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Everett & Evelyn Ortner

Everett & Evelyn Ortner

Everett and Evelyn Ortner were instrumental in preserving the brownstones of Park Slope in Brooklyn and encouraging families to return to the neighborhood as part of the Brownstone Revival Movement.

Organizations: Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn Center of Urban Environment, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn Stained Glass Conservation Studio, Brownstone Revival Coalition, Fine Arts Federation, Montauk Club, Municipal Art Society, Park Slope Civic Council, Preservation Volunteers
Places: Montauk Club, Park Slope Historic District, Prospect Park, St. Ann of the Holy Trinity Church
Above: Evelyn and Everett Ortner, December 2003.

Everett Ortner was born on August 25, 1919 in Lowell, Massachusetts, and moved to Brooklyn as a child. After graduating from University of Arkansas he served in the United States Army during World War II and received a Bronze Star. Mr. Ortner went on to work for Popular Science Magazine for thirty-three years until his retirement in 1985.1 Evelyn Gelbman was born on July 4, 1924 in Manhattan and was raised in the Bronx. She graduated from Hunter College and later studied Interior Design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and Historic Preservation at Columbia University.2 The couple got married in 1953 and later purchased a four-story brownstone built in 1882 and located on Berkeley Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn in 1963. The Ortners played a significant role in the preservation of brownstone houses of Brooklyn by appealing to young homebuyers and organizing community engagement activities. In 1968, the Ortners founded the Brownstone Revival Committee which later developed into a citywide organization known as the Brownstone Revival Coalition.3 The couple worked to achieve designation for the Park Slope Historic District, which was achieved on July 17, 1973.

Everett and Evelyn Ortner also played a key role in the designation of the Park Slope Historic District.4 The Ortners’ association with preservation organizations and efforts in preserving the brownstones came to be known as the “Brownstone Revival Movement.”5 Both Everett and Evelyn were involved in numerous civic and arts organizations and received many awards. Evelyn died at her home in Park Slope on September 19, 2006, and Everett passed away on May 22, 2012.6

Everett Ortner:

Park Slope Civic Council

Park Slope Betterment Committee

Brownstone Revival Committee of New York
Co-founder and President

Back to the City Conference
Co-founder and President

Montauk Club
Board Member and President

Brooklyn Historical Society/Long Island Historical Society
Board member and Vice-President

Preservation Volunteers
Co-founder (with Evelyn)

Evelyn Ortner:

Brooklyn Museum
President of the Community Committee

St. Ann Center for Restoration and the Arts
Co-founder and Chairman

Brooklyn Stained Glass Conservation Center

Victorian Society in America, New York Chapter
Board member and Secretary

Preservation Volunteers
Co-founder (with Everett)

The Ortners moved to their Brooklyn brownstone in 1963. At the time, Park Slope was struggling with a high rate of crime and deterioration of housing stock. It was difficult to acquire a mortgage to buy a house in Park Slope at that time, a result of declining home values and federal policies which promoted a mass migration by young families to the suburbs.7 However, the Ortners purchased their brownstone house on Berkeley Place because it was beautifully preserved, with magnificent plasterwork, mahogany woodcarvings and other details still intact.8 This became the main catalyst for them to join the Brownstone Revival Movement. In 1963, the couple joined the Park Slope Civic Council and quickly became very active members of the organization. At the time, the Council, led by Robert Makla, was sponsoring tours for potential homebuyers. Makla also played a major role in promoting park services and volunteer services in the neighborhood. Everett volunteered to start doing publicity for every house tour that came along.9

The Ortners, along with Joe Ferris and few other like-minded people, started the Park Slope Betterment Committee shortly after moving to the neighborhood. The Committee sent out press releases to newspapers and organized house tours in addition to the annual tour given by the Park Slope Civic Council.10 Apart from giving tours, they began a “Cinderella Program” with the Brooklyn Union Gas Company (now National Grid), by encouraging the company to buy a dilapidated brownstone and renovate it into a modern house to showcase their range of gas appliances. Everett, along with the gas company, also organized several bus tours of brownstone neighborhoods and educated the public about how to acquire old, dilapidated houses and renovate them at a reasonable price. They mainly targeted young couples from Manhattan. The Ortners also worked to change the opinion of mortgage officers about the old houses in order to help young homebuyers acquire a mortgage. They hosted cocktail parties for a group of bankers in beautiful brownstones to give them an insight of their lifestyle.11

As the Ortners were interested in serving a larger community, they formed a citywide organization originally called the Brownstone Revival Committee, later renamed the Brownstone Revival Coalition in 1996.12 Everett was also heavily involved with the Brooklyn Brownstone Conference, a small coalition led by Ned Hendricks. In 1971, they organized a huge ‘Brownstone Ball’ at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.13

According to Robert B. Tierney, an ex-chairman of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Ortners “were the driving force behind the creation of the Park Slope Historic District in 1973”.14 Evelyn Ortner, along with Charles Brown and William Lee Younger, researched and prepared a preliminary draft of the block-by-block architectural description for the LPC.15 Additionally, Everett Ortner performed the bulk of the photography for the report.16 Following the district’s designation in 1973, a quarter of Park Slope was landmarked.

After earning a degree in Historic Preservation, Evelyn was involved with the St. Ann’s Center for Restoration in the Arts and worked for the preservation of Church of St. Ann of the Holy Trinity, a brownstone church with historically significant stained-glass windows. She actively worked to restore the windows, made by William Jay Bolton in 1847, which are known to be the first set of stained-glass windows made in the United States. Following this, Evelyn started another organization called the Brooklyn Stained Glass Conservation Studio in association with the Kress Foundation.17 The Ortners also assisted in the restoration of Prospect Park. Evelyn was very active in the research of Litchfield Villa and participated in saving the Boathouse, both significant landmarks of the Park.

The Ortners continued to work for the improvement and preservation of Park Slope until the end of their lives. The Brooklyn brownstone preservation movement, to which the couple added important impetus, had resonated throughout the city and beyond. In 2002, at the age of 80, they helped found the Preservation Volunteers, an organization which connects French and American volunteers with preservation projects.18 In 2014, the Park Slope Civic Council inaugurated the Ortner Preservation Awards for restoration and construction projects that honor the original architecture of Park Slope.19

  1. Dennis Hevesi, “Everett Ortner, Leader in Brooklyn Brownstones’ Revival, Dies at 92,” The New York Times, 26 May 2012.
  2. Interview by Florence Daniels, NYPAP Oral History, 29 December 2003.
  3. Hevesi, “Everett Ortner, Leader in Brooklyn Brownstones’ Revival, Dies at 92.”
  4. John Zarrillo, “Everett and Evelyn Ortner papers and photographs now open to the public!” Brooklyn Historical Society, 28 June 2016.
  5. David Alquist, “Remembering Everett Ortner”, Park Slope Civic Council, 2012.
  6. Brownstone Revival Coalition, “Tribute to Everett Ortner,” accessed October 19, 2020. http://brownstonerevival.org/Everett_Ortner_Tribute.html
  7. Ibid
  8. Alquist, “Remembering Everett Ortner.”
  9. Interview by Florence Daniels, NYPAP Oral History, 29 December 2003.
  10. Ibid
  11. Alquist, “Remembering Everett Ortner.”
  12. Brownstone Revival Coalition home page, accessed 14 September 2020. http://brownstonerevival.org/
  13. Interview by Florence Daniels, NYPAP Oral History, 29 December 2003.
  14. Hevesi, “Everett Ortner, Leader in Brooklyn Brownstones’ Revival, Dies at 92.”
  15. Park Slope Historic District Designation Report, New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1973
  16. Ibid
  17. Interview by Florence Daniels, NYPAP Oral History, 29 December 2003.
  18. Elizabeth A. Harris, “A Couple Who Gave Brownstones New Life,” The New York Times, 4 June 2012 and Preservation Volunteers, “Our History,” accessed October 21, 2020, https://www.preservationvolunteers.org/ourhistory.
  19. “Park Slope Civic Council, “2020 Ortner Preservation Awards,” accessed October 21, 2020, https://parkslopeciviccouncil.org/announcement-of-ortner-awards-process/