TBT

TBT: The original sink

In what I rank as the biggest salvage find thus far, we managed to get our hands on the original sink to our house. Finding good stuff can be summarized into two steps: being at the right place at the right time, and not being afraid to ask: can I have that?

Lucky for us, we happen to be walking down the street on trash day, when our neighbor asked us if we thought sanitation would take it. I am so glad we were able to grab it.

The two original bathrooms to our house are very very tiny. I’ve embraced that fact and let go of my old dream of a humongous bathroom. Who needs that? I’m over it. I want original, a fact that has been met with some opposition by the husband, who wishes to have a bathroom large enough so that he can towel off without having to open the door. Details!

Anyway.

Bathroom plan

This the original drawing for the bathroom by Daniel McDicken, the builder. As you can see, there isn’t much space.

(pardon the blurry photo. It was really hard to take pictures at the DOB and not be trampled by developers. A metaphor for what is happening in Brooklyn? Hmmm…)

Before finding the sink and the plans, we figured this must have been a small wall mounted sink. Turns out, it was a small sink with a darling marble counter:

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A tiny under mount sink. How cute is that?

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We have located a skinny bathtub (29 inches wide), and now we just need a toilet. And of course, to install everything. Details, details…

 

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TBT: House Plans

I always wanted to pull the original architectural drawings for our house, a task that requires equal parts patience and luck. New York City often notes the building date of 19th century structures as 1899, a year that is essentially random. I’ve been told that this is because there was a fire, and records were lost. I’ve also been told that it’s just plain old sloppy record keeping. I believe both explanations.

With the help of a friend, a trained professional in following old house clues, we found this in the Department of Building file of our house:

Blue Print

Super awesome, right? Absolutely the picture of what you think an old house blue print would look like, including the color pencil markings. Just one teeny tiny problem: that’s not our house. Not even close!

In the old days, when swaths of brownstones were built on spec, developers frequently filed one set of plans for the whole tract, so the drawings  would be more or less representative of what the finished house would look like. Even taking that into consideration, the discrepancies were still huge.  Not to mention the fact that these plans were filed almost a decade after Alphonso Welch moved into the house with his family.

Date Stamp

Something wasn’t right.

The DOB records note that the 1894 plans for our house would be in the folder of our neighbor’s building two doors down. The above plans were misfiled and belong to a long-gone structure a block away. Seems as DOB’s sloppy record keeping dates way way back…

We requested the folder to the neighboring house and sure enough, the plans were there. Daniel McDicken was the developer of our row, which takes up the majority of the north side of our block. The plans filed covered 5 houses, and looked decidedly less picturesque than the one above.

Memoranda

If you look very very closely, you can see the date of November 9, 1894 on the DOB stamp

This would be a good time for me to describe what the records department at the Brooklyn office of the DOB is like. It’s in a little appendage of a larger room; a hallway, basically. There is a counter, behind which sit two workers protected by what seems like an unreasonably thick layer of glass, given the type of work they do. There isn’t anywhere to sit (or stand), and a lot of the people there seemed to do an unusual amount of pacing back and forth. It is a horrible and sad place, like a smelly armpit of humanity.

(and of course, you have to request the records ahead of time and when you realize you have the wrong ones, you need to make a new request and come back on a different day. Because of course you do).

Anyway. What’s a return trip to the armpit of humanity when you get to actually see your house plans? Peanuts, I tell you. totally worth it!

House plan

These are not nearly as fancy as the other set, and they are hand drawn – not a copy. The paper was coming apart as I unfolded it. I felt like I should be wearing protective gloves, or something. Instead, I was kneeling on the floor, using my back and legs as a barrier to keep people from stepping on the paper, since there wasn’t a table where I could unfold these to photograph.

The quality of the images is bad, but still clear enough to see that the layout of our home is largely intact. With the exception of the garden level, which lost the butler’s pantry and the little room in the middle, everything is still as it was in 1985. So yey for that!

 

 

TBT: Advertisements, 1895

If you are researching the ownership chain of your New York City home, or looking for the builder or architect, chances are you will spend many hours browsing the Real Estate Record & Builder’s Guide. A weekly publication listing all the real estate transaction in the city from 1868 to 1922, the guide lists buyer, seller, amount paid and, if you’re lucky, an actual address, not just the distance from the nearest intersection. The search engine is clunky and it requires a lot of patience.

A bonus of spending so much time poking around is that you get to see some of the building trade ads of the time. For instance:

Real Estate Record V55 Feb 23 1895

February 23rd, 1895

Fred Brandt, maker of roofing, cornices, skylights and inventor of the stationary zinc wash tub. How ’bout that?

Jacob May March 2 1895

March 2, 1895

Pretty much every brownstone has one of these under the stoop. They have been securing our homes from “burglars and sneak thieves” for at least 120 years. Wonder if Jacob made ours.

Metal Ceilings March 21895

March 2, 1895

N.Y. Metal Ceiling Co. advertises its product as suitable for residences, offices, stores, schools, hospitals and churches. Selling point? “Can be applied over old plaster.” Cracking plaster is not a modern problem…

March 2 1895

March 2, 1895

Here I was, thinking that 19th century sidewalks were always made of blue stone, granite or wood blocks.* I guess in 1895, there were already 4.5 million square feet of concrete sidewalks in the city.

And what is in no way a precursor to Page Six, nearly a whole page dedicated to “Gossip of the Week – South of 5oth Street.” Here is a sample from March 9, 1895:

Gossip of the week March 9 1895

* if you happen to find yourself in Greenpoint, go to West Street (near Oak Street), where you will find the last remaining wood block sidewalk in the city. There isn’t much left, maybe the span of a building or two.

TBT: Wallpaper

I love peeling back the layers of our house, unearthing little clues about the past. In a recent kitchen refresh ( swear I’ll post about it soon), we came across this teeny tiny piece of wallpaper. (Hand shown for scale)

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(I really should moisturize)

The little fragment was hiding behind the stove, well, behind where the stove currently is. As you can see from the original floor plan, it seems the stove is now where the double sink used to be. This may explain why the plaster was all messed up and the last little remnant of the long gone wallpaper basically just fell off the wall.

Original Floorplan

(yes, I need to write about finding the original floor plans to our house. I will. Promise!)

Anyway, the wallpaper doesn’t look to be Victorian. I’m not an expert, but to me it looks like something from the 20s or 30s. The piece is so small, it’s hard to tell if the pattern was little, or if the surviving nugget just happens to show a misleading piece of the design. I did a quick check on Second Hand Rose’s website and didn’t find anything similar. Regardless, it goes into the curio of the life and times of the Pink Lady.

 

Kilian Brothers

KilianBrothers

(a bit of a rant)

It makes me sad when old houses are stripped of their detail. Not only is the craftsmanship amazing, the old growth trees that were harvested for all of our pretty ornamentation are long gone. I know a lot of people don’t share my opinion, but old houses are such a finite resource, I wish people would think twice before ripping the insides out.

Sometimes there are little clues here and there as to who created all that fantastic work. For the past week, I’ve been salvaging as much as I can from a gut renovation in my neighborhood. Among the items I have been able to divert from the dumpster are 3 fireplace mantels (one in good condition, one which has been severely altered, and one that is basically just one broken piece. All three have the same stamp in the back: Killian Brothers.

(I’m trying not to think about the fact that all the fireplaces were intact until they were ripped out – think of my happy place, think of my happy place).

Anyway, a quick Google search reveals that they were prolific cabinet makers and furniture makers. The Goulding’s New York City directory for 1877 lists two Kilians (Theo and William) who were in the furniture business and shared the same business address: 159 W 32nd Street. Did they make the mantels? Did I find the correct Kilians?

Kilian Brothers furniture turns up at auction on occasion. It seems they were really into the Eastlake aesthetic of the late Victorian period. Google it – some really amazing stuff.

Whether the Kilians from my broken fireplace mantels are the same Kilians of the fancy furniture is almost beside the point; there was someone who actually made all this stuff – not a fully automated machine that packs saw dust into some semblance of wood.

Now, if you still must get rid of all the things that make your house unique and interesting, then please give me a call and let me take your treasures.