Landmarks Sends 70 Willow Reno Plans Back to Drawing Board

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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.

Ciccone claims the rear porch was entirely replaced a few years ago. He said, “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.” He also said the proposal is to restore the original brick, not paint it red. “It’s removing the existing paint (from 1995) and restoring the original brick — not a matter of paint color.”

He took issue with our characterization of the commissioners’ response. What we mean is that they did not approve the plans. And, finally, he said the owners are not planning a “gut renovation” of the interior but rather a “restoration.” He said, “the interior is not a gut but restoration of the existing Greek Revival interior. The entire design is largely a restoration of existing fabric, with a few select alterations to restore lost Greek Revival details.”

We hope he is right, but the application for a permit filed with the DOB says “new partitions, doors, flooring and interior finishes.”

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