Brooklyn Heights

A Brooklyn Heights house’s quaint shingles are destined for the dumpster

September 6, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The façade of 303 Henry St. in Brooklyn Heights is going to be covered in clapboard, though this drawing shows shingles as the construction material. Rendering by Studio Nielsen via the Landmarks Preservation Commission

Landmarks Preservation Commission okays clapboard cladding for 303 Henry St.

Say sayonara to those lovable fish scale shingles.

The quaint cladding on a Brooklyn Heights Historic District house has charmed neighborhood residents for a century. But the current owners of 303 Henry St. have decided it’s got to go.

And the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has given them the go-ahead to get rid of it.

On Tuesday, the commissioners voted to approve a plan to strip the distinctive fish scale shingles off the Greek-Revival rowhouse, which was built between 1840 and 1849.

The vote followed a public hearing at the preservation agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters.

The fish scale shingles that are destined for the dumpster are arrayed on the State Street façade of the house in rows that alternate with bands of octagonal, hexagonal and rectangular shingles.

Inga Nielsen of architecture firm Studio Nielsen told the commissioners that clapboard was found beneath the shingles. Clapboard will be used to replace the shingles.

A Landmarks Preservation Commission staff member said at the hearing that the clapboard was not the original façade of the house, though. It was brick.

Commissioners decided the homeowners could give the distinctive shingles the heave-ho despite preservationists’ testimony urging they be replaced with similar shingles.

“Individuality and unusual views make historic districts special and need not necessarily be lost to conformity,” said Christabel Gough, founder of the Society for the Architecture of the City.  

She said it’s possible the alternating bands of shingles were meant to recall a feature of vernacular architecture that Arts and Crafts designer H. Baillie Scott resurrected in the late 19th Century.

Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association called the house “unique in Brooklyn Heights” and asked that it be kept that way.

Barbara Zay of the Historic Districts Council called the shingles a “quirky and beloved feature” of 303 Henry St.

LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan asked the architect why the homeowners didn’t want to replace the existing shingles with similar ones.

“Cost consideration,” Nielsen replied. Also, “the client was looking for a more uniform pattern” for the house cladding, she said.

The front of the house, on Henry Street, currently is brick and will remain so. It will get a fresh coat of pale gray paint. The clapboard will be stained with a white finish.

An unusual feature of 303 Henry St. will be retained — a handsome wood “tea porch” on the back of the house, which was rebuilt a few years ago.

Tea porches have survived on just a handful of 19th-Century houses in neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights and Greenwich Village.

The owners of 303 Henry St., Daniel Hunter and Dana Rathkopf, bought the house for $2.1 million from the estate of Harrington Chortek in 2010, city Finance Department records indicate.

They have already spent several years on renovation and remodeling. They converted the building, which had three residential units and a store, into a single-family home, city Buildings Department records indicate.