brooklyn

Renovation of a circa 1903 Brooklyn Row House

Posted by Steve on Fri, 09/15/2006 - 11:00am


This blog is about the challenges of renovating an old Brooklyn, New York row house.

My last renovation project was the master bedroom, most of which is about finish carpentry. You can follow the progress here (or backwards in time if you prefer). You'll find other completed home improvement projects in the Renovation Photos in the navigation above.

Do you have a home improvement blog of your own? If so and you would like to see it promoted, please visit HomeOwnersLike.Us.


Next life, I want to be a plumber.

Posted by Steve on Thu, 10/16/2014 - 5:20pm


Back in 2011, I wrote an article about my failing Weil-McLain steam boiler entitled Got Three Estimates?  Get Three More. The article concluded with my finding a plumbing company willing to rebuild my ancient autofeed mechanism for a fair price.  Despite most heating contractors swearing that my 42 year-old boiler wouldn't survive the season, it made it through 2011, 2012 and the brutal, polar vortex winter of 2013 without a burp.

Two weeks ago, I relit the pilot light on boiler.  The outside temps were in the 60s so I didn't turn on the boiler.  A few days later I noticed that my kitchen extension floor was a pool of water.  Rats, I'd left the windows open before an intense thunderstorm.  Cursing my stupidity, I mopped up about 15 gallons of water and went upstairs.  I returned an hour later to see the floor soaked again.  The windows weren't the cause.  There were no water pipes in the extension and it was bright and sunny outside so I didn't know what was behind this.

While mopping up for a second time, I heard an occasional *bloip*, like a leaky faucet into a pan of water.   It was coming from the baseboard radiator.  When I lifted the access panel I saw water squirting out of the air valve like a drinking fountain.  At least I knew what was causing that.   It was the autofeed/low water cutoff again... probably a stuck float.  No problem, I'll call the same plumbing company that fixed it last time.


What will $11 mil get me in Brooklyn?

Posted by Steve on Fri, 05/03/2013 - 2:18pm


It's a question that probably doesn't get asked very often, but here's an answer ready for it: the locally revered landmark "Gingerbread House" at 8820 Narrows Avenue in Bay Ridge, about a mile south of Brooklyn Row House.  Not for nothing but this is a bargain compared to the unanswered 2009 asking price of $12 million.  Nevertheless, it's quite a bit more than the "under $1 milliion" that the current owners paid for it in 1985, which should give an indication of property valuations in this neck of Brooklyn over the past 20 years.

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/real-estate/piece-brooklyn-storybo...
 


Guess what I found hibernating under my kitchen extension?

Posted by Steve on Sun, 02/03/2013 - 12:28pm


I've posted a few articles about Brooklyn wildlife here over the years.  Now I apparently have one of them as a roomate.

Last week I broke a tile on my bathroom vanity and decided that today was a good day to fix it.  I keep my spare tiles in a barely heated shed under my kitchen extension.

As soon as I opened the door to the shed and the gamey smell hit my nose I knew that something wild was living in there.  I assumed it was a feral cat or two until I saw a bunch of straw nesting material falling out of a large bag of potting soil.  Cats don't do that so I picked up a lawn torch, gently opened the bag and look what I found.  Petey Possum!

I wasn't all that surprised by this because I see possums late at night at least once a week.  The dogs have become so accustomed to them that I can tell from their reaction when they've picked up the scent a hundred feet away.  They're fairly aromatic animals.

Not sure what to do here.  On the one hand, I'm not going to do what one of my neighbors did and kill him.  Any wild animal that manages to survive on the streets of Brooklyn has my profound respect.  My concern with the nesting material however is that this is really Penelope Possum and that she's about to bring more of these critters  into the world.  Whatever, I need to replace the missing brick in the side of the extension in the spring.

Local lore says that opossums took a foothold in Brooklyn about seven years ago when some genius at one of the Brooklyn community boards thought they would be an excellent solution to keeping the rat population in check.  They're very versatile animals and aren't shy about killing prey, including rats.  Problem is, that same versatility means that they're happy to live on the same garbage as rats.  So the rats survived, the possums survived and here we are.

Possums are fearsome looking animals but they're actually pretty passive towards larger animals, hence the "playing possum" thing.  I rummaged around in the extension for about five minutes looking for my tile and its only reaction was an occasional hiss.
 


From the Brooklyn Row House mail sack...

Posted by Steve on Thu, 03/15/2012 - 1:01pm


I received an email today from a producer of a new home show looking for volunteers with a troublesome room in their house that they want renovated... for free!   A prerequisite is that you must own your place and be within 35 miles of NYC.  You can read the rest in the boilerplate below:


Bay Ridge to get our own Jersey Shore reality show. Lucky us.

Posted by Steve on Sun, 03/04/2012 - 5:41pm


If you ask anyone on the streets of Bay Ridge about Oxygen Network's upcoming Brooklyn 11223 reality show you'll get a blank stare.  Nobody's heard of it.  While it's been filming around Bay Ridge since last September, there have been a lot of Hollywood crews around here lately, from the TV shows Pan Am, Blue Bloods and Law & Order SVU to feature films like White Irish Drinkers and Cop Out.  It was easy for it to get lost in the crowd of bigger budget productions.

But when you tell those folks what the show is about, guess what?  Same blank stare.  Nobody really cares, except for the politicians and community leaders that is.  For them, this show is an affront to Bay Ridge and what The Sopranos was to Italian-Americans.  I can't believe the backlash against it, which has even reached the pages of Huffington Post.  I haven't seen outrage like this since William Friedkin's gay serial killer movie, Cruising, back in the 1980s.  Local bloggers are swinging at shadows, protests have been organized by community groups, advertiser boycotts have been threatened... all of which, of course, serve only to increase the buzz for a low-budget show on a lightly-watched network.  To my knowledge, nobody has actually seen the show.

Premiering on Oxygen on Monday, March 26 at 11PM ET/PT, Brooklyn 11223 is supposed be a "voyeuristic look" into the lives of a group of vapid twentysomething girls whose once rock-solid friendships have been torn apart by betrayal. From the early PR sheet, it "follows the story of two groups of girls fighting a turf war to rule Bay Ridge. Who will win is uncertain, but the stakes have never been higher."  Priceless.


My 15ms Of Fame

Posted by Steve on Sat, 02/25/2012 - 12:29am


At the end of August last year, there were reports of the Google Street Views car being seen around the neighborhood.  For the half dozen or so people on the planet who don't know what Street View is, it's a terrific value-added feature that the Google Maps folks created by photographing many if not most of the primary and secondary streets around the world.  Using Street View you can not only see a satellite view of your location but actual cached photos.

It's also rather hard to miss the Google car as it's about as subtle as a Oscar Meyer Weinermobile.

Besides a paint job that looks like a cross between a Peter Max-themed commune bus and a parted-out Toyota Prius Hybrid it's got a six foot mast on its roof with a device on top that looks like it came from War of the Worlds.   It's actually a high-definition camera with 15 lenses and a Class 1 laser range finding device.

Anyway, I was leaving the Owls Head Park dog run with the pooches one morning when I saw the Google car cruising down 68th St in Brooklyn.  I assumed that it would probably hit my street in the next 15 minutes so I hustled home to sit on the stoop and see it close up.  I was trying to think of some clever goof I could do for the camera.   Over the years, Street View's cameras have captured everything from rennaissance sword fights and naked people to arrests in progress and even dead bodies.   It would be hard to top that so I figured I would just bow to it as it passed.  Something completely lame like that.

The dogs and I waited on my stoop for 15 minutes before my ADD kicked in and I decided to change the oil in my motorcycle in the garage instead. 

As I was warming up the engine, an elderly lady stopped on the sidewalk and extended pleasantries with me.  With the motorcycle still idling, I grabbed the leaf blower and started sweeping the sidewalk.   With a 700+ pound motorcycle, I like maximum traction with the sidewalk as I pull that monster out of the garage.

And that was the moment that the Google car chose to arrive.  I gave it a quick wave, but was a little too late I'm afraid.  But she didn't miss it.


DOT sidewalk inspection scam?

Posted by Steve on Wed, 07/28/2010 - 8:40pm


My doorbell rang this afternoon. It was my cheerful postman, Kevin, and he had a certified letter for me.  Certified letters are almost always buzzkillers.  I could see from the envelope that this one was from the NYC Dept of Transportation so I knew it wasn't congratulations from Publishers Clearinghouse.

Kevin said that every house on the block, except one, got certified letters from DOT. What the hell, I've got nothing to be concerned about  My sidewalk and curb are in excellent condition.  I signed for the letter and opened it up.

Inside was a Notice of Violation that my sidewalk had been inspected and was found to have a "trip hazard". The notice said that I needed to replace ten square feet of sidewalk. There was a graphic indicating this general section of my sidewalk.

In NYC -- and I presume that this is the case in most large cities -- the building owner is responsible for the condition of his sidewalk.  If a sidewalk falls out of repair it's the homeowner's job to repair it, just as it's his job to keep it clean and clear of snow.

However, enforcement has typically been limited to third party complaints, not proactive inspections.   I'm told the city is named in tens thousands of predatory civil suits every year related to substandard sidewalks, some of them pretty funny... like the guy who tried to sue my neighbor for "loss of marital congress" after he allegedly tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and broke his pinkie finger.  I swear I'm not making this up.

Last year around this time, a non-DOT crew, which I presumed to be an independent contractor, was tearing up and replacing sidewalks all over the neighborhood.  It was the same sort of thing: an anonymous inspector had run around the neighborhood tagging damaged sidewalks for repair. 

Certified letters were sent to homeowners with vague indications of the nature of the violation.   They were given 45 days to either apply for a permit and get the job done by a licensed contractor or the city would do the job @ $9+ square foot and bill the homeowner.

The thing is, I walked those sidewalks several times a day.  While a few of them did have some issues with tree roots, most of the sidewalks that were replaced I remember as being in fine shape.  At least, I never saw an issue with them.  The entire process struck me at the time as being somewhat arbitrary, which is to say fishy.  And now here we are again.

Can anyone spot this "trip hazard"? Bear in mind that my sidewalk is everything below where that stoop starts at the left side of the photo.  The questionable piece of sidewalk is on the lower right, immediately adjacent to the white painted curb cut up to the first vertical seam.   Here, let's zoom in on that section of sidewalk and see if we can spot that dangerous "trip hazard"...


"This time for sure!"

Posted by Steve on Sat, 03/06/2010 - 2:48pm


The old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon show had a series of interstitials with Bullwinkle attempting, and failing, to pull a rabbit out of a hat and Rocky increasingly skeptical that he would ever succeed.

FlyerAs tortured an analogy as that may be, it's how the Bay Ridge community has regarded announcements of the opening of the prodigal Key Food supermarket on Bay Ridge Ave (69th St).    It was almost two years ago that the neighborhood was buzzing with rumors that Key Food was negotiating to take over the two large buildings formerly owned by Harry's furniture store.  Yet, only a couple of months before that, Key Food announced that it was closing its well-patronized 95th St supermarket.  So this latest scuttlebutt left much to be skeptical about, especially when the new location wasn't exactly ideal for a large supermarket.

For one thing, there was no parking lot.  There was a single-story building across the street that was the old Harry's annex which at one point in its history might have served as a garage of some sort.  But with the pillar obstructions I remembered seeing in the old Harry's annex and the nonexistent driving skills of Bay Ridge SUV pilots, they couldn't honestly be thinking about letting soccer moms and cell phone jockeys park their own land barges in there.  It would be a day-long fender bender.  You could construct bleachers and sell tickets!

Then there was the issue of 69th Street itself: a narrow two-lane road that already has serious congestion issues from being forced to service avenue-level traffic.  Both local and express buses use 69th Street as do trucks and emergency vehicles.   Worse, there's a kitchen wholesale business on the block and their semis often stop traffic for several minutes while the driver threads the needle with his 18 wheeler and the narrow loading dock.


The High Price for Cheap Rent

Posted by Steve on Sun, 11/15/2009 - 11:57pm


On a nearby street, a line of ugly, cheaply built, 1980s-vintage row houses stand on a plot of land where there was once a neglected old Victorian. The six houses share a communal front "yard" -- a quarter-acre concrete pad that gives the place all the charm of a New Jersey strip mall. To complete that grim visual, cars are illegally parked on it, usually double wide, often obstructing the sidewalk.

In fact, there are more cars than one would expect from six single-family homes. A couple of months ago, I deduced why that was when I saw a small "For Rent" sign hanging from the railing in front of one of those row houses. The answer: because they've also got illegal apartments. A visit to the Department of Buildings' information system confirmed that all of those houses lack a Certificate of Occupancy to permit rental apartments.

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