A new edition of Charles Lockwood's seminal 'Bricks and Brownstone: The New York Row House' features new text, photography and design.
What is brownstone, and why did 19th-century builders select it for townhouse facades in Manhattan and Brooklyn? A brownstone expert explains.
OK, this is not strictly only about Brooklyn. But it is too important for fans of brownstones and historic architecture in Brooklyn not to mention. On Tuesday, Sept. 25, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation will hold a panel discussion on the life and legacy of Charles Lockwood, author of the brownstone bible, “Bricks and Brownstone: The New York Row House 1783-1929.” As the panel announcement says, the book “spurred the brownstone revival of the late 20th century and was the first book of its kind to place row houses in historical context and examine how their architectural features tell their story.” The panel, called “Bricks and Brownstone and Beyond: A Panel Discussion on the Life and Legacy of Charles Lockwood,” will examine the continued impact of the book and the legacy of its late author. The panel will be moderated by Patrick Ciccone, a preservationist and Lockwood’s collaborator on the newly revised edition of the book. Panelists include Andrew Dolkart, architectural historian and author of “The Row House Reborn,” Kevin Murphy, architectural historian and author of “The Houses of Greenwich Village,” and John Foreman, real estate agent and author of the New York Social Diary’s weekly column “Big Old Houses.” The panel will take place at the Salmagundi Club, at 47 5th Avenue (between 11th and 12th streets in Manhattan). It is free but reservations are required. RSVP to email@example.com or 212-475-9585, ext. 35.
This is the first in a series of posts by Charles Lockwood, author of the brownstone bible Bricks and Brownstone and the “consummate authority” on New York City brownstone, according to The New Yorker. Tune in on Brownstoner every few weeks for a new installment. In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of his must-have book here.
Talk of a real estate bubble is so pervasive among New Yorkersâ€”including Brooklyn brownstone ownersâ€”that you’d think this generation had invented soaring housing values…and was the first to face the risk of price reversals because of Wall Street gyrations or a national recession. Not true. Look back to nineteenth-century where high housing prices and whiplash-like boom-bust cycles were a regular occurrence in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and other cities. The litany of today’s housing woesâ€”including the risks of real estate bubblesâ€”sound remarkably like the problems of nineteenth-century New York.
Housing Shortage. As the city boomed after the 1825 completion of the Erie Canal, housing was so scarceâ€”and construction workers were often so far behind scheduleâ€”that families sometimes moved into unfinished buildings. Well-dressed families are observed to be occupying houses of which the builders do not appear to have accomplished the work so far as to have fully closed them in by doors and windows, declared the Niles Weekly Register in 1825.
At least, those families had a roof over their heads. Some early nineteenth-century New Yorkers, who could not find temporary housing when their leases expired, sought short-term refuge in the city jails.
The transformation of Brooklyn from farms, forest, and a few villages into a rapidly growing city started in the 1820s when this shortage of housing in Manhattanâ€”and the existence of regularly scheduled East River ferry service from the foot of Fulton Street in Manhattan to the foot of Fulton Street in Brooklynâ€”encouraged New Yorkers to buy lots and build homes on Clover Hill, a bluff overlooking the East River which became known as Brooklyn Heights.
Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.
We are thrilled to announce that Charles Lockwood, the foremost expert on historic brownstones, will be starting a Q&A column on Brownstoner. Called the “Consumate Authority” on brownstones by The New Yorker, the consultant, lecturer and author (of Bricks and Brownstones) will answer one or two reader questions a month. We encourage you to a submit specific question (along with relevant photos) about the history and architecture of your townhouse. Please email us with the subject LOCKWOOD Q&A. Please understand that we will only be able to answer a very limited number of submissions and that Mr. Lockwood cannot recommend specific service professionals.
Q: What is brownstone, and why did nineteenth-century builders select brownstone for townhouse facades in Manhattan and Brooklyn? Isn’t the stone impractical due to scaling and crumbling?
A: Brownstone is a soft, close-grained triassic sandstone or freestone. When first cut, the stone is pink, but it soon weathers to an even, rich, chocolate brown because of the presence of hematite iron ore. Most of the brownstone used in nineteenth-century New York came from the Portland, CT area on Connecticut River or near Little Falls, NJ near the Passaic River. The stone was cut there, put on barges, carried to New York, and unloaded near one of the building stone storage yards along the Hudson or East Rivers.
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, when New York row houses were built in the Federal and Greek Revival styles with red brick facades, brownstone was often used for stoops, doorway trim, and window lintels and sills on smaller houses, because it was cheaper than the customaryâ€”and preferredâ€”white marble or limestone. (Continued Below).