Historic Districts Council is hosting Preservation Now!, its 19th annual conference on preservation throughout New York City. The keynote and opening night reception are scheduled for this Friday, March 1, and the weekend is full of panels and walking tours. Architectural historian Francis Morrone will take folks through Downtown Brooklyn’s Historic Skyscraper District on Sunday. And a panel scheduled for Saturday, called “Preservation Campaigns and Neighborhoods,” will take on the Williamsburg and Greenpoint rezoning. Students, seniors and friends of HDC get discounts on tickets, which you can purchase right here.

02/26/13 11:00am

Heath Ceramics has some interesting interiors pictured on its site, including, above, a house in Sausalito. For those not familiar, Heath Ceramics is a longstanding California maker of pottery and tile founded in the 1940s. The second and third interiors show an organic modern kitchen and a teens or 1920s home, all of which fit in with the Heath aesthetic. (more…)

02/21/13 11:00am


Brownstoner commenter, filmmaker and historic decor consultant Reno Dakota sent us photos of his latest project, revamping his cellar hatch, coal chute and cellar window wells. Originally, the hatch to the cellar of his Bed Stuy brownstone — you may remember the fabulous interiors from this New York Times feature — looked like any other, and the coal chute had been a “crumbling mess” for years. Also in need of attention were the window wells at the rear of the cellar, where the wood beams that span the opening and hold up the brick wall above “were rotten and bug-chewed down to nearly nothing,” as he put it. Reno designed an historically inspired hatch door, which Mario Metals fabricated and installed for $2,000, using hinges and handles from a catalog. Meanwhile, M. Hamid Construction tuck pointed the coal chute and the window wells and replaced the beam at the rear of the house for $1,500. (Above, one of the window wells with its joints scraped out.) Reno and M. Hamid have worked together on many projects, including restoring Reno’s brownstone facade, hardscaping in the garden, and a client project in the West Village a few years ago. You may also know Reno for his historic preservation work: He has spearheaded the effort to landmark Bed Stuy East. Click through for more photos, including the custom hatch door.

(more…)

11/06/12 11:00am

What we are reading this week about decorating and renovating old houses:


Gaswizard’s photostream on Flickr is a treasure trove of old photos and documents depicting Victorian-era gas lighting and just old photos in general. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to know what interiors of the time really looked like. Above, an 1890s gas light with vaseline glass shades. (more…)