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IT’S NOT NEWS THAT BROOKLYN’S FORT GREENE NEIGHBORHOOD has some of the most elegant brownstones in the borough. And that Fort Greene Park, designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, like Central and Prospect Parks, is no less a masterwork of 19th century landscape architecture.
But as is often the case in a complex place like Brooklyn, where stylistic layers have accumulated over the decades and where there’s just so much to look at as you barrel along, even a longtime resident like myself is constantly discovering new (to me) blocks and buildings.
Out for a walk last Sunday and wanting to try out the camera on my new iPhone 6, I strolled down Cumberland Street, which I knew had at least one very fine freestanding mansion, above, and found many more wood frame houses than I expected, and much else to keep my eyes busy.
Most of the houses in this post are on that one street, with the exception of the three old brownstones with intact parlor-floor storefronts and gabled roofs; those are on Greene Avenue. Thirty-five years ago, when we were a young couple and had recently bought a fixer-upper on the fringe of the fringe of Boerum Hill, we briefly knew another young couple who had bought one of those three buildings in even more derelict condition and were giving it a go. I wish I knew what became of them, but I don’t remember their names. Perhaps they still own it. Or perhaps they got quickly discouraged and moved away. Or perhaps they held on to it for decades, sold it and made a killing. Whether they’re there or not, the buildings remain. And that’s what’s so great about Brooklyn.
WITH DAFFODIL FOLIAGE PUSHING UP in the front yards of brownstone Brooklyn, the winter of my content is coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed this uninterrupted two-month spell of life in my ever-amazing home borough, where you see things like the movie shoot, above, on Prospect Park West, when you go out for your Sunday morning walk.
We’ve had our bit of snow (that’s the cherry orchard at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, with the Brooklyn Museum in the distance, above, as it looked a week ago Friday, and the view from my front window, below). I’ve caught up with old friends and gobbled down some culture (the Matisse show at the Met, the Museum of Arts and Design, French lessons on Saturday afternoons, even an afternoon at the ballet), though not enough of either.
And at long last, I’m in sight of a closing date on the property I’m buying in East Hampton. On Friday, the house passed its inspection for an updated Certificate of Occupancy, meaning, the Town deems it safe to live in (and that the backfilling of a derelict swimming pool, which I oversaw last month, was done to their satisfaction). And this afternoon I got an email from the seller telling me he is “putting together a crew” to move his two boats and the accumulated furnishings and stuff of 30 years out… this week.
Ye gads. It’s really happening! This means that after weeks of lying on the sofa, leafing languidly through books on Japanese landscaping and ripping pages out of decorating magazines, I’ll soon be putting in actual hard labor. All too soon, perhaps. Am I ready to plunge full-tilt into cleaning, painting, gardening, renovation? It makes me want to settle back on the couch with “The Art of the Japanese Garden” and a cup of tea. I’m already reflecting nostalgically on this temporary period of being a one-home person. I haven’t missed the Long Island Expressway one bit.
Soon enough, I’ll be in the woods, at the beach, breathing country air and enjoying country silence. Meanwhile, I’m appreciating the beauties at hand, like the freestanding mansions of Victorian Flatbush, above and below, where I went earlier this week for the annual ritual meeting with my accountant.
Mostly, though, what I appreciate is my Prospect Heights pied-a-terre, below, where I’ve been cozily cocooned. Its cheery yellow walls never fail to boost my spirits, and its two south-facing windows have served my houseplant collection well.
As the days lengthen, then, onward to what’s next.
CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, I do sometimes go across the river to the little island with the big buildings. And I usually come back with a sigh of relief to the low-rise precincts of Brownstone Brooklyn.
However, a recent stroll through the streets of Chelsea reminded me how very fine Manhattan’s 19th century townhouses can be, especially when bedecked with wisteria, as some of them were last week.
A NOTE ON PHOTOGRAPHY: For the past month or so — since my proper camera was stolen out of my checked luggage on my way to the Canary Islands — all the photos on this blog have been taken with my iPhone 4S (beginning with my posts from Lanzarote). Although the iPhone camera doesn’t do as well in low light and certainly doesn’t have the flexibility of the Canon S95, which regular readers may remember I had just learned to use, it certainly does render outdoor color very well indeed (perhaps even pumps it up a little, but who’s complaining). I didn’t mention this before because… well, because I was embarrassed about my stupidity in having packed my camera in a bag I decided at the last minute to check through.
SO MUCH FOR PRECONCEIVED — or rather, outdated — notions. I hadn’t been to Jersey City in probably ten years, so when I went there yesterday (a distance of 7 whole miles from my home in Brooklyn) to visit a friend, my first reaction on driving through the streets was a surprised “This is NOT BAD!”
In fact, it’s pretty great. There are plenty of grubby areas inland, but the waterfront sections, with their sparkling views of lower Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and many blocks around, have been totally spiffed up. It’s not just hi-rise city, either. Fine blocks of 19th century row houses in the historic neighborhoods are likewise in good shape, which means we’ve missed the boat on real estate investment.
For better or worse, depending on your P.O.V., Jersey City has gentrified, and it happened while I wasn’t paying attention. Walking around with my friend Joe (for as long as we could stand in the bitter cold), we passed a brick row house, right, with a nice Greek Revival doorway, colorfully painted, and a ‘For Sale’ sign. “It’s probably over a million,” Joe said. Said I, ever the victim of wishful thinking. “I’m guessing 899K.” Joe quickly found the listing on his iPhone. He was close: the ask is $1.15M, in ‘as is’ condition.
Of architectural delights, there are plenty. They’ve been hiding in plain sight all this time. Have a look.