Weird things done to New York brownstones

Few things are as lovely as a row of brownstones—a solid line of stoops and cornices signifying harmony, community, and Gilded Age New York charm.

I’m using brownstone as an all-purpose word for a New York rowhouse. Brownstones themselves were kind of the McMansions of the late 19th century; every newly minted banker or merchant had to have one.

But while it’s the dream of many city residents to rent or own one of these beauties and have it restored to its 19th century grandeur, not everyone thinks so.

On some of the most fashionable brownstone blocks are strange architectural upgrades that would puzzle Gilded Age New Yorkers—like this one on East 51st Street (top photo), swathed in glass with what looks like a giant punch card over the facade.

Some brownstones still look the part—at least, the top half of the house does. This one in Flatiron has an ugly storefront addition covering the parlor and second floors.

On East 71st Street is a building I like to call the bubble brownstone. As far as I know, this is the only brownstone in the city with glass oval pods for windows.

I don’t know what to make of this brickface former brownstone on West 18th Street except that it has a very 1970s feel.

It looks like a concrete grill or lattice is covering the entire front of this rowhouse on the Upper East Side. I wonder what kind of light comes in. It was designed by a Modernist architect in the 1950s.

Finally, here’s a brownstone that looks like it’s undergone the Brutalist treatment in Chelsea. Hey, at least the owner has his or her own garage.

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15 Responses to “Weird things done to New York brownstones”

  1. Zoé Says:

    O_O Brilliant post!

    Let’s hope the previous buildings needed tearing down for some *reason* (& were empty when whatever befell them befell them).

    First photo: “punch card” (lol Ephemeral) or if you squint oil slick or brackish pond.

    Second photo: I can almost hear the conversation back then w/ the builder/architect promising the owner how much of an *improvement* this addition will be.

    Third photo: Or blister pack (for pills etc.).

    Fourth photo: It *is* very “70s”.

    Fifth photo: Like a traditional Arab lattice wooden window screen. It lets in light but you cannot see in from the street.

    Sixth photo: The *whole* thing looks like a “garage” lol.

    I really like one / three / four / five & six a lot (*dodges flying debris thrown from purists*). ‘Sorry’ second building in photo – things will get better for you – someday you will be a Starbucks.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks Zoe—and blister pack is a perfect description for 3!

  3. Untapped Staff Reads: Weird Things Done to New York Brownstones, The History of the Rockettes | Untapped Cities Says:

    […] Weird things done to New York brownstones [Ephemeral New York]: Few things are as lovely as a row of brownstones—a solid line of stoops and cornices signifying harmony, community, and Gilded Age New York charm. […]

  4. Sean Says:

    This doesn’t count as a weird thing done to a brownstone, but it is a weird thing that *replaced* a brownstone:

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I pass that replacement often—it really sticks out and not in a good way.

  6. Bob Says:

    FYI the second photo is 48 West 20th Street, regardless of the photo file name.

  7. David H Lippman Says:

    The building on 11th Street was done that way to remember the 1970 blast, to show how the explosion shook up the building, the neighborhood, and the city.

    I was in 2nd grade at PS 41 at the time, down on the next block. I will never forget sitting in Mrs. Blume’s class, hearing the “boom-boom” of the blast and seeing smoke coming down the street, darkening it. Then we heard the whoop of sirens and roar of engines as the cops and firefighters descended in large numbers. When my mother picked me up, that whole block was lined with fire and police vehicles, Mars lights going.

    A few days later, an NYPD detective in trench coat and squeaky shoes came into our class, and Mrs. Blume told us he had questions for us and we should pay attention.

    The detective did some preliminaries and moved to his main point. Had any of us seen a naked woman come running down 11th Street after the blast, and if so, which way did she go?

    Needless to say, the sons and daughters of Greenwich Village’s liberal elite (or working stiffs) greeted that request with some hilarious and unique answers. The detective stumped angrily out of the classroom, muttering, “smart-ass kids.”

    The building with the lattice front was used in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” when Dianne Wiest and Carrie Fisher go on an architecture tour with Sam Waterston. He calls it ridiculous. When my native New York pals and fellow real estate/history buffs saw that flick, a woman behind us asked, “What building is that” of some structure, so we chanted off the building and the ones that followed, which included the Jefferson Market Courthouse.

    After we were done, she said, “Oh! Thank you!”

    • Zoé Says:

      “squeaky shoes” – lol – Isn’t that from a Tom Wolfe description David? (Or perhaps he said ‘shiny shoes’ about some police or FBI footwear?).

      When I saw these photos I thought about how that Yippy (?) explosion left a big gap on a GV block & thought it might be one of these; but none of the addresses here match. There is no 11th Street mentioned here. I think it may have been in another post (?).

      Was that really loud David? (Sort of a difficult question to answer…). My friend grew up there (musician in former SF music/theatre/dance social activist performance group Contraband) & would have been there at the time of the explosion – but never mentioned it. His father was a professor & they lived in a townhouse. (Possibly a brownstone). Perhaps you went to school together. He graduated HS in 79.

      • David H Lippman Says:

        Yeah, when Mrs. Blume said he was a cop, we were all terrified and respectful and silent…until he asked his stupid question. You know who lived next door to that building at the time? Dustin Hoffman.

      • Zoé Says:

        Lol. Someone else commented on one of Ephemeral’s posts a few months ago that a well known actor lived next door to them when they grew up in the Village. Right of passage apparently. (And never across the street or diagonally etc.).

        Whilst a starving actor (according to him if I recall properly) Dustin Hoffman shared a flat in the City w/ someone else well known. Someone who became a politician? Or another actor? (Chime in if anyone knows). So perhaps you lived next to this other person also.

        People could still find cheap rent stabilised apartments in GV then. By the time I moved to the City permanently (1980) that was impossible. Which begs the question: What happened to those rent stabilised apartments in the Village. (The *actual* Village – not the LES/falsely named by surreal estate agents ‘East Village’). They must have all been rented above the stabilisation guidelines. The rent controlled ones got passed down to peoples relatives or illegally subletted; but what of the stabilised ones?

      • Zoé Says:

        PS for David:

        Or perhaps you meant Dustin Hoffman lived next to:

        a) The building that blew up

        b) Your school

        Lol. So many threads here morph into film topics…

    • Zoé Says:

      That architectural tour in that film was amazing… I need another NYC filmmaker/director to feed my city back to me (without all the stereotypes etc. that a lot of outsiders bring to the table when they make films about NY). Now that I can no longer watch his films. (*dodges flying objects thrown from certain film lovers*)

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