Rick will be making a guest post… (We’ve made 3 posts today! Hope you will bare with us and keep on top of them all!:)
“No one is making brownstones anymore, the quarries are mined out – there is no more brownstone in existence. I would say there hasn’t been a brownstone built since the 40s.” This historical tidbit was passed along to me after dinner last night. Ken and Toni Yagoda, who have been invaluable to us this week, are fortunate to own a full 4 story brownstone. “Ours isn’t particularly ornate, but look at the detail on the molding. No one is going to bother doing that today, they just slap nails in a wall and are done with it,” Ken commented.
Brooklyn was the original suburb of Manhattan. The wealthy – captains, businessmen, and politicians built their mansions in the north-west corner of Brooklyn, many of them brownstones. Most are twenty feet wide, 4 stories plus a cellar, and a few are topped with a 5th floor. “Vertical living,” as Toni describes it. The ground floor will generally contain at least a 9 foot ceiling – this is the floor where people would entertain guests. A “pre-war” building has larger rooms.
We were able to tour a gorgeous pre-war apartment in historic Bedford Stuvvesant we looked at. The rooms were large, with French doors. The entry contained ornate carvings and a gothic style doorway. In the dining room, the original hardwood floor had been preserved with multi-colored wood patterns and inlays. And the fireplace too was beautifully carved in Victorian fashion.
As we strolled Fort Greene we came upon a father walking his 3 month old who stopped to talk with us about the area. He told us “after the stock market crash of the great depression, hundreds were evicted from their homes in the Brooklyn. The government realized that ‘this couldn’t happen’ and that’s where rent stabilization began. Landlords were given incentives, such as large tax breaks for 10-15 years if they would agree to offer affordable, rent. In turn, rent could only go up a few percentage points per year.” Apparently even beyond the life of the incentives the rent stabilization remains.
We also learned from Toni that many neighborhoods in Brooklyn were controlled by the mob, who had individuals well placed in the government resulting in low property taxes in those neighborhoods.
At some point, most of Brooklyn became unsafe and no one wanted to live here. In the 70s and 80s, a lot of reconstruction took place. Many brownstones lost their unique, interior features (a brownstone with original detailing is worth much more today than without). Also, thinking they would do the public a favor, the government introduced “the projects,” low-rent public housing areas. These areas remain a drag to communities in Brooklyn.
Today, protective measures are in place to preserve historic districts and the original brownstones. Slowly but steadily areas have been regenerated, “gentrified” and are once again thriving communities. You cant help but walk through these nicer communities and grieve for the fact that there will never be more communities like these build. There will be no more brownstones and the ones that do exist – half have been converted to single floor apartments and the other half are far out of the middle class price range.