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Capote House Alterations Do Not Sit Well With Landmarks

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It looks like the creator of Grand Theft Auto may not be adding a swimming pool to Truman Capote's Brooklyn Heights townhouse after all.

Dan Houser, currently the vice president of creativity for Rockstar Games, purchased the In Cold Blood author's former abode at 70 Willow Street for $12.5 million in 2012, and filed an extensive application last month with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Today, that application was presented and the Commission did not see fit to allow the alterations to the home, ostensibly Greek Revival, which was originally constructed in 1839 and has undergone several changes over the years.

The proposal from architecture firm Bories & Shearron, billed as a "restoration" to the house's Greek Revival origins, sought to return the façade to a shade of red that the applicant claimed would match the original color, replace the entryway, and demolish the existing rear porch and replace it with a new two-story rear deck, which would give the residents better access between the driveway and the kitchen. Speaking of the driveway, the application also sought to replace the existing driveway gate with a new, solid one. In addition, Houser wanted to change the windows, add shutters, extend the rusticated base, and add a shed and, of course, the pool.

The commissioners were not all sold on the restoration aspect. Commissioner Michael Devonshire, who is an experienced preservation architect, called it "replicating" rather than "restoring," going on to say that the situation presented an "amazing conundrum." Still, he called the proposal "perfectly period appropriate," but suggested that the shutters be non-operable (for ease of maintenance).

While chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the commissioners often look to Devonshire for advice in cases like this, she wasn't sold on the proposal. Neither were a majority of the other commissioners. Commissioner Michael Goldblum wondered how these changes would be viewed 10 to 20 years down the road, and worried about the loss of " vagaries and errata" the house has racked up over its 176 years of existence. Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron referred to a "certain sadness" and a loss of "memory of cultural accretion." Commissioner Roberta Washington seemed like she might approve the proposal if the existing door and ironwork were kept. Commissioner Christopher Moore went so far as to call it charming. In the end, the hearing was closed without action, which is LPC speak for come back and try again.

This is, at least temporarily, welcome news for the organizations that sent representatives to deliver public testimony Tuesday morning. "The current approach seems to be a shopping spree for period architectural elements. HDC found the changes inappropriate simply because of the fact that this is a simple brick house, not a high-style Victorian brownstone as the proposed elements suggest," the Historic District Council's Kelly Carroll said in her organization's objection. "The purchase of a home like this is not just an acquisition of property, but also an inheritance of history; of culture. To that end, HDC was startled to learn that the porch used and referenced by literary luminary Truman Capote will be demolished. The Committee asks that the rear porch be retained and adapted into this building's new ownership, and that this proposal be revisited."

Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said the proposal was a mash-up from "alien sources" and had "no heart." Judy Stanton of the Brooklyn Heights Association said the proposal was "thoughtful, ambitious, and well-researched," but could not back removal of the entryway or ironwork, the extension of the base or the new rear porch, which she called "over-scaled."


—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· All 70 Willow Street coverage [Curbed]
· All Landmarks Preservation coverage [Curbed]

70 Willow Street

70 Willow Street, Brooklyn, New York