A small, pre-Civil War residential building in Brooklyn will be returned to something resembling its former glory. On Tuesday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the restoration of 121 Congress Street. That’s located between Hicks Street and Henry Street in the Cobble Hill Historic District.
The three-story Italianate-style rowhouse dates to between 1850 and 1855. Decorative headers and sills, and a cornice could still be seen in a 1940s tax photo, as could the metal areaway railing and front steps.
By the time of the district’s designation in 1969, however, there was little trace of any of that. In fact, a solid wall now encloses most of the areaway, and similar construction lines the front steps. The cornice is gone, and the white stucco façade stands out like a sore thumb among its neighbors.
The plan for the restoration comes from Fort Greene-based Urban Matrix Architecture and Planning, PC. It includes removal of the current cladding, which would be replaced with a brownstone stucco finish. A new fiberglass cornice will be constructed. New two-over-two windows will be installed, and new sills and headers constructed.
The front steps will also be reconstructed to match their original condition, with metal railings, and a metal railing around the areaway. Additionally, the front entrance will receive a new pediment and pilasters.
Commissioner Frederick Bland said anything would be an improvement on what is there now. He called the plan “sophisticated” and said that the brick façade suggested in public testimony would be “more false [than the proposal].”
Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the proposed brownstone stucco finish would be okay, but he wasn’t wild about the proposed new sills. He suggested the applicant work with LPS staff on that.
LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the proposal was good overall.
There was only one piece of public testimony, from the Historic Districts Council’s Barbara Zay. “HDC finds that while the proposed façade alterations certainly bring the building in the right direction, it would be more appropriate if the details matched those of the building’s immediate neighbors and the building’s own history,” Zay testified. “It does not appear as though this building were originally clad in brownstone, but rather brick, like its neighbors, so why not clean up and duplicate the brick? HDC applauds the proposed stoop, railings and windows, but would prefer a wood cornice to the proposed fiberglass.”
The commission voted, unanimously, to approve it, with a provision that the applicant work with LPC staff on the sills, as Commission Goldblum suggested.
View the full presentation slides, including more photos of the current conditions, here: