Synchronicity, flashbacks and old photos

Yesterday was one of those strange “theme” days we all experience from time to time. It began with my neighbor, Betsy, and me taking a trip to an art store on 3rd Ave to get some old Brooklyn photos framed that I’d collected over the past year.

The centerpiece was something I’d bought from, which I’d discovered on the recommendation of a forum regular on Old House Web. It’s a shot of a freezing cold, February day in Brooklyn Heights circa 1908 with the Manhattan Bridge under construction in the distance. The detail on the photo was mesmerizing (click here to see what I mean).

I bought a large copy of it. My intent was to frame it myself. After all, if I can construct cabinets and stained glass, how difficult could it be? However, as I started researching the techniques online I kept seeing comments recommending a web site,, which would build the frames for you for about the same price as stick building them. You provide the dimensions and they ship it to you in two to four business days. I priced out a nice frame, matte and foam board for around a hundred bucks. Pretty good deal.

But these photos were challenging insofar as some had borders, some had title print, and they were all subtly different sizes. I wasn’t sure how to matte them. Since my intent is to have a whole wall full of old Brooklyn photos I figured it would be safer to have a professional do these and I’d just copy the framing techniques for the rest. If it cost another hundred bucks to rent the eye of an experienced professional, it was worth it.

Well, that $100 frame became a $597 frame! Holy cow! I definitely have to learn how to do framing, if only to augment my retirement income some day. In the store’s defense, the artsy woman there chose a much more appropriate frame and matte for the photo and it will have real glass instead of Plexiglas so it will look much nicer. The framing for the smaller photos was much more reasonable.

Chapter Two: Later That Day

Nevertheless I came back home, still reeling from buyer’s remorse, when my neighbor rang my doorbell to borrow my pressure washer. As I was standing on the sidewalk explaining to her how it worked, a nicely dressed couple, Dorothy and Alec, stopped their car and were staring at my next door neighbor’s house. He rolled down his window and said, “that was my grandparents’ house in the 1930s”.

It sounded like this was gonna be a good story so I told them to hold on while I got Betsy (it’s her house). Betsy, who is mid-40s now, was born in the place. Her grandparents bought it when they were a young couple. So these peoples’ grandparents might have been the previous owners.

As it turned out, he had spent a lot of time in the house when he was a little kid in the ’30s. Betsy took them on a tour of her place, much of which is still original, and you could tell he was having flashback moments as he recalled the things he used to do in the house and what things used to look like. He related lots of cool stories about the block, what it was like here during WW2, the Liberty ships jamming the harbor waiting to be loaded at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, etc.

The visit ended too soon for me. They had to leave but they promised they’d email. Tonight they sent Betsy a photo of my house from the 1930s. So very cool.

I have an old tax photo of my house from the 1940s but this one is so much better. Was that a previous owner on the steps? That’s obviously the owner’s Model A(?) parked in the driveway, who apparently had the same problem with the garage’s low ceiling that the house still has.

Dorothy and Alec said they have more photos of the neighborhood so I hope I can persuade them to send them too. I’d love to publish them here.

But… check this… look at the railing around the deck on top of the garage when I bought the place (right). It was a low wrought iron railing I removed shortly after moving in because it was a dangerous trip hazard. I rebuilt that deck in 2001.

Now, look down at the brick balustrade I replaced it with. Then look at that old photo again. Here’s the kicker. I did the deck renovation before I’d seen any old photos of the house.

Weird, huh?

I love that old garage door, especially the curious glasswork but, sadly, that was long gone before I bought the place. Instead, it had a cheap fiberglass door with a broken counterweight spring. According to a neighbor, the original front door was removed in the 1970s. He was stunned when the POs replaced it with a door apparently scrounged from a dumpster dive. His assumption was that the PO sold the original door along with most of the original assets here to an architectural salvage company.


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Welcome to Brooklyn Row House

This blog is about the challenges of renovating an old (1903) Brooklyn, New York row house.

My last major renovation project was the master bedroom, most of which is about finish carpentry. You’ll find other completed home improvement projects in the Projects submenu at the top of this page.

I’m not a professional builder and don’t pretend to be. I’m just an experienced amateur raised in a family of committed DIYers. I try to closely follow local and national building codes but don’t mistake anything on this site to be professional or even accurate advice! Your mileage may and definitely will vary.

This is the third iteration of, from scratch-built to Drupal and now Wordpress. I hope you enjoy your time here.