Landmarks Approves Reconstruction of Fort Greene Townhouse’s Deteriorating Facade

Google Street View of 434 Vanderbilt Avenue

“White knight” owner stepped in to rehabilitate 1866 townhouse after building fell into disrepair. On June 5, 2012, Landmarks approved a proposal to dismantle and reconstruct the deteriorating facade of an 1866 Second-Empire building at 434 Vanderbilt Avenue in the Fort Greene Historic District. In addition to rebuilding the front facade, the proposal included plans to build a rear metal deck on top of an existing one-story extension. The owner also plans to replace the windows on the rear facade with glass entry doors to the deck. The work at the rear would be partially visible from street vantages.

According to Landmarks staff member Joshua Speakman, prior to 2006 a former owner performed illegal work on the home, which included replacing the roof, windows, and historic dormers. Subsequent owners took steps to repair and stabilize the dilapidated structure, which included installing temporary steel supports. Speakman explained that in November of 2011, the current owner obtained staff-level approval for restoration work on the roof, dormers, and rear facade. The owner then constructed an internal, free-standing steel structure to stabilize the facade. The owner discovered the extent of the front facade’s deterioration during the restoration work. The facade would need to be entirely rebuilt, using salvaged brick when possible. Marble window sills and lintels would be repaired and reinstalled, or replaced with cast stone where repair is not possible.

Landmarks General Counsel Mark Silberman explained that the site had been a “demolition-by-neglect matter of long standing,” and the current owner had stepped in as a “white knight” to restore the building. Silberman said the discovery of the severely unstable facade was the “latest hiccup” in the restoration process.

Architect Vladimir Charles, of Second Floor Studios, presented photographs demonstrating the poor condition of the existing brick. Charles estimated that 60 percent of the existing brick could be reused in the reconstructed facade. He noted that the brick on the facade was not uniform because of the illegal work performed by previous owners. Charles said the proposal intended to bring back the house’s “historical glory.”

Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney pointed out that Brooklyn Community Board 2 supported the proposal. The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams testified that the organization was “happy to see someone willing to try to bring this unique little house back to life,” but said material samples for the project should have been provided to the public.

The commissioners endorsed the proposal and praised the owner for seeking to preserve the building. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter told the owner that the rear deck was “the least you could have” for the “heroic task” of restoring the structure. Chair Tierney said the project would be a “great testament” to both the owner’s and Landmarks staff’s effort to prevent the total loss of the structure.

LPC: 434 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn (13-1977) (June 5, 2012) (Architects: Second Floor Studios; Brent M. Porter Architect and Associates).

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