06 October 2015

Learning About the Home's Expansion by Looking at the Building Permit

Last week, I discussed a visit to the local building department to find out what the Township has on record in the way of building permits for the house. While I didn't find any permits or drawings from the home's original construction date in the 1920's, I did find a building permit dated April 11, 1946 for the enclosure of a rear porch. In actuality, there were three pages included-- a two-page permit application, plus the actual permit itself.

Permit Application to enclose rear porch dated April 11, 1946.
Although it's quite difficult to read, this is the actual building permit, dated April 17, 1946.
So, these are some pretty exciting documents to view, as they document a major piece of construction on the house. Back in the beginning of our history hunt, we could tell that the rear portion of the building was some sort of an addition, since the original foundation ends before you reach the rear living room. Further, this portion of the house exhibits a minimal amount of differential settlement, evidenced by the separation of asbestos siding at the juncture of the two building portions. This document now appears to confirm the assumption and tells us a bit more as well.

The Permit Application

Let's spend most of our time analyzing the permit application, as the permit itself merely simplifies the application information down into a few key pieces. There is actually much more information on the application. So, starting at the top of the application:

Although it's a bit difficult to read this scan of the microfilm, the top of the form includes the Permit Number (#4226), as well as Type (5) and Class of Occupancy (3), which, although we are only hazarding an educated guess here, likely indicates a wood-framed, single-family dwelling. The permit fee, which is typically a percentage of the cost of the work, was $5.00 (more on this when we get to page 2 of the application). The next few paragraphs serve to indicate that the Township Building Inspector (L.R. Brigham) approved the permit application on April 12, 1946, one day after owner John J. Cantlin applied.

The boilerplate print of the application form covers multiple construction project types, including "to Alter, Repair, and Remove, Demolish or to Move any Building." It is always interesting to me to find the signature of a person I've been researching, and John Cantlin's signature appears here, dated April 11, 1946.

Moving on, the application prompts a further description of the proposed work:

As we've already mentioned, the work is to enclose the rear porch. Although the application instructs that applicants shall "furnish building plans and specifications in duplicate", sadly we did not find these. Mr. Cantlin's application does indicate the planned use of 2x4 wood stud framing, joists, and german siding (to match the original wood german siding used on the main house).

And on Page 2 of the application:

Although several additional fields are not completed, the application does indicate that work is intended to begin "at once," and although it is very difficult to read in this scan, the actual permit verifies that the next bit of information is an estimated construction cost of $125 (equal to roughly $1600 today). No architect was consulted on this work, but the contractor is listed as Joseph Dolan of Jenkintown Rd in Ardsley. Sure enough, in the 1940 U.S. Census, 34-year-old Joseph J. Dolan appears at 850 Jenkintown Rd, Ardsley, in the household of his mother, Susie Dolan, along with his wife, son, daughter, and his two sisters and their children as well. The address number 850 on Jenkintown Rd is currently out in Rockledge, not Ardsley, so the street numbers must have changed at a point since 1940. A similar address number, 2850 Jenkintown Rd, is currently right around the corner from our subject house. However, since this batch of Jenkintown Rd households on the census was enumerated amongst households on Hazel Ave and Monroe Ave, I am guessing the Dolans actually lived a bit further down the road towards the Ardsley train station. Nonetheless, Mr. Dolan certainly lived nearby.

1940 US Census entry for Joseph J. Dolan, living in Ardsley at 850 Jenkintown Rd
Curiously, Joseph Dolan's occupation in 1940 is listed as "tree surgeon," not contractor or carpenter. Perhaps Joseph Dolan became a builder after his arborist days, however I tend to think a more likely scenario is that John Cantlin may have hired a handy friend of his to fill in his porch with exterior walls and throw up some siding.

Although a space appears at the bottom of the form for the Building Inspector to indicate that the work has been completed satisfactorily, it has not been filled out on this particular document. This building permit application is not quite the treasure trove of information for which I hoped, but it did fill in a few blanks and provide some more leads to pursue. It also gives us cause to examine the building itself with a closer eye...

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