Property owners come and go.
While a chandelier or book-lined shelves may hint at the tastes of a former owner, when a deal closes, and furniture is cleared, history can quickly fade from memory.
Jane and Thor Rinden bought the house in 1968 for $29,000, and meticulously documented their restoration of the 1870 four-level property, as they lived through Brooklyn’s brownstone revitalization movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
Long before the design-blog era, the Rindens chronicled a five-year renovation process with remarkable detail in elegantly produced essays and photo albums — from hauling bricks from a demolished hospital for a garden path, to restoring a parquet floor, piece by piece.
“We were justly proud of our house because we had done most of the work ourselves,” wrote Ms. Rinden in an unpublished memoir.
Ms. Rinden, who died this past summer, at 77, was a middle-school English teacher who spent most of her career at Chapin, the private girl’s school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Mr. Rinden, who passed away in 2009, at 72, was a painter. “It had become our first collaborative work of art,” Ms. Rinden wrote.
As depicted in “12,” a 148-page scrapbook with an abstract cover designed by Mr. Rinden, the renovation of the five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house with tall windows, a corkscrewing staircase and three (of five) working fireplaces seemed almost joyous.
“The designers of 19th-century rowhouses ingeniously included built-in shutters to help keep out the cold” reads one caption, in neat letters, next to a photo of a bandanna-clad and smiling Ms. Rinden scraping old paint. Those shutters remain today.
But there was no doubt they faced an arduous task, friends say. “It needed new heat and electricity and water pipes. The basement floor was rotted out. And everything tilted,” said Carol Salguero, a friend who lived for several years at 48 Second Place, and who while working as a real estate agent, sold the Rindens No. 12.
The massive amount of work required to revive antique buildings “was absolutely flabbergasting to all us brownstoners,” Ms. Salguero said. “But they had something glamorous that we believed could be brought forward.”
As much of a primer about Victorian architecture, the paper trail the Rindens left behind also offers a window on what seems like a much different New York.
In that older, less-gentrified city, a teacher and an artist with limited commercial success — “glorious paintings emerged, and yet they were not being seen by the general public” Ms. Rinden wrote of her husband’s work — appeared to enjoy a rich existence.
True, early on, Ms. Rinden’s parents did help occasionally, but the couple paid back a $10,000 loan to Mr. Rinden’s parents in six months. And they often served as their own contractors, including scavenging for parts: a wood fence along a side of the back yard, for instance, was fashioned from crates found on Brooklyn docks.
A single steady salary also didn’t seem to hold back a busy cultural life, including frequent trips to Lincoln Center for operas. A shelf in a study on a recent afternoon held thick binders filled with performance Playbills.
If New York has changed, so has Carroll Gardens. In the late 20th century, it was largely Italian, said Susan Zuccotti, a historian, who for decades lived at 36 Second Place, for which she and her husband, John Zuccotti, the developer, paid $60,000 in 1972.
Unlike some sections of Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s, it also felt safe. “There were tales of Mafia connections, of people who lived there keeping it safe,” she said, “and I think there was an element of truth to them.”
And while many brownstones had multiple apartments back then, they’re mostly single-family homes today, said Ms. Zuccotti, who relocated to Manhattan last year. “Things changed very, very slowly,” she said, “and then very, very fast.”
The Rindens never had children, by choice, according to Ms. Rinden’s sister, Sally Herb, 76. “I believe it mostly had to do with the fact that they loved the life they’d built together so much that they didn’t see any reason (or need) to change it,” she wrote by email.
But Ms. Rinden stayed close with former students. One, Maggie Levine, a student at Brooklyn’s Packer Collegiate Institute, where Ms. Rinden taught before Chapin, is executor of her estate. “They never lacked for young people in their lives,” Ms. Herb added.
With no direct heirs, the Rindens stipulated that proceeds from the house sale should go to Chapin, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and WNYC, among other institutions, said Ms. Herb.
As of last week, four potential buyers had made offers on the house, but Ms. Levine had not yet accepted one.
A buyer might want to upgrade, said Lucy Perry, a Compass agent listing the house. The ground-level kitchen, with white appliances, laminate counters and an exposed washer and dryer, for instance, could benefit from a more modern touch.
“But usually with a house like this, someone has done too much to it, by putting in things that were not in keeping with the building,” Ms. Perry said, the Rindens “brought new life to it.”