Halloween may be over, but Park Slope stoops are still sporting plenty of synthetic cobwebs and collapsing jack-o’-lanterns, so I feel a post on the subject isn’t too far off base. One night last week, Charlie and I were taking one last walk through the brownstone before heading home for the evening and I noticed the light casting a ghoulish glow over the garden floor. I snapped a few photos and then failed to post them in a timely fashion, of course. But, if you’re looking for the setting of your next horror film, I think I may have found it.
It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with quick trips to New Orleans, Tulsa, and Houston. Much progress and many visits to Home Depot were made in between, but I’ve been significantly remiss in chronicling any of our brownstone renovation adventures. In an attempt to make up for lost time, I’m offering a two-for-one deal in this post: electricity and plumbing! Now I have you hooked, right? If further enticement is needed to keep reading, let me preface this by explaining how challenging it is to adequately outfit a home more than 120 years old with modern amenities while still respecting the building’s original layout and structural integrity. But trust me, we’re trying! Or rather, Charlie is trying and I am learning. Every day, I learn new terms and techniques and somehow the pieces are all slowly coming together in my head. So, without further ado, I give you a random assortment of photos and descriptive words that I hope will give you a sense of how we are progressing.
Let’s suffice it to say that I’ve never given much thought to the pipes that carry our “waste” out of the house. To me, such necessary functions were attributed to magic and were dependent upon gravity and deep, deep, underground holes. Now you have a better understanding of my extensive knowledge of plumbing.
Well, there’s a bit more to it than that I’ve quickly learned. But, the very symmetrical nature of this brownstone beauty has offered a very brilliant bathroom solution. Since the building will eventually morph into either two or three separate apartments, it was crucial to have a bathroom on at least three of the four floors. Charlie is the best problem solver I know and has managed to run one waste line (read: giant black pipe. Not magic, as originally assumed) down the length of the building and all the bathrooms will be aligned down the center of the house. How is that for waste management?
And, in an effort to make as few holes as possible in those ancient plaster walls, most of the electrical wiring has been neatly coiled next to the plumbing. Which, I suppose, is it’s own kind of modern magic, really.
Although it’s hard to tell, this will eventually be a third floor bathroom someday soon. Currently, though, you can see through to the second floor. (I promise, no original hard wood was destroyed in the making of this bathroom. It started off as ancient, unattractive tile.)
Just one of many unavoidable holes that I promise will be patched.
The top floor ceiling also had to be replaced as some of the beams were beginning to collapse and needed a bit of bolstering. And, if you need one more bonus photo for making it this far, here’s one of all the insulation Charlie managed to cram up there. This baby brown is airtight. I’m hoping we make it to January without turning on the heat.
Feast your eyes on this cast iron beauty and tell me how much you’d enjoy cooking a big meal for a large brownstone family. I suggested to Charlie that we keep things simple in the kitchen and, instead of investing in some fancy stainless thing, we just cook on this instead. He was less than amused.
All kidding aside, this is one of the most impressive stoves I’ve ever seen.
If you can get a good look at the writing across the top, it says National Stove Works New York. Cursory internet searches have not revealed much of anything about the stove’s origins. But I’m determined to know more. Anyone out there have any insight into enormous cast iron stoves from the late 1800’s? in the photo below, you’ll see that there is date of 1873 listed above the burners.
My mind is already spinning all kinds of crazy stories and I can practically picture the women who perspired over this stove in layers of crinoline (what else could they be wearing?) cooking hearty suppers for a full house. And I don’t think my daydreams are too far off from reality. Charlie searched through the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s online newspaper archives and found an ancient clipping for this very same house in the early 1900’s advertising for a full-time cook. Not just any cook. A Protestant cook. Apparently those owners could only consume food cooked with the same religious views. You are what you eat, as they say.
Late last week, we had the gas meters installed (one of the less interesting aspects of home renovations so I’ll spare you the details). When the gas guy walked through the garden floor, his jaw dropped when he saw the stove. This thing catches everyone’s attention. It’s even more impressive in person.
One of the more daunting tasks is to figure out how to incorporate such a stove into our home. Because I’m fairly positive it will take an army to move it. At least we’ll always a conversational piece close at hand.
When I moved to this borough about 4 years ago, I’ll admit that I didn’t know very much about it. I knew that most of my family landed here after leaving Ireland about three generations ago. And that some areas were notoriously not that desirable while other areas very much were. I also knew that very good pizza was easy to come by.
But I did not know anything about brownstones. Fortunately, Charlie has turned out to be a wealth of information in that department and has spent the last couple of years patiently imparting his real estate wisdom and knowledge of historical preservation on me. Two weeks ago, he became the very proud owner of one such regal brownstone and, if you’re interested, I’d like to share what one of these baby browns looks like on the inside after many layers of paint and years of carpets (I hear the ’70s calling) and decades of renters. And, if you want to stick around long enough (read: a few months), I’d also like to share what one of these buildings can look like after a painstaking and meticulous renovation.
He’s unlocking the door and ready for the cleanup. This beast of a brownstone has four floors in total. The door Charlie is unlocking here leads to the garden floor and then there are three floors towering above.One of seven marble fireplaces in the building. The one pictured here is on the back parlor floor. Each floor has two large rooms on either end and, if you can imagine, a fireplace in each room. I can’t even fathom a time when a building of this size was heated using fireplaces. If this photo makes your eyes burn, it might be because of the exceptionally pepto bismol pink walls. Also note the salvaged molding on the floor. This will be incorporated back into the building at a later date.I’m still working to figure out what year this sink might be from. But, it should be noted that this room is also currently home to a similarly old and beautiful white stove as well as a hulking, jaw-dropping cast iron stove that reaches almost to the ceiling. This cast iron behemoth is most definitely one of the oldest things in the building (aside from the building itself) and we are determined to find out its origins. Pictures of these will come next time. (Am I building the suspense for Brownstone Part II? Is it working yet?)The original grand staircase just waiting to be restored and returned to its original glory.The pepto pink paint meets its match with a good dousing of paint stripper.
Take a good look at the intact ceiling up there. Perfection.
if you’ve scrolled this far, I’m going to guess that you most likely are leaving with no true sense of the building’s layout. And, well, let’s be honest here. That’s because I really have not done this building any sort of justice. This is more a hodge podge of photos that I hope to expand upon and, eventually, I plan to give you a better picture of this little corner of Brownstone Brooklyn.
Considering that I hail from Upstate New York (farther north than most might deem necessary to travel), I love when a worthy trend makes its way south. And rarely do I think that Manhattan or its great, neighboring borough, Brooklyn, lack for very much of anything. Especially restaurants. But when the Syracuse-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que announced plans to open a new outpost in a long neglected warehouse on Union Street near Fourth Avenue, I began counting down the days.
**Disclaimer: This post is long overdue and the following photos date back to June 21st, two days after the Dino’s official opening. But I don’t think it’s ever too late to extoll the virtues of this place.
One of my favorite characteristics of all the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que locations is the way they manage to keep their cool by taking root on the slightly tougher edges of town. In Syracuse, the original location was founded in 1988 in an old brick tavern on a largely uninhabited stretch of town. In Brooklyn, the bar-b-que joint is steps from the Gowanus Canal, whose toxicity has long been debated, and has showcased a bright mural as a tribute to the area’s gritty history. The same sentiment can be found in Harlem’s location, too.
Although I most certainly am no expert in the intricacies of bar-b-queing, I can assure you that this is the best I’ve ever eaten.
While patiently waiting for our table with a slew of expectant and hungry Brooklynites, I ruminated on some of the many differences between each location. For instance, Syracuse’s curb is always lined with Harley-Davidson bikes while Brooklyn’s curb is more typically filled with strollers and vintage Schwinn bikes. But the food is another story. The food will consistently amaze you, despite the location you choose.
Fuel for the fire.
Unfortunately, piles of meat rarely photograph well. At least, in my experience. And, after a lengthy and well-deserved wait with some frothy brews, very little thought was given to the camera once the food arrived. But hopefully I’ve convinced you that this place is well worth a visit.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve managed to catch delicious whiffs of slowly cooking pork as I’ve biked over the Gowanus canal on neighboring streets. And trust me, pork is quite the upgrade from the foul smells typically emanating out of that canal.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Brooklyn maintains an atmosphere of eerie quiet. As the wind dies down, people are tentatively stepping outside to survey the damage. As one of the lucky few with power, I’ve occupied myself with a steady stream of news reports and a steaming pot of chicken chili.
This morning I wandered the surrounding blocks, picking my way through branches and drenched Halloween decorations. Here are a few snapshots that pale in comparison to the devastation seen in other areas of the city.
Shreds of an awning flapping in the wind.
Halloween cobwebs after the storm.
Bike riding through Brooklyn is an activity with which I have only recently become comfortable. Possessing a nervous disposition to begin with, I associated riding a bicycle through the city with inevitably dangerous consequences. As if one slight waver down a narrow street would find me on top of an unsuspecting windshield or spiraling across a driver’s door swinging open in front of me. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.
But two years ago, Charlie found a vintage, maroon huffy on the side of a Pennsylvania road with my name written all over it. He brought it back to Brooklyn and taught me how to be a street-smart, urban biker.
This past Sunday morning, we walked outside to discover that someone had stolen my bike. Cut the metal lock and left no trace that it had ever been resting against that street sign. We’ve been scouring the streets ever since, doing double-takes on every bike that is chained to a pole or a fence or a tree.
We just got back from Cape Cod where we spent a few days soaking up the sun. I promise to post a few photos once the sting of my bike theft wears off. But for now, I’m reminiscing about my last ride through the dunes of Provincetown.
Bike thief, if you’re out there, do the right thing. Bring that bike back to the corner where you found it.
Our tiny Brooklyn apartment is many things but bright is not one of them. We have five windows (Five! Glorious! Windows!) but all of them look out into this gray stone courtyard you see here. And with four more floors looming above us, sunlight has a hard time making it’s way into our home. But, for about one hour each afternoon, give or take mother nature’s whims, we get the tiniest rays of natural light beaming across our floor boards. Unfortunately, we only get to enjoy these rays on errant Saturdays and Sundays. Darn those 9-5 work weeks.
Despite our lack of light, we never have trouble discerning what time of day it is when we are in the apartment. With our small, enclosed courtyard and winding staircase cutting through the building, we hear the muted sounds of our neighbors, no matter the time of day. In the mornings, we’ll wake to the sounds of softly crying babies and the clink of dishes as breakfast tables are set. And in the evenings, as I’m winding down from a long day of work, I hear the trumpet player on the third floor practicing his scales. I’ll hear keys rattling intermittently throughout the building as people come home to their families and roommates. And I’ll hear the tiny footfalls and shrieks of children eager to play. (We live in Park Slope, after all. Some things are to be expected.)
My first few nights living in the building, I could’t shake the feeling that I was living in a modern day commune. Alright, so maybe there are no communal dinners, no shared household chores, or even routine conversation. But I feel as though we have established a kind of intimacy with our neighbors. The kind of intimacy that can only be shared in close quarters and allows us to inadvertently share snippets of our lives with each other.
Some might find this living situation to be too intrusive (and I could’t blame them) but somehow I find it comforting. I like to think about all the conversations and dinners and bedtime stories that are being had all around us.
So, maybe we don’t have a coveted view of the street. But sometimes, looking right into our neighbors’ living rooms every night can prove much more interesting indeed.
Living in Brooklyn, it is easy to forget how close we actually live to the water. The fresh and the salty kind. I go about my daily routine through the city and rarely brush up against a coastline. But last summer, Charlie and I kept reminding each other that we should treat ourselves to a sail on the Hudson River. So, a few weeks ago, we took an evening cruise on the Adirondack Schooner and watched the sun slowly set over the city. With all of the unbearable heat we’ve been enduring, it was nice to escape the confines of the concrete jungle and feel the wind ruffle our hair. And it helps to have a crew on board to pour the wine with a liberal hand.
There she is, ready for a night on the Hudson.
I think it’s always good to get an outside perspective on your city every now and again. When I’m walking along the sidewalks, weaving in and out of buildings and pedestrians and taxicabs, I tend to forget what this place actually looks like.
Our crew, raising the sails and preparing to refill our vino.
For the record, Charlie and I were never very good at taking pictures. After a long day pounding the pavement, we’d come home and collapse on the couch, lamenting how we’d forgotten the camera yet again. But this little blog has inspired us to try and document all of our adventures, from the ordinary to the extravagant. Now, I don’t claim to wield a camera with expert hands, but at least we’ll have evidence of all our times together. I was starting to get worried we’d look back one day and say to each other: “Remember that one time..? Grab the photo album. Oh…wait a minute.”
Phew. Let’s hope we nipped that bad habit in the bud.
There are a lot of things that I love about Brooklyn. The pizza. The legendary flea markets. The way bike riders constantly battle motorists for control of the streets.
One thing I vehemently dislike is how expensive it can be to call this borough home. But, as I was walking to the farmers’ market yesterday, I snapped these photos and realized – wait a minute – Park Slope is teeming with charitable citizens willing to donate possessions to their less-fortunate neighbors. Just take a look at some of these prizes I found.
Puzzles make great gifts for those family members you find it most difficult to shop for. But, if books and puzzles aren’t your thing, perhaps you’re in the market for a new mop?
Not even half a block down the same street, I noticed this box. Yes, you are seeing correctly. A box of video cassettes. Brooklynites really know how to entice bargain hunters with the latest technology. If only there I hadn’t thrown out that VCR! I always knew cassettes would make a comeback. And Sex and the City on video has to be worth something, right?
Residents here also know that man’s best friend will always have your best interests at heart.
But, the dead giveaway that you are traipsing the streets of Park Slope? Free parenting advice. On twins, no less!
It was a hot weekend here in New York, so I’m really surprised that this air conditioner was still sitting here by late Sunday afternoon. It looks to be in mint condition. I doubt that box has been opened in 25 years!
Perhaps it just needed one of these signs to reassure buyers.
But this stoop was perhaps the most disconcerting scene I encountered. Given what I know of Park Slope brownstone dwellers, I would have thought their literary tastes to be a bit more sophisticated. Goosebumps? Really? I heard that Park Slope children start reading Proust before the 5th grade. At least the globe partially makes up for this egregious choice in reading material.
As I continued on to the farmers’ market, I wondered to myself: What would my stoop look like if I purged my apartment of unnecessary items? What would my unwanted goods say about me? And, most importantly, what would my neighbors think?