BROWNSTONE: a reddish-brown sandstone, used extensively as a building material

By | December 4, 2020

We’ve lived in cities around the country where apartments or condos were located in what are called brownstones. They are buildings constructed with the reddish-brown sandstone that give them that name.

For the most part, brownstones we have seen are located in upscale portions of the city…and are very expensive to rent or own. There is a cultural warmth to them, and they are located in parts of the city which tend to have a historic quality to them. Many times they are fronted by parks or other greenspaces which make living there somewhat attractive.

Sometimes the brownstones have fallen into disrepair and the neighborhoods have deteriorated to a lesser level of residence. But I suspect it is only a matter of time before they are restored to what become gentrified. That means that the renovations and promotions make the cost of them more than the people who had lived there previously can afford. When a neighborhood is gentrified, the brownstones have priced out the previous residents and the nature of the area begins to change ethnically, racially, and economically. Even the stores and restaurants spruce up and appeal to people of a higher income bracket.

What happens to the former residents?

They are forced to look in other more downtrodden areas of the city.

Brownstones, it seems, were built for people of a higher income bracket. They tend to have high ceilings, decorative markings, and even attic or basement rooms for the “hired help.”

One of the characteristics of the brownstones is the stairway and “stoop” which signify the entrance. They add a dignity to the building, and also tend to lift the main floor of the residence off the beaten track, away from the noise and clutter of the street. This leaves the lower floor exposed to some degree, for such renovations as offices, kitchens, and…additional sleeping areas. Sometimes they are separate living spaces from the upper brownstone.

The term brownstone dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. As urban life was rejected for more suburban existence after World War II, the brownstones in many cities faced deterioration. However, in more recent times,as urban life has become more attractive to families, the brownstone has returned to its place of elegance and class. In places like Georgetown, Washington D.C., the negativity never took hold, and the community who live there have continued to be prosperous.