Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs now open to the public!

Evelyn and Everett Ortner, circa 1980

Evelyn and Everett Ortner, circa 1980; Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs, ARC.306; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The papers of Everett and Evelyn Ortner, which date from 1873 to 2012 and consist of over 50 linear feet of manuscripts, photographs, organizational records, correspondence, posters, films, and digital files, are now open to researchers at Brooklyn Historical Society. The papers and photographs were processed with funding generously provided by the New York State Archives Documentary Heritage Program. Researchers interested in historic preservation, gentrification, and the changing character of Brooklyn neighborhoods from the mid-20th century to today will find a wealth of resources in the collection.

Park Slope brownstones, circa 1973

Park Slope brownstones, circa 1973; Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs, ARC.306; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Longtime residents of Brooklyn may already be familiar with the couple, who were intimately involved with the “Brownstone Revival” movement and supporters of numerous Brooklyn cultural institutions. The couple married in 1953 and resided in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn through the early 1960s. In 1963 the couple purchased an 1882 four-story brownstone at 272 Berkeley Place in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. This would be the catalyst for their involvement in the “Brownstone Revival” movement. The Ortners soon became active in a variety of community organizations, including the Brownstone Revival Committee and the Park Slope Civic Council. They lobbied local banks to provide mortgages to prospective Park Slope home-buyers at a time when lenders had “red-lined” the neighborhood. According to the Park Slope Civic Council, “they also encouraged the Brooklyn Union Gas Co. (now National Grid) to purchase and transform a dilapidated brownstone on Berkeley Place into a modern two-family home featuring a variety of gas appliances.”[i] These buildings became known as “Cinderella homes” and were used in advertising to entice new residents to the neighborhood. The couple were also a leading force in the designation of the Park Slope Historic District in 1973.

Draft of a speech delivered by Everett Ortner to the City Planning Commission, circa 1970

Draft of a speech delivered by Everett Ortner to the City Planning Commission, circa 1970; Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs, ARC.306, box 26, folder 12; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The collection includes organizational records of both the Brownstone Revival Committee (later the Brownstone Revival Coalition) and the Back to the City Conference, as well as the St. Ann Center for Restoration and the Arts, of which Evelyn was a founding member and chairman of the board. Other organizations represented in the collection include the Park Slope Betterment Committee, Park Slope Block Association, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Brooklyn Museum, Long Island Historical Society/Brooklyn Historical Society, and Preservation Volunteers. BHS holds additional records related to the Brownstone Revival Coalition and the Back to the City Conference, as well as other community organizations, such as the Eastern Parkway Coalition and the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.

Restored Brooklyn townhouses, circa 1980

Restored Brooklyn townhouses, circa 1980; Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs, ARC.306; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Of particular note are the collection’s photographs. Everett was an amateur photographer and he extensively documented 19th century architecture throughout the city. In addition to documenting the city’s built environment, the collection includes photographs of community activities, such as block parties, the Atlantic Antic street festival, and the Giglio Feast in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Many of these photographs were featured in lectures the Ortners delivered on Brownstone architecture and preservation. The photographs complement our other photography collections that document borough’s architecture, such as the John D. Morrell Photograph collection and the Morris Slotkin collection of Eugene L. Armbruster photographs of Williamsburg.

A guide to the collection is available to researchers online via our finding aid portal. Our library is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. To make an appointment to view the collection, please contact us at: library@brooklynhistory.org.

[i] Park Slope Civic Council. “Remembering Everett Ortner,” last modified July 13, 2012. http://parkslopeciviccouncil.org/remembering-everett-ortner/

About John Zarrillo

I am an archivist at Brooklyn Historical Society. My job is to make the historical records of Brooklyn openly available to students, scholars, and anyone else interested in the borough's past!
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