The loveliness of New York’s skinny brownstones

A single-family brownstone has been a New Yorker’s dream home since these “brown stone front” row houses (often made of brick with brown sandstone covering the facade) began appearing on city blocks by the middle of the 19th century.

Because building lots during the brownstone era typically measured 25 by 100 feet, the average home came in at about 20 feet across, which allowed for a spacious parlor floor with two or three wide windows with decorative touches spanning each floor.

But thanks to profit-driven developers who decided to squeeze two brownstones into one lot, the cityscape of today contains a fair number of slender, narrow, skinny brownstones.

The top photo shows one in Gramercy with the same iron balconies and cornice as its wider counterparts. The second photo shows two compressed-looking brownstones on West 30th Street.

Above are two more twin narrow brownstones, looking like slender sisters, in the East 70s. They come off as dollhouse versions of the standard-size brownstone next door.

Here’s another mini-me brownstone on the same East 70s block, old New York’s answer to the tiny house craze of contemporary times.

This one above in the East Village isn’t a brownstone, and it looks like it was built in the 1920s or 1930s. You can imagine a builder acquiring this thin lot and then deciding to put up this narrow rowhouse.

This skinny brownstone on Tenth Street, a street with spacious rowhouses collectively known as English Terrace Row, only has room for one third-floor window.

While the house in the last photo probably doesn’t qualify as an actual brownstone—I’m guessing it’s an entryway and staircase for the building to the left on East 39th Street—you have to admire the builder’s ingenuity, adding a cornice and matching window to it to pass it off as a lilliputian house on its own.

[All Photos: Ephemeral New York]

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7 Responses to “The loveliness of New York’s skinny brownstones”

  1. Zoé Says:

    So cute. There’s something very Stuart Little-ish about these. Living a particularly tiny life in a very large city.

    The last one is amazing & I love your description. It was apparently so important then to *dress* things up properly… houses… horses… children… As evidenced in how people dress now compared to then… So it’s not surprising it was done w/ this sliver of a building.

    I love small spaces. There’s a German architect that squeezes houses into alleys there. (*Really* narrow alleys). They’re very modern – but remind me of the above. They’re amazing.

    Is that what you meant by “small house trend”; or is this happening in the country now also? Because all I see going up outside of the City here are enormous McMansions. (It’s so bad in my former hometown there’s a ‘teardown of the day’ page on the town news site. It was covered by the NYT real estate section).

    I love those tiny houses made of large shipping crates pieced together though. They’re brilliant. I’d rather see a Yurt or traditional ‘House of Hair’ (Syrian & Arab tent of goat hair & sheep wool) or an indigenous longhouse put up than these hideous instantaneous ten bed ten bath houses! Sorry for the digression… it’s literally a battle here (preservation) hence always on my mind…

  2. petey Says:

    yorkville is filled with these, especially east of first.

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    My father’s dream was always to live in a brownstone and restore it. He did so in Hoboken.

    • Zoé Says:

      Me too David. Who doesn’t want a whole house & garden or courtyard on a subway line & near shops. (Aside from people who hate cities). It’s so great he was able to do that. And in Hoboken (or farther out in Brooklyn) you can often avoid the roaches. Better yet.

  4. Kenny Says:

    My fav is an 1810 townhouse at 135 West Broadway (called South Fifth Ave at the time) current home of the appropriately names Tinys: https://www.flickr.com/photos/146852140@N03/39711515921/in/dateposted/

    • Zoé Says:

      “Tiny’s” – lol. That may mean a tall or rotund owner also.

      I love that they’ve kept the multiple pane windows (8 over 8 at ground level & 6 over 6 above). I hate that most people replace them w/ those single pane models. The reproduction ones are more expensive (should the old ones have rotted out or – lol – be unable to close due to 500 layers of paint from high rental turnover).

  5. Timothy Grier Says:

    I grew up in NYC and live in Arlington VA now. The next door town of Alexandria has a famous tiny house that the NYT took notice of:

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