Showing Off Homes, Guiding through History

Every third Sunday in May, the Civic Council hosts a self-guided walking tour of lovely and interesting homes in Park Slope, a new section every year. Ticket-holders get a handsome illustrated brochure describing the history and interior of each home, along with a suggested route. In recent years, a talk or panel discussion on issues of interest to the community has followed the tour. Funds raised by the House Tours are returned to our community in the form of grants to local institutions .

Tour announcements from 1962 (left) and 2011.

The process to make this happen begins in January, as Civic Council trustees, former trustees, and members search for homes; recruit and organize sitters, photograph tour homes; design the poster, ticket, brochure map, and street banner; arrange online ticket sales; write and edit the brochure; arrange for flowers; and send press releases. We are very thankful for their hard work. We are also grateful to merchants and realtors who sell tickets and, of course, to the gracious homeowners who make their beautiful homes available.

Beginning in 1959, the Civic Council and the Park Slope Garden Club hosted springtime visits to Park Slope gardens. In 1962, under the leadership of Robert Makla, the event became a tour of Park Slope homes. Participants who joined in the 1962 tour were asked to donate $1.50. The Civic Council used those funds to “brighten our streets with window boxes and flowers.” Everett and the late Evelyn Ortner, longtime Park Slope preservationists, went on the 1963 House Tour; as a result, they decided to purchase a Park Slope brownstone.

Early tours were of 10 or so homes on one or two blocks. By 1976, the House Tour expanded to multiple blocks. In 1979, Peter Altschuler and ROSAS (Revitalization of the Southern Area of the Slope) hosted the first tour south of Eighth Street. Posters made by local students, with Park Slope history as their theme, were posted along the tour route. John Muir and Carl Kaiserman gave a South Slope walking tour the day before to generate interest.

The Park Slope of that era was run down, and crime was an issue. Today, of course, House Tour visitors see a much different Slope, a community that the American Planning Association called “one of the 10 Great Neighborhoods in America.”

Candace Woodward, a Civic Council trustee from 2000 through 2010, chaired the House Tour Committee during that period. “I first became involved in the House Tour in the late 1990s, when I assisted Gail Harvey, then–House Tour chair, with publicity. I was interested in the House Tour because it benefits many and accomplishes a great deal. Homeowners proudly show off their treasures and their renovations. Local architects, engineers, landscapers, interior decorators, and artists gain publicity. Ticket-holders view beautiful homes of all types, from traditional brownstones to wood-frame homes to contemporary lofts. And of course, the House Tour funds the Civic Council grants program.”

Darryl Cook, a new trustee, will work with Woodward this year to prepare for taking over as committee chair. “My first visit to Park Slope was in 1999, when I ventured out of Manhattan to see some friends who lived on Fifth Avenue. I remember how beautiful and inviting the streetscape was, and how surprised I was to find this amazing neighborhood here in Brooklyn. Within a year, I was calling Park Slope my home.

“As an architect, I knew I wanted very much to be more involved in the tour for its exposure to the history and culture of Park Slope,” Cook said. “Now this year, I will get the opportunity and look forward to being a part of it moving forward.”

You, too, can get involved in the House Tour. E-mail us at housetour@parkslopeciviccouncil.org.

— House Tour Committee Chairs Candace Woodward and Darryl Cook thank former trustee Carl Kaiserman for historical information.

from the Fall 2011 Civic News

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