Brooklyn Heights, How Well I Know Ye


Hilly, cobbled Joralemon Street, with vividly painted c.1830s row houses

THE YOUNGSTERS on Brownstoner like to make fun of Brooklyn Heights. They think it’s stodgy and dull and full of old people. Yeah, OK, it may not be the hippest nabe in the borough, but damn, its architecture holds up well.

New York City’s first Historic District (designated in 1969) looks exactly the same as it did when I lived there in the late ’70s and mid ’80s — in fact, it’s looked the same since the 19th century. There’s a famous photo of the brownstones of Henry Street in the great blizzard of 1888, which could easily be mistaken for the great blizzards of 2010-11.



On Sunday, a friend and I had lunch at the welcoming Iris Cafe on Columbia Place, my new go-to spot for curried chickpea soup and avocado sandwiches. Then we trekked out to see Pier 1 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, above, created on landfill near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. On a windy, overcast day in March, the park was not at its most inspiring, still raw with new plantings — but just wait a few months (years, decades).


Mid-19th century industrial building on Furman Street, seen from Pier 1


Two funky little houses near the base of the Brooklyn Bridge — one is or was owned by actor Tim Robbins

We walked back along Cranberry and Hicks Streets, admiring some of Brooklyn’s oldest row houses and marveling at the variety of architectural detail. It wasn’t new to me — I have walked those streets innumerable times, often pushing a stroller — but it was wonderful to see it all again, reassuringly unchanged.


One of the early 19th c. wood frame houses on the “fruit streets”: Cranberry, Orange, and Pineapple


Unusual window lintels on Hicks Street


The ever-appealing Grace Court Alley


On Pierrepont Street, clearly pre-Landmarks. Someone had a Mediterranean fantasy. Out of context, but love that cheery yellow


Your classic Brooklyn Heights high-stoop brownstone. Give me a couple of those in another life.

About cara

I blog for fun at, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here:
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15 Responses to Brooklyn Heights, How Well I Know Ye

  1. Astor C. says:

    These are the wonderfully winsome streets that Paula Fox liked “to walk to the grocer (past) old houses that don’t hide the stars, to pass beneath sycamore trees, their changes from leaf to bare branch marking the seasons more intimately than the calendar.” A resident (at least at one point) of the Heights, her novel “Desperate Characters” about an early gentrifying couple in Cobble Hill is one of the unsung classics.

  2. Janet Berggren says:

    I, too, spent Saturday wandering the streets of Brooklyn Heights and enjoying its lovely atmosphere and architecture. I strolled by Iris Cafe which was bustling as usual. My walk continued to Cobble Hill, lunch from Ted and Honey in the park, then on to Park Slope. Spring was in the air; a marvelous day in Brooklyn !

  3. Terry says:

    This is such a nice post (from someone who’ll probably never stroll these streets). Hope they are there to enjoy for another 100 years.

  4. em says:

    I was so happy to see this post! After three years of house hunting in Brooklyn, we finally just bought a home (our very first!) in Brooklyn Heights. We are hardly old, dull or stogy- my husband’s work “uniform” usually includes a battered Ramone’s t-shirt and our two kids under 5 keep things pretty lively. We’ve really got our work cut out for us as far as renovating goes, but I know it will be worth it to stroll these streets everyday. I’m psyched to be an easy walk from both the Iris Cafe and the Brookyn Bridge Park. I’d love to see more of your ‘brownstone voyeur’ posts for decorating/renovating inspiration!

  5. Nouveau Stitch says:

    Being a visitor to NYC a few times a year, I find myself staying in Manhattan and seeing and doing the same things time and again. Oh how I wish there was a way to visit the sites you share with a tour guide! Henry Street? Pleeze! This Fanny Brice fan….well at least Barbra as FB…would die to see that stoop from whence she sang People, but I’m sure it was filmed on set. Anyway, wish I had the balls to venture through the hoods and maneuver beyond the beaten paths. It seems downright intimidating to this midwesterner.

  6. runfeferun says:

    Brownstoner can be so snotty! I love Brooklyn Heights and would move there is a heart beat (that is if a couple of million bucks just fell out of the sky onto my lap). Like the little black dress, Brooklyn Heights is a classic that will never go out of style.

  7. Cher@NR says:

    I’ve passed by these streets billions of times. I used to pass those 2 homes at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge all the time. When I was a little girl I used to think they were so affordable, like “yeah I’ll go buy that place.” Yeah right!

  8. cara says:

    Congratulations, Em! Can’t go wrong buying in the Heights. I haven’t done any Brownstone Voyeurs lately, but here’s a link to the archive: You might also want to look at Ingrid Abramovitch’s book, Restoring a House in the City.
    Best of luck with your reno!

  9. cara says:

    hi Nouveau, great to hear from you:-) I’ll bet you’re right, that that stoop made famous by Streisand was a sound-stage stoop. The next time you come to NYC, you *must* venture to Brooklyn. You’ll be glad you did! This is a pretty good beginners’ guide:

  10. cara says:

    hi run, welcome. I like your little black dress metaphor – very apt! And congrats on the launch of your blog. Keep up the good work:-)

  11. Adrienne says:

    The only thing that comes close to the truly breathtaking views of NYC while strolling on the Promenade are enjoying the exquisite homes that lead up to this magical panorama.

  12. BrandonH says:

    Brooklyn Heights is a special place for all the reasons mentioned above. For those who work in Manhattan, it is also an extremely accessible neighborhood. In terms of geography and convenience, it’s almost like living in downtown Manhattan (i.e., Tribeca), but it is special because it is separated from the non-stop high-energy of the city. It’s like a quaint village at the doorstep of a thriving metropolis. The best of both worlds!

  13. BrandonH says:

    Actually, it *is* a quaint village at the doorstep of a thriving metropolis :-)

  14. em says:

    Thanks, Cara! I will definitely go back through your Voyeur archives. One of my favorites is the Modern Farmhouse Kitchen. After we remove a whole bunch of dingy laminate and rental appliances, I aspire to a kitchen along those lines! I have two copies of Restoring a House in the City- I bought myself a copy as soon as I saw it on your blog and my husband bought me a copy as a surprise, not realizing it was already living on our bedside table! One of these days i will give one copy to a friend, but for now I like being able to leaf through both : )
    Have a wonderful trip to Spain!

  15. em says:

    Oops! Meant “Updated French Farmhouse” Kitchen.

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