Brownstone Revival Coalition

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New York Times Obituary

Everett Ortner, Leader in Brooklyn Brownstones’ Revival, Dies at 92

Everett Ortner who, with his wife, Evelyn, was an early leader in the movement to restore the splendor of 19th-century Brooklyn brownstones after so many had been carved into rooming houses, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Brooklyn. He was 92 and lived in the four-story 1886 brownstone that he and his wife bought in 1963.

The cause was complications of a fall, his friend Joe Sweeney said.

The efforts of Everett and Evelyn Ortner reverberated throughout the city and beyond. In 1968, five years after they had moved into their brownstone, on Berkeley Place in Park Slope, the Ortners helped found the Brownstone Revival Committee. It has since become a citywide organization known as the Brownstone Revival Coalition.

Back then, many middle-class residents in neighborhoods including Park Slope were moving to the suburbs. The Ortners, who had paid $32,500 for their house, joined with several neighbors to change what was happening to the buildings. What started as a wine-and-cheese party grew into a series of events where young couples, many from outside the borough, could experience the interior grandeur of the old homes. The Ortners’ house, for example, was adorned with its original mahogany woodwork and papier-mâché and linseed-oil wallpaper.

But as more people became interested in restoring brownstones and old Victorian homes in Park Slope, Cobble Hill and other declining neighborhoods in western Brooklyn, many banks were reluctant to finance mortgages. “When Everett and Evelyn bought their house, nobody could get a loan; they went to two dozen banks,” said Dexter Guerrieri, who is now chairman of the coalition. “Neighborhoods had been redlined because banks didn’t want to issue loans in areas that received federal subsidies for slum clearance.”

The Ortners and other coalition members successfully lobbied bankers to limit redlining. By inviting executives from the Brooklyn Union Gas Company for drinks, the Ortners persuaded them to restore a brownstone on their block and to renovate it with modern gas fixtures that the company wanted to sell. That led to a housing fair that attracted 25,000 potential buyers to the neighborhood.

In 1974, Mr. Ortner organized the first “Back to the City” conference at the Waldorf-Astoria, bringing together more than 250 representatives from 82 cities to promote the revitalization of brownstone neighborhoods, where many homes now sell for millions of dollars. The organization, which he led until 1983, sponsored 12 other annual conferences in cities across the country.

The Ortners “were the driving force behind the creation of the Park Slope Historic District in 1973,” Robert B. Tierney, the chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, said in a statement on Thursday, adding, “Just last month the commission continued to build upon their legacy when it expanded the district by adding 600 more buildings.”

Edward Howard Ortner was born in Lowell, Mass., on Aug. 25, 1919. After graduating from the University of Arkansas, he served in the Army in Europe during World War II, receiving a Bronze Star. For 33 years, until his retirement in 1985, he was an editor at Popular Science magazine.

The Ortners married in 1953; Evelyn Ortner died in 2006. Mr. Ortner had no immediate survivors.

Soon after moving to the Berkeley Place brownstone — the couple’s first and only house — the Ortners began promoting their neighborhood with walking tours, block parties and open houses.

“Never again, never again, never again will houses of this quality be built for the middle class of the city,” Mr. Ortner once said. “I suppose it’s agelessness. There’s a feeling of security in knowing it will look like this in the future.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 27, 2012, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Everett Ortner, 92, Leader in Brooklyn Brownstones’ Revival.