Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What Historic District Designation Might Not Allow - Part 1

Today we're featuring some photographs of alterations that might not be permitted by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, if the properties had been within a historic district when the alterations were proposed to the LPC.

Note we say "might not be permitted". The cases below represent our opinions only, based on our understanding of what the LPC does and does not try to promote. We might be wrong here; we are not the LPC and we do not claim to represent them. The following cases are based only on our own casual understanding of how the LPC works. We invite interested readers to review the LPC's website for more authoritative information.

Note also that some of the cases below are inside the current Park Slope Historic District, which was designated in 1973. The LPC does not force any property owner to change any conditions that existed prior to designation; the LPC only reviews proposed work and changes undertaken after designation.

Here we focus on modifications to existing buildings. In subsequent posts we will review new construction that might possibly not pass muster with the LPC, and also highlight some recent changes that have been sanctioned by the LPC.

First up, Park Slope's famous "Pink House":

233 Garfield Place, Park Slope Historic District

We can actually see "Big Pink" at this very moment, because we happen to live across the street from it. And we have to say, during the fifteen years that we've been gazing at it, the Pink House has grown on us. Although already included in the Historic District, it's almost landmark-worthy on its own, due to its amazing hue. It is a kind of throwback to an earlier Slope; it is by far the most photographed house on the block; and it is enormously popular with children. We once witnessed a wedding party climb up to be photographed on its stoop. And we're very fond of its elderly owner, who cares for it meticulously. In any case, there are so many greater abominations underway in Brooklyn, it's hard to get exercised about pink paint...

All this said, the LPC would probably discourage such an unusual color choice, were someone to propose this within a historic district. We suspect the LPC would try to work with the property owner to discover a more historically compatible choice. And, although we may feel a tinge of regret when the Pink House is inevitably restored to its original brownstone glory, perhaps it's all for the best.

Next up, a house within the current Historic District that has done everything wrong:

190-188 8th Avenue, Park Slope Historic District

The two buildings shown above were once twins, but the one on the left was ruined by a long-ago "remuddling". The stoop was demolished, and the scars left when the stoop was torn away were covered by "Permastone" around the ground-floor entrance. One parlor window has been bricked up. The lovely original peaked roof, visible on the house on the right, was destroyed. This kind of desecration would most likely be disallowed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and rightly so, we feel.

Below, more "Permastone" on the center three buildings, which are part of a larger row in 10th Street:

10th Street above 7th Avenue, north side

These three buildings once matched their companions on either side. Note that the cornices have been removed, and the projecting window frames have been shaved off as well. The LPC would probably disallow these kinds of changes.

Below, another pair of buildings about which we have fulminated before, that once were twins:

9th Street between 4th & 5th Avenues, north side

Here, the lovely projecting window bays of the 8-family apartment house on the left have been shaved off. We suspect such changes would be disallowed by the LPC.

There are a great many "two-and-a-half" story houses in Park Slope, often in continuous rows of 10 or 15 houses, all alike. The houses often have a pitched roof and tiny windows in the front, but a full-height, flat-roofed 3rd story in the rear. Some long-ago owners thought it would be a good idea to remove the cornice and raise up the front of the 3rd floor, as in the cases below:

497 1st Street, Park Slope Historic District

362A 6th Avenue

Unfortunately such modifications break the lovely symmetry of these long rows of formerly identical houses. We suspect the LPC would disallow these kinds of changes.

In other cases, the owner decides to add an entire new floor or floors atop an existing building, as in the examples below:

393 6th Street

304 7th Avenue

7th Avenue & 14th Street, northeast corner

There are definitely ways to greatly expand an existing building in a way that satisfies the LPC, and we hope to showcase an example in a subsequent post. But we suspect the above examples, where the new construction is so highly visible from the street, might encounter difficulties during LPC review.

Occasionally an owner decides to expand the existing building both upward and toward the rear, as in the following example:

7th Avenue & 15th Street, southwest corner

Such an expansion creates an odd juxtaposition in which the new construction appears to envelop or swallow up the old. There is a famous case in Carroll Gardens which some have dubbed the "Tetris House". The LPC might not immediately approve such a proposed change.

We never cease to be amazed at the ingenious ways people find to mess up a perfectly lovely old house. All we can suggest is that the LPC really, really wants to hear from you before you make any changes to the exterior of your building. They will work with property owners to insure that proposed changes are compatible with the historic fabric of Park Slope. We will present examples of permitted modifications in subsequent posts.

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