One of the two 19th century buildings that housed BookCourt, 163 Court Street, slated for development any day now, is a historically significant pre-Civil War building, research reveals.
The three-story wooden home and store was likely built between 1842 and 1850, according to a report by Columbia University preservation graduate student Mayssa Jallad. One of the few remaining wood frames of its age in the area — and possibly the only one built as a wooden storefront — it is in remarkably good condition and contains a wealth of historic detail inside and out.
All of it would likely be destroyed by the makeover its new owner, developer Eastern Capital, is planning.
Jallad dug through maps, conveyance records and city directories to find out the history of the building. Her full report (including some shots of the upstairs interiors) is available here.
An 1855 map shows the building was a “frame dwelling with stores under,” making it likely that the house was originally constructed with a wooden storefront. By 1850, a business was listed at the address: Irish undertaker James Harper used the storefront and lived above.
His family would continue to run the business out of the building until 1911. The storefront was restored in the 1980s by BookCourt’s owners.
Above the red-painted storefront, the wood frame building is simple but elegant in its detailing — with a dentiled cornice and window surrounds.
It can be a bit hard to pick up the details under the rich red paint, but the residential entrance has an elaborate surviving Greek Revival style door surround, with sidelights, columns and scrolled brackets.
While other wood-frame residential buildings in Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill survive, the report did not turn up another pre-Civil War wooden storefront, making the fact of its survival all the more unusual.
BookCourt closed in December 2016 and the owners sold 161 and 163 Court Street to Eastern Capital for $13.6 million.
While 161 Court Street is getting an interior renovation and exterior extension, architect Charles Mallea will be giving 163 Court Street a vertical addition as well as a rear one, nearly doubling the height of the existing building — and making a renovation of the existing facade and interior likely.
The building is located just outside of the Cobble Hill Historic District and is not protected. Eastern Capital has not yet responded to a request for comment.
[Photos by Susan De Vries]
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