Cobble Hill Park, Brooklyn
WHAT IS IT ABOUT A MEWS that I (and others) find so irresistible? Nineteenth century brick carriage houses are neither as elegant nor as large as your classic high-stoop brownstones, but in neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, they can cost just as much.
I guess you can’t put a price tag on that sense of being hidden away in a place time forgot, where people never stop exclaiming — even after years of residence — how remarkably quiet it is, how hard it is to believe you’re right in the middle of the city.
Verandah Place, looking west
The dictionary definition of a mews is “a street lined by buildings originally used as stables but now often converted into dwellings.” It’s a chiefly British usage, apparently. In this country, use the word ‘mews’ and you’re likely to hear, “Oh, you mean that little alley with the cute brick houses?”
I should know about living in a mews. For twenty years, from the mid-’80s until a few years ago, my family lived on Verandah Place in Cobble Hill, in a house we still own. There are other carriage houses in the neighborhood, but it’s the only mews (Brooklyn Heights has three that I can think of: Love Lane, Hunts Lane, and Grace Court Alley). I remember the original ad that brought us to the “coveted mews block,” and how I knew instantly that yes, I would be happy there. It was an ideal place to raise kids, on a traffic-free lane perfect for skateboarding and ball-playing.
Only a few of the houses were actually stables or carriage houses, with doors wide enough for carriages to enter. A couple still have intact pulleys, used for raising bales into the hayloft. The rest were small working-class dwellings. Ours is one of five built in the 1850s for (legend has it) the daughters of a homeowner on neighboring Warren Street.
There wasn’t always a park across the way. Until the 1950s, there was a church, and Verandah Place was gated. (I’d love to know where the name came from and whether some of the houses had verandahs. I’ve never seen them in a mews, but cast-iron balconies were not unheard-of in the area). The church was torn down, and a supermarket set to go up in its place. The community objected, and Cobble Hill Park was created in the 1960s.
I was reminded of the international appeal of the mews when I saw the one in central London, below, in last month’s New York Times real estate section. The pink house, once a stable, has 2BR and 2 baths and is on the market for the equivalent of $2.4million, more or less what the Cobble Hill mews houses would go for today. Click here to read all about it and see a slide show of the interior.