Brooklyn brownstone symbols?

Wood Guy

Today I talked with an old friend who is buying the 1880s townhouse he grew up in, in Brooklyn. He got the original plans from the city and asked what some of the symbols meant. I've done a lot of renovations to old homes but am stumped by some of his questions:

First sheet, center image (says basement but it's the first floor) at top left has three boxes in a row, and an exterior opening. Perhaps ice boxes and ice supply?

First sheet, center image, top right, next to fireplace--a built-in oven and cooktop? 

There are two hatches to the basement at ground level--for coal or wood? Why at both ends?

Embedded in the walls are black-poched rectangles, with openings and arrows at some locations. My first guess was internal downspouts but that doesn't seem right. Air supply? Why would you want air from the basement? 

Second image, center--sinks? Why, when it looks like there is a sink in the bathroom at top left? 

The third image is just for fun, for anyone interested. Thanks for any help. 

Feb 7, 19 8:18 pm

Great story/project, and nice drawings, too.

Feb 7, 19 8:33 pm

no idea, but cool drawings!

Feb 7, 19 8:38 pm

Cool drawings!  These don't come around that often!  I can see why these are confusing as there is some crucial missing information.

My educated guess is that what is labeled as the 'first floor' is actually the basement (as you stated) and would've been the servant space.  The sleeping area would've been in the front, with a bathroom in the middle and the cooking area in the back.  The three boxes are probably just a triple sink.  The door to the outside that is a small closet may have been a toilet for the servant to use.  The area you are asking about next to the fireplace is hard to tell, but probably some kind of cooktop.

The black boxes with the arrows appear to be for a gravity furnace, likely located in the sub-basement, labeled 'foundation' here.  A furnace like this would require a certain amount of air for combustion, which is a potential reason for there being two areaways.  Also it never hurts to bring in extra light into a sub-basement.

Having sinks in the closet is a holdover from before people had indoor plumbing.  It was common to have a bowl for a quick washing (hands or face) in the bedroom.

Hope this helps and thanks for sharing!

Feb 7, 19 9:50 pm
t a z


You can also check out 1940s city tax photos for more sleuthing:

Why are there what looks like posts in the sub-basement?  Deflection control for heavy storage in the basement?

Feb 10, 19 1:11 pm
Wood Guy

They sort of used a European naming convention for the floors, so the first floor is what we would call the second floor, the sub-basement is really the basement (including typical columns supporting a girder) and the "basement" is at ground level.

t a z

I just mean the posts are curious since the floor joists typically span from party wall to party wall.


What's missing from the section drawing is stairs that will take you to "1st Floor". Entrance to "basement" would be underneath the stairs. It's commonly called "garden apartment". Even today it is common to keep top 2 floors as a single owner occupied unit, and rent out the garden apartment. Front "hatch" was for coal delivery. Recent trend has been to replace hatch with skylight and make the actual basement occupied space and rent it out as part of the garden unit. It's illegal to call it a bedroom when it's subterranean like that, but it has not stopped anyone from calling it so. 

Feb 10, 19 2:40 pm
Wood Guy

Thanks for all of the feedback!

Feb 11, 19 9:31 pm

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