Antique Corner House, NoLibs (Philly) 309K


IN PHILADELPHIA LAST WEEKEND, I squeezed in a quick look at a house whose listing I found intriguing for several reasons:

  • It’s in Northern Liberties, a neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, and history with which I’m familiar, and where a lot of young, hip, solvent people want to live. Hence: easy rental territory.
  • It’s a corner building, at the end of a row, which means three exposures instead of just two.
  • It’s old, and you know my philosophy: the older the better. I could tell from the roofline — an inverted V, with steep sides peaking in the middle and two dormer windows at front and back — that it was c.1800 Federal style, which is entirely possible in that nabe.



Living room and one of two bedrooms in the upper duplex, above

The ask had been 329K; it recently came down to 309K. It’s a two-family — a 1BR ground floor apartment, presently renting month-to-month for $700, and a 2BR duplex above for $1,100, with a lease ending next April.



Kitchen in the duplex, above

However, I decided against pursuing it, despite its income potential and a few undeniable charms (exposed-beam ceiling in the upper duplex, cozy attic bedrooms, sunny hippie-style bath, pleasant roof deck, below).



It’s on the fringe of Northern Liberties — diagonally across from Liberties Lofts, a converted warehouse-turned-rental building, but also directly across from some depressingly ill-maintained modern row homes. It also needs more work and money than I’m prepared to put in right now.


But it is an opportunity for the right someone. With the two current rentals totaling $1,800, and room to go quickly higher with some fixing up — plus a rentable off-street parking space, above — it would be possible to break even or better right out of the gate.

If you’re interested, give Ken Krauter of Zip Realty a call (215/450-0605).

Boston: Brick Sidewalks and Boot Scrapers


Edge of Beacon Hill from the Public Gardens

I HAD VISITED BOSTON only twice, so long ago and so briefly I couldn’t even tell you which neighborhoods I was in. So when the time came to plan a little birthday outing for myself, I lit upon the idea of Boston. I was thinking of a magazine picture I kept on my bulletin board for years, of a steep cobbled street in Beacon Hill, with black shutters on red-brick houses. I wanted to see that street.


Hilly Acorn Street in Beacon Hill


Brick sidewalks and boot scrapers


Elegant Louisberg Square in Beacon Hill, onetime home of Louisa May Alcott, present home of John and Theresa Kerry, with townhouses built from 1833-47



Freeestanding mansion on Mt. Vernon Street, Beacon Hill


I did a little advance reading, and discovered that as recently as the 1980s, Boston was a city in decline — losing population and losing heart. And that for a decade or more, the whole downtown area was a miserable construction site, as they dismantled and re-routed the elevated highway that ran through some of the city’s most historic parts. Well, no more. Boston is now scrubbed clean and spiffy, organized and attractive, with obvious pride in itself, its architecture, and its heritage.


The extraordinary 1713 State House in downtown Boston, once seat of the British Colonial government

In a whirlwind day, a friend and I walked through sections of residential Back Bay and Southend, sprawling Victorian neighborhoods that call to mind Park Slope, and Beacon Hill, which has been a National Historic District since the 1950s and whose brick row houses, built in the 1830s and ’40s, have elegant arched doorways and fanlights, curved bowfronts, and fanciful ironwork.



An early frame house in Beacon Hill


Unusual wood facade in Beacon Hill


Wavy window glass on a curved bowfront building facade

To get an inside view of a Beacon Hill townhouse, we toured the four-story Nichols House Museum on Mt. Vernon Street, an 1804 Federal last lived in by Rose Standish Nichols, an ahead-of-her-time women’s rights activist and suffragist who never married and supported herself as a garden designer. The house is filled with arty, eclectic furnishings, faded Oriental rugs, paintings, and accessories brought back from London and other travels.


Staircase in the Nichols House, added later


The dining room, with lincrusta wallpaper and a smallish breakfast table (the last homeowner didn’t entertain much)


Aqua bedroom in the Nichols House


The pink parlor, Nichols House


View of Beacon Hill’s front gardens from the Nichols House

And I had to see the c.1680 Paul Revere House, one of (if not the) oldest standing example of urban architecture in the country, restored in 1908 to its original medieval-English appearance, diamond-paned windows and all. It now looks as it did even before Revere, the silversmith famed for his 1775 night ride to warn American patriots of British troop movements, lived there with his family in the last three decades of the 18th century.


Paul Revere House, the only surviving 17th century building in Boston


Rear view of Paul Revere House

Somehow we managed, with Zagat’s as a guide, to fit four meals into 24 hours, all more than fine: dinner at the cozy, red-walled Franklin Cafe in Southend; French toast for breakfast at diner-cum-cafeteria Paramount in Beacon Hill; a late lunch of oysters, fish chowder, and pale ale at the Union Oyster House, America’s oldest restaurant (since 1826) and a national landmark; and another dinner at the authentically French and justifiably popular Petit Robert Bistro, near our hotel, which, after walking at least five miles yesterday, was all we could manage.

I can enthusiastically recommend the Inn@St.Botolph, in a converted 19th century red-brick building on the border between Back Bay and Southend — crisply decorated, quiet, and central, but with a neighborhoody vibe.

Historic Rhinebeck under 400K

512113186(2)THE CHELSEA CLINTON WEDDING EFFECT on real estate prices in Rhinebeck, N.Y., if ever there was to be one, seems like a non-starter. As we head into the best time of year for house-hunting — the dead of winter, when only the most serious shoppers are on the case — the mid-Hudson Valley is still very good value, especially compared to eastern Long Island, where for $400,000 your choices are nil but for the dreaded ranch.
In the Rhinebeck area, venerable architecture is not too much to ask for 400K. Were I in the market for an upstate place at this moment — and gosh, maybe I should be — I’d look at these two, a rare brick Federal-style farmhouse for 379K, above, and an 1830s Carpenter Gothic, offered at 399K, right. The listing agent for both is Paul Hallenbeck.

Brick houses are fairly unusual in this part of New York State (most are frame). To find a stately 1849 farmhouse on River Road, very near the Hudson River and the Bard College campus, is a double-whammy (there are no ‘bad parts’ of River Road). The 1.1 acre lot is high and open; the house has 3BR, 2baths, and original details including woodwork, floors, doors, and built-ins, with updated mechanicals, baths, and windows (pics below). Period barn and wildflower meadow included.



Rhinebeck village has almost exclusively old houses, many with some pedigree. The 3BR, 2-1/2 bath on Montgomery Street (all pics below) is an 1830s Carpenter Gothic reminiscent of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown. It’s on 1.4 acres, with mature trees and a fenced garden; the house has 9-foot ceilings and a large porch, and there’s a classic red barn. The taxes are high for the area at $8,306/year (twice that of the house above), which is a drag.


For more pics and info on both houses, go here.

Note: I am not a real estate broker, nor do I have any financial interest in the properties mentioned on this blog. I just like spreading the word about old houses on the market and what I feel are viable investment opportunities.

Stone Street Secret

I KNOW it’s hard to believe, but I do occasionally leave Brooklyn for that little island across the river.


One of my favorite places for lunch is closed-to-traffic Stone Street in the Financial District, where about a dozen restaurants put tables out on the cobblestones in warm weather.

Deep within the canyon of massive buildings and hard to find (I invariably get lost), the small scale of Stone Street — an intact row of Federal and Greek Revival townhouses, built soon after the Great Fire of 1835 destroyed most of the area — gives it the quality of a well-kept secret. A marvel of architectural survival in the face of unrelenting commercial pressure, the street still retains the curve it had in the mid-17th century, when it was first paved.

Stone Street is a madhouse from noon to 2, so come late, and don’t expect food to be much more than adequate. I like Smorgas Chef, a Scandinavian chain; there are also pubs like Brouwers, Ulysses, and the Stone Street Tavern, and decent pizza at Adrienne’s.

Remember Stone Street (it’s also lively at night) when you have out-of-town visitors; I also like to surprise native New Yorkers who even don’t know it exists.


Upstate Update: Athens Federal 279K

Athens, N.Y., is one of the most atmospheric Hudson River towns, quite unspoiled. Two hours north of NYC in Greene County, it’s quiet, hilly, and river-oriented, with a close-up view of one of the Hudson’s few lighthouses.

The town (which was recently written up in the New York Times as a second-home hotspot) has some 270 buildings on the State and National Historic Registers.

This one –a professionally restored 3BR, 2 bath Federal clapboard house, built around 1810 — is on the market for 279K. It’s not shovel-ready; it is READY.a-winter1

The house has brick and wide-board floors, exposed beams, five fireplaces, and a private, shaded garden.  At the same time, it’s wired for cable and high-speed internet.


The house’s rear extension was added later, giving it afa saltbox shape.  The portico at the front door is one of many in the town added onto earlier houses in the 1830s, when Greek Revival became the thing.

This is an FSBO (for sale by owner) property.  Go here for lots more pictures and info, or contact

A bit more history:

The exact history of the house is unknown but the most likely first owner and builder appears to be Theophilus Dimmick (1763-1813  who moved from Falmouth Mass. to Catskill, New York in 1794 and married Abigail Hicks  (b-Catkill, NY). Over the years, the house had many owners including the Zion Lutheran Church which used it as a parish house in the middle part of the twentieth century. (Many older residents in Athens have fond memories of  attending meetings and pancake breakfasts here). The lower floor, with its separate entrance was also used as a fish market on Fridays.   The house is a fine example of  the type of  vernacular Federal houses that were built in many Hudson Valley  villages in the early part of the 19th century.a3