Brownstone Revival Coalition
Nomination for the Lucy G. Moses Preservation Leadership Award
Nominees: Everett and Evelyn Ortner
Nominated by Dexter Guerrieri, Chair of the Brownstone Revival Coalition, President of Preservation Volunteers Corp.
In an era of increasingly fractured individuality, Everett and Evelyn Ortner share an AOL screen name: EvOandEvO. The symmetry of this ‘virtual identity’ exemplifies the partnership this couple has maintained for more than 40 years of forceful engagement with the field of historical preservation.
An interior designer and preservationist, Evelyn is a product of Hunter College (cum laude), the Pratt Institute, and the graduate program in Historic Preservation Technology of the Columbia University School of Architecture. Her career has long revolved around the area of preservation. As Director of Facilities and Collections of the New York Chamber of Commerce, Mrs. Ortner served for many years as curator of the Chamber’s archives and portrait collection. She catalogued the collection and supervised its sale when the organization was subsumed by the Partnership for New York City and closed its doors. A member of The Victorian Society in America since its inception in 1966, she continues to lecture on nineteenth-century architecture and Victorian design.
Today, she is a docent at the Brooklyn Museum, where she has become an autodidact expert in the study of ancient Egypt. She regularly guides tours of the collection. But this ardent supporter of cultural artifacts’ relationship with the Brooklyn Museum neither began nor ends with her role as a guide, however. As a board member of the museum, she was an early member of the Community Committee. During her tenure as president of this fundraising body, she organized the Annual Ball, one of the institution’s most important development events.
But the Brooklyn Museum is by no means the only local institution Evelyn has helped to develop. She is the founder and long time board chair of the St. Ann’s Stained Glass Restoration Studio, and continues on the board of a successor group, the Brooklyn Stained Glass Conservation Center. The organization she created has been responsible for preserving some of the earliest stained glass made in America. Over thirty-five years ago, she lobbied and won attention for the church from the International Monuments Fund. The Restoration Studio, now a national center for stained glass restoration and the study of traditional techniques, grew out of the atelier where the restoration project conceived by Evelyn for the church’s windows was completed.
BAM (the Brooklyn Academy of Music) is another jewel whose success Evelyn has helped to bring about. She is a founding member of the Board of Trustees and has been a strong voice in building this now world-famous center for performance (theater, film, and dance). She has also been deeply involved with the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, a local institution of international importance. The Montauk Club in Brooklyn, housed in the eponymous building designed by Francis Kimball and completed in 1891, is another Brooklyn institution that both Ortners have supported with their efforts. Together, Everett and Evelyn made the private club a center for the growing community of Brownstone lovers, appropriate for a location where William Gaynor once lobbied for the then contentious consolidation of the Five Boroughs.
Evelyn was of great importance during the nineteen-sixties when she and Everett succeeded in bringing Park Slope to the attention of the Historic Districting Commission. The Ortners, along with one other person, gathered data on available brownstones in Park
Slope which were scheduled for the wrecking ball, or were being carved up into SRO apartments. They organized tours and publicized availability, thus “saving” the neighborhood. This work was the beginning of the Park Slope Betterment Committee, which became the Park Slope Civic Council. One of their major campaigns was “Back to the City” (see below). Both of them participated together in organizing parties, walking tours, and lectures to celebrate and share the unique qualities of Brooklyn’s brownstones, but it was Evelyn who convinced Brooklyn Union Gas to invest in what would become ‘The Cinderella House’. The Utility purchased the building, and, under the supervision of Evelyn, who acted in the professional capacity of chief interior designer, restored it as a model of period detail as well as modern efficiency. She also curated exhibitions on the parlor floor designed to educate residents and newcomers about local restoration projects and the potential for beauty of the neighborhood. Brooklyn Union Gas subsequently sponsored the installation of renovated gas lighting on streets in the area, contributing to its current charm. This amelioration was once again due to the prompting and tenacity of the Ortner’s campaign. In 2004, they were featured in an article called “The Couple Who Saved Park Slope” in The New York Times.
In conjunction with her husband Everett, Evelyn continues to lobby for the accurate and responsible care of New York City’s brownstone legacy through the Brownstone Revival Coalition (BRC), which sponsors lectures and workshops on architectural history and preservation topics. Furthermore, both of them are working hard to ensure the success of Preservation Volunteers Corp., an organization Everett co-founded with Evelyn’s assistance in the wake of their exposure to REMPART (the Union des Associations pour la Réhabilitation et Entretien des Monuments et du Patrimoine Artistique). PV, now in its sixth official year of operations, brings together historic preservation projects and unpaid volunteers to work on them. Volunteers, both French working on American projects and Americans working in France, gain an enhanced appreciation of the national heritages of both countries as they restore historic structures that would otherwise not get the benefit of preservation.
Everett Ortner is an editor, writer, and photographer by profession. His retirement from Popular Science magazine ended a 33-year career with that publication, beginning as Assistant Copy Chief and ending as Editor. He has written hundreds of articles on building technology, photography, preservation, and urban revival.
He, with Evelyn, has been a missionary for the brownstone-revival movement in New York City, and for urban revival nationally since 1965. A leader in the early days of the revival movement in his Brooklyn community of Park Slope, he was a co-founder and first president (1968) of the Brownstone Revival Committee of New York. He is currently its Chairman Emeritus. Everett continues to write for and edit “The Brownstoner,” as the BRC newsletter is named.
While Evelyn was designing the Cinderella house, Everett helped the gas company to create a series of films about Brooklyn brownstones that were widely circulated, both throughout New York City and elsewhere, and were enormously influential in bringing new residents to Brooklyn’s older communities. To celebrate the bicentennial of the Battle of Brooklyn, he wrote the script for a movie, “The Battle of Brooklyn,” produced by Brooklyn Union.
In 1972 Everett Ortner conceived and directed the first Back to the City Conference in New York–a gathering that brought together 250 representatives of 82 cities across the nation. Out of the conference and the strongly felt need for a national organization to focus on urban residential revival through the preservation of old communities, came Back to the City, Inc. This organization, of which Everett Ortner was president until 1983, sponsored a series of annual conferences in a dozen major cities: Washington, Milwaukee, Cleveland, San Antonio, Saint Paul, Hartford, Miami Beach, etc. Over the years, Everett Ortner has also served as a Board member of Preservation
Action (Washington, D.C.), trustee and Vice President of the Brooklyn Historical Society, Vice President of the Park Slope Civic Council, Board member and President of Brooklyn’s historic Montauk Club, and other organizations.
As their screen name implies, Everett and Evelyn Ortner have functioned as a couple in their preservation endeavors, reflecting and mutually increasing their strengths. Evelyn has used her persuasive social grace to bring attention to the efforts of her husband, but her own achievements are no less striking, nor any less appreciated by those who know the pair. Each of them has monumental individual accomplishments, but their combined achievements in the field of preservation make a joint lifetime achievement award a deserved acknowledgement of their extraordinary contribution to the City of New York, in terms of an environment of history and beauty that is ours to share for as long as we remember and maintain their vigilance.