This evening, our friends at the The Wooden House Project, a blog that explores Brooklyn’s wood-frame houses, will be conducting a walking tour of some interesting wooden houses in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. I’ll be taking the tour tonight, but thought I would take this opportunity to get in the right frame of mind and explore the history of wood-frame houses, particularly as it relates to Greenwich Village.
When it comes to the topic of wood-frame houses, it is quite difficult to compare the borough of Manhattan with the borough of Brooklyn. Development in Brooklyn was not subject to New York building rules— Brooklyn and Manhattan were separate cities until New York City was incorporated as the five boroughs in 1898. Andrew Dolkart, architectural historian and the Director of the Historic Preservation Program at Columbia University, notes that in Greenwich Village and downtown Manhattan, wooden frame houses are leftovers “from a semi-rural period. They just survived serendipitously,” while in Brooklyn, many wooden houses were put up by developers to create suburbs.
A number of fires in Manhattan, particularly in 1776, 1835, and 1845, devastated hundreds of buildings and led to the establishment of building codes that banned the construction of any new wood-frame buildings. The first effective ban of wood-frame buildings took effect in 1816, and applied to the area below Canal Street. As the city grew north, so did the ban. By 1849, the banned area was extended to 32nd Street, and by 1882, no wood-frame homes were allowed below 155th Street. As Greenwich Village developed from suburb into city greatly in the years between 1800 and 1840, wood-frame houses were certainly a part of that development. Check out GVSHP’s Village History webpage to learn more about this, and other eras of Village history.
So where are Greenwich Village’s wood-frame houses? Off the Grid has explored these often-hidden homes in the past. Perhaps the most visible is 17 Grove Street, as the wood framing is still visible. Many of these homes have been covered by masonry, or finished in stucco. Check out this past post featuring 17 Grove and the Twin Peaks building. The Greenwich Village waterfront still boasts some wood-frame homes, including a recently renovated 1819 home on Charles Street. Want to find more wood-frame houses in the neighborhood? Check out the historic district designation reports for the original Greenwich Village Historic District, GVHD Extension I and the Weehawken Street Historic District.