Brooklyn, one building at a time.
Name: Private house
Address: 201 Chauncey Street
Cross Streets: Malcolm X and Patchen Avenues
Neighborhood: Bedford Stuyvesant
Year Built: Unknown
Architectural Style: Vernacular Victorian
The story: Huddled here, the last of its kind on this block, this house won’t be with us much longer. It’s going to get swallowed up by modernity, mediocrity and progress. It has value, not because it one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, and not because it is some great architectural wonder, but because it sits on a nice big lot – 50×108.5 feet of New York City real estate.
I don’t get to this part of Bed Stuy very often, but a couple of weeks ago, I was walking down this block with my friend, Amzi Hill, and we passed this house. The first thought through my head was that this house reminded me of nearby Weeksville. Weeksville was home to a successful and independent community of African Americans, the town itself founded in the 1840’s, only blocks from here. The homes in the Weeksville Heritage Center today are from several periods of time, and this house could have easily been from the same later period as the “newest” houses in the town; the last half of the 19th century.
A look at the earliest map I could access on line, from 1880, shows the house, or at least a wood framed building here. At this time, the street grid for this, the 25th Ward, had long been laid out, but development had not really reached here yet. Most of the buildings on this block were of wood, and there were large gaps between built-upon lots. If you expand to look at the entire ward, there are nearby blocks and blocks of land that have nothing, or one or two buildings on them. This area was not really developed until about twelve years later, in the early to mid-1890s.
So we have an ordinary, vernacular, two-story wood framed house, with an attic, on this wide lot. There was a small attached shed to the left of the house, which is still there. It’s a good house; it’s wide, at 25 feet, its steep peaked roof giving it that classic shape that any child would recognize as the quintessential “house.” Its proportions are good, the doorway and windows are nicely balanced, and anyone would be happy to call this home, it’s a classic American house. The tax photo from around 1984 still shows a handsome little cottage, along with trees, and another period house next door.
And now today, it stands alone, closed up and ready to be torn down. There is an old 2009 permit to do so on file. It will probably be replaced by two buildings, since there’s enough width, (and a permit) both more than likely resembling its neighbors, with a deep setback, front or underground parking and little charm. No one famous lived here, it’s not in Weeksville, or anywhere else important, and it’s not by a famous architect or builder. This cute little house, a survivor, and one of the earliest houses in the neighborhood is doomed. GMAP