It looks like the restoration of 70 Willow Street is complete, now that the front door is back in place.
Recent decisions by the Landmarks Preservation Commission have caused members of the preservation community to question the agency's commitment to preserving the architectural heritage of the city.
Patrick W. Ciccone is a historic preservation consultant and real estate development adviser. He is perhaps best known as the co-author of a forthcoming edition of the late Charles Lockwood’s classic brownstone bible, “Bricks and Brownstone.” He is the historic consultant on the renovation of 70 Willow Street, one of Brooklyn’s most important historic homes.
After speaking with him this week over email, we realized our previous stories about the renovation did not give a complete picture of the plans. The house’s new owners, Grand Theft auto creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna, who purchased the 1839 Greek Revival mansion for a record breaking $12,500,000 in 2012, are planning an extensive historic restoration of the property inside and out. Ciccone is working with the owners and the architects, Richard Bories and James Shearron of Bories & Shearron, on the project.
As we have discussed in detail elsewhere, such as Building of the Day posts, Dutch colonial descendant and Revolutionary War era reverend Adrian Van Sideren built the house, one of the oldest in the Heights. (The photo above shows the house as it appeared in 1922.) Subsequent notable owners included Tony Award-winning Broadway stage designer Oliver Smith.
Four large color plates in the revised edition of “Bricks and Brownstone” show the house’s famous sweeping oval staircase and the front and rear parlors of the house, with their full-height windows, a black marble mantel and extraordinary Greek Revival wood work, columns with anthemion motifs and doors. Extensive pictures from the house’s previous restoration can be seen on the website of architects Baxt Ingui.
We spoke to Ciccone in more detail about the house and what they have in store. (Note: Some of our questions below were constructed after the fact, for ease of reading.)
Brownstoner: The proposal calls for replacing the famous rear double-decker porch, where Truman Capote, who briefly rented in the house, wrote and entertained, and which he wrote about in his essay, “A House on the Heights.”
Patrick W. Ciccone: 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.
BS: Can you tell us more about the style of the original porch and when it was built?
PC: The first version of the porch dates from circa 1900 — the house had no wooden porch from 1839 to 1900. (Unlike many other house in Brooklyn Heights, which had rear tea porches.) It’s a simple, sort of picturesque wooden porch. It later had a two-story portion added and later demolished sometime in the mid-20th century. The current wooden porch is an in-kind replacement of the original severely deteriorated one, circa 2011 or so, I believe. So if one is taking the George Washington Slept Here/Truman Capote Drank Martinis here approach, it is not the same porch.
BS: Other plans include changing the color of the house from yellow to red, which the owners said was its original shade, according to Curbed.
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.
One of Brooklyn’s most famous houses, and its most expensive, the grand Greek Revival at 70 Willow Street where Truman Capote once rented, may be in for some big changes. The owners, Grand Theft auto creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna, who purchased the house for a record breaking $12,500,000 in 2012, want to alter the side and rear facades of the 1839 house and excavate the backyard and install a pool.
Exactly what the alterations will entail and whether they will change the appearance of the exterior will be revealed at a hearing to consider the proposal Monday, January 6. The owners also plan to refurbish the front but we expect the new front door and ironwork will be indistinguishable from the existing one, since the house is landmarked. Inside, they are planning what sounds like a gut to us, with “new partitions, doors, flooring and interior finishes,” according to an alteration permit approved in October.
Here’s the full text of the notification on the LPC’s website: “Application is to replace front doors and ironwork, remove sills, strip paint, alter the side and rear facades, excavate the rear yard, install a shed, pool, and paving.”
The house is famous for its rotunda and sweeping circular staircase. Capote wrote and entertained on the back porch and had Jackie Kennedy over. Click through to see a photo of the building, including the detached side, taken in 1922.
Photo above by Nicholas Strini for PropertyShark; photo below via New York Public Library
Read Part 2 of this story.
Much has been made of the sale of 70 Willow Street, which recently set a record for the highest priced home in Brooklyn, selling for $12 million. That’s certainly impressive, but what is even more impressive to me is the history of the house.
The Brooklyn Heights house at 70 Willow Street that Truman Capote reportedly lived while he wrote “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” sold for $12 million, sources told the Daily News. If the story is accurate, the deal will be the biggest house sale in Brooklyn history. The 18-room, 1839-vintage mansion first hit the market in mid-2007, when it was listed for $18 million. The asking price dropped to $15.9 million last June, then to $14.995 million last September and finally $13.995 million in November. Capote is said to have lived in the garden apartment of the house between 1955 and 1965. The biggest residential sales in Brooklyn until now were the sale of Brooklyn Heights’ 212 Columbia Heights earlier this year for $11 million and the 2003 sale of a Gravesend house, which also fetched $11 million. The buyers of 70 Willow haven’t been identified but, according to the Daily News article, “excited neighbors on Willow St. reported seeing activity at the house, including lights on at night, cars in the driveway and moving trucks at the house.”
Truman Capote’s Brooklyn Heights house sells for $12M [NY Daily News]
70 Willow Street Hits Market [Brownstoner] GMAP