‘It’s a Very Handsome House,’ Commissioner Says
by Linda Collins
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — The redesign of a proposed new building on one of the last remaining vacant lots in Brooklyn Heights finally got a green light from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).
The commission approved the revised design for the controversial building at 27 Cranberry St. in a 7-0 vote on Aug. 2, according to Lisi de Bourbon, press secretary for the LPC, who shared some of the “very positive” comments from commissioners.
Said Frederick Bland, “It’s a rare privilege to build a new house in Brooklyn Heights and I think you’ve risen to the occasion. It’s a very handsome house. What I particularly like now is that it owes nothing to anyone. It’s not a replica of anything, it’s also not a camel — a little of this a little of that — it’s its own thing. It’s an inventive contextual house in the best sense of that definition as far as I’m concerned.”
Commented Michael Devonshire, “There’s no slavish reproduction. I really can’t wait to see this thing completed. This is fantastic.”
Added Joan Gerner, “I too was one of the commissioners who was so worried about scale because of the size of the [brown]stone versus the little tiny house to the west of it, and you really solved it with this beautiful Roman brick and also by scaling it back.”
The four-story single-family rowhouse, a project of developer Lou Greco of SDS Development, will now have a brick façade and less bulk than the original design.
According to architect Tom van den Bout, the new façade will be a dark red “Roman brick” in lieu of the somewhat controversial brownstone of the original design, and the building itself will be set back to align with the smaller wood frame house to the west rather than the street wall to the east.
This helps mitigate its impact on the wood house,” writes van den Bout in his description. “The two-story bay window acts as a transition from the established street wall of the rest of the block while relating to the height of the wood house. The brick used is darker than the red/orange brick of the neighbors in order to harmonize with the very dark gray cladding of the wood house.”
Reached Monday, Van den Bout said he and the developer are “very pleased” with the commisioners’ responses to the latest design.
“We worked hard to respond to their comments, as well as the neighbors’, and are proud that our effort was recognized,” he told the Eagle. “We really enjoy working with the LPC staff on a wide variety of projects, and always look forward to presenting to the commission.
“Commissioners’ comments bring clarity to the design process and, even when they are a surprise, they are much appreciated.”
The “surprise” may refer to van den Bout’s reaction to the objection by the LPC in June of the use of brownstone.
At that hearing, Simeon Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council, said in his comments, “While the HDC is impressed to see an applicant dare to use real brownstone on a new building, 27 Cranberry St. is not in the brownstone area of Brooklyn Heights. Similarly, the sculptural façade, the large proportions of the design details and fenestration, and the bulk of the new building are all at odds with the historic neighbors.”
Additionally, Fred Bland said at the time, “It’s a very special, fragile, small- scale street. I think it’s wholly inappropriate on this block and in this setting. It just breaks with its immediate context in too dramatic a way. It’s muscular in every way and I hate to say this, but it’s almost like a McMansion is wedging its way into this enclave in the Heights.”
Of the new design, van den Bout said it “echoes rather than replicates” the traditional row houses that characterize the Brooklyn Heights Historic District.
“The house is composed of traditional elements — stoop, areaway, cornice, base, bay window, punched fenestration — in a traditional composition,” he said. “What distinguishes the house from being a straight replication is the material and detail of each element.”
Additionally, the fourth floor is set back to be only slightly visible from the street, and to maintain the appearance of a three-story house, van den Bout said.