A rowhouse in the city’s first historic district will be getting some welcome renovations, but it will also be losing a quirk it picked up sometime after its construction. The public is not nuts about that loss, and it led the Landmarks Preservation Commission to end up with a somewhat rare non-unanimous vote.
The structure in question is 303 Henry Street, located at the corner of State Street in the Brooklyn Heights Historic District. It was built between 1840 and 1849. It fell under the LPC’s jurisdiction when the district was designated in 1965 and a proposal to renovate it went before the commissioners on Tuesday.
At some point over the last century or so, some odd and non-uniform shingles were added to the State Street side of the structure. They’ve been there for ages, and are beloved by some. Now, the owner wants to renovate the structure and regularize that façade with new, stained cedar shingles. Inga Nielsen’s President Street-based Studio Nielsen is responsible for the renovation plans.
LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan asked why the renovation plan didn’t include emulation of the current shingle pattern. Nielsen said there were two reasons. Doing so would cost too much, and the building’s owner didn’t want it. Srinivasan said it would not be inappropriate to regularize the façade.
Commissioner Frederick Bland, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, said the overall renovation plan (the details of which will are further down in this story) “terrific.” He said he was on the fence about whether or not to mandate the current shingle pattern be kept.
Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron wanted the existing pattern re-installed.
Commissioner Michael Goldblum said the proposed façade was appropriate and it comes down to the choice of the owner. Commissioner John Gustafsson echoed that, as did Commissioner Kim Vauss, who said either way would be appropriate.
Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City called for keeping the irregular wall. Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association was also not in favor of the proposed new shingles. She also asked that all new windows line up with existing ones.
The Historic Districts Council was generally supportive of the renovation, except for the new shingles. “HDC finds most of the proposed work to be appropriate and welcome, including enclosing the areaway and removing the grilles on the front façade. However, we do take issue with the unnecessary regularization of the shingles on the side wall,” HDC’s Barbara Zay testified. “While it is unclear what this façade’s original condition was, the Victorian-era shingles are a quirky and beloved feature of this very visible corner building. If the shingles are deteriorated, why not replace them with the same shingle patterns, which are readily available? Transforming this historic alteration into something far less interesting would be a waste.”
Other elements of the renovation plan include the removal of defunct ventilation grills on both the front and rear facades, enclosing the areaway with an iron railing, and repairing the front façade as needed.
On the State Street side, in addition to the new shingles, two new third-story windows will be added. The existing wood driveway fence will be replaced by a multi-segment one motorized gate and one manual gate, with masonry piers in between them.
On the rear façade, more grills will be removed, the façade repaired, and windows also repaired.
The other renovation aspects were largely lacking in controversy. What it came down to was the following question. Are the proposed new shingles appropriate for the Brooklyn Heights Historic District? You’d be hard-pressed to say no, and that was the ruling of the commissioners, who approved it, without modification. However, the approval was not without dissent. Commissioner Shamir-Baron voted against it.
View the full presentation slides here: