47 Wolcott Street

The 2015 renovation of 47 Wolcott Street in Brooklyn is an archetypal illustration of the way history is quite literally obscured in the fever to commodify real estate. In an extreme example of the idea that a house will sell for a higher price if it is freshly repainted, the brickface façade of the building has been covered over with slats of tropical hardwood and, so far incompletely, sheets of corten steel. These two materials are important gentrification indicators of this decade. Used extensively as cladding in new construction, the employment of Brazilian walnut slats and “weathering” steel, which quickly rusts to a warm burnt orange, radiate newness and rugged urban individualism. They announce the arrival of an upwardly mobile Dwell-magazine-influenced aesthetic to the neighborhood.

At the sides of the stoop, remnant patches of brickface are still visible below the steel panels. Although this faux-rock siding serves no structural purpose, it is less expensive to leave it in place and simply cover it over with fresh materials than to remove it and risk revealing any structural issues that might lurk beneath.

This modest building sold in May of 2015 for $850,000, at which point the interior was demolished. According to Trulia, “the house will be sold ‘as is’ gutted and ready for interior finishing,” allowing the purchaser to “influence major design decisions.” In January of 2016 the asking price is $1,450,000. “The new owner will be provided with architectural plans and approved permits. Use the existing crew to complete the project with the opportunity to add your own ideas and creativity to the final mix. An additional $725,000 will bring the project to completion.”

Buyers were apparently not enticed by this exciting offer, and desultory renovations continued throughout 2016. According to Zillow, the property, fully upgraded with “Carrara marble bathroom” and a “wooden Hamptons-like style staircase” down into the back yard, sold in April of 2017, for $2,250,000. It lies in New York City storm zone 1, the area most likely to need to be evacuated in a hurricane or other flood-surge condition.