Preservationists Fight to Keep Historic Porch on 70 Willow in Brooklyn Heights

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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

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