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EVERYONE SEEMS TO HAVE LOVED The Outsider last Sunday (41 comments!) It’s one a member of the Brownstoner community sent in — simple, family-friendly, and on a shoestring budget. To take a look at the befores and afters, go here.
I’M LIFTING THIS ARTICLE WHOLESALE from Channel 13’s email newsletter, MetroFocus. It expands on Evan Hughes’ well-received new book, Literary Brooklyn, by showing pictures of Henry Miller’s childhood home in Williamsburg and the Clinton Hill house where Walt Whitman wrote “Leaves of Grass” (the only one of Whitman’s eight Brooklyn homes still standing). Fascinating! Also Truman Capote’s digs on Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights…but that one’s well-known.
Another Excuse (As if Anyone Needed One) to Fawn Over Brooklyn Novelists by John Farley
Explaining why he defected to Los Angeles from his “Motherless Brooklyn,” author Jonathan Lethem infamously told the Guardian that Brooklyn had become “repulsive with novelists.”While the literary blogosphere has certainly gazed obsessively toward Brooklyn’s book scene for the better part of the last decade, the truth is that the borough has always been lousy with novelists.
Walt Whitman, Henry Miller, Thomas Wolfe, Norman Mailer, Arthur Miller, Paul Auster…The list of linguistic legends who resided in Brooklyn goes on and on, but pre-Internet writers were able to be a bit more secretive about their addresses than today’s writers. (Remember which young writerly-couple purchased a $6.75M Park Slope manse in 2005? Hint: Some of the neighbors found their arrival both extremely loud and incredibly close.)
A new book, Literary Brooklyn, by Evan Hughes, sheds (more) light on the subject of Brooklyn authors, past and present. Take a look at the following map, modified from an insert in the book, to find out where your favorite wordsmiths dwelt.
CLICK TO ENLARGE:
Though some of the houses included in the map have since met the wrecking ball, others still exist.
Here are the three literary homes MetroFocus thinks are worth making the trip to see:
662 Driggs Ave., Williamsburg: Henry Miller’s “Early Paradise”
In several of his novels, including Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring and Plexus, Henry Miller fondly described his boyhood home at 662 Driggs Ave. in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as “the only tooth left in a rotten jaw” — a beautiful brick home surrounded by decrepit shanties. Despite rapid gentrification and ongoing construction in the area, Miller’s description still holds true.
The house is surrounded by an empty lot to one side and a small gaggle of abandoned properties on the other, as if the writer’s words froze this block of Brooklyn in time over an entire century.
70 Willow St., Brooklyn Heights: Truman Capote’s Muse for Rent
In 2010, the house at 70 Willow St. went on the market for $18 million, the most expensive asking price in the borough’s history. Capote certainly didn’t pay that much for the house where he wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood. In fact, he didn’t buy it. He rented a room in it from his friend Oliver Smith. But when Smith was out-of-town, Capote purportedly threw wild parties where he drunkenly bragged to friends that it was all his.
You wouldn’t know it from looking at it (few of the neighbors do), but there’s something very special about this otherwise-plain house at 99 Reyerson St. in Clinton Hill. Of the seven houses that Walt Whitman lived in during his 28 years in Brooklyn, it’s the last one still standing.
In 1848, Whitman — a well-known and respected young journalist — was fired from his editor position at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle due to a political argument with the paper’s owner. Whitman, like this house, quickly faded into obscurity. But after seven years of a leading a quiet, poverty-stricken existence, while living in the house in 1855, Whitman self-published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass” — arguably the most important work in the canon of American poetry — and forever altered the course of American literary history. Henry Miller, it’s worth noting, called Whitman his greatest influence.
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Publication Date: August 2011
PROSPECT HEIGHTS in Brooklyn was designated a New York City Historic District in 2009. Now any external changes to a house’s appearance are subject to the guidelines and regulations of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. No longer will it be possible for something like the crazy-quilt travesty, left, to occur.
This, er, unique facade is on St. Marks Avenue near Carlton. I pass it frequently and it never fails to shock me. It’s beyond “remuddling,” a term coined by Clem Labine, the original publisher of Old House Journal. More like “radical bastardization.” Why oh why would anyone do such a thing to a 19th century brownstone? Seems impossible that someone could fail to appreciate the charms of, if not the individual house, at least the uniform row.
A little light was shed on the “How could they?” question by a friend in Cobble Hill many years ago. There was a house on Amity Street with a similar ‘permastone’ treatment — I believe that’s what it’s called. The house belonged to the mother-in-law of this friend, whose husband was of Middle Eastern origin. She told me that her mother-in-law had created this monstrosity in the 1950s, saying she wanted her house to look like one of the “fancy houses in Damascus.” So that explains something. I haven’t been to Damascus; perhaps the house wouldn’t look as out of context there.
Today, I drove down Amity to see whether that facade is still there. It isn’t. Then I drove down Pacific, to make sure I hadn’t mis-remembered the street. It wasn’t there either (does anyone else recall that house, or did I dream the whole thing?) Anyway, I surmise the building was restored when I wasn’t paying attention, and now blends perfectly with its Victorian neighbors.
Yes, the good news is that such a building is salvageable. At great cost, of course. A year-old post on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s blog tells the story of Joe Delgado, a Wall Street trader turned licensed contractor who bought the four-story building, right, in Clinton Hill in 2007.
The building was “a disaster,” the article reads. “A previous owner had covered the building’s facade with white Permastone, added pink awnings, installed an after-hours club and two bars in the basement, and rented the top floor to drug addicts.”
Hard as it may be to believe, the Landmarks Commission told Delgado the building had once been a carriage house.
Delgado located a photograph that showed “a little girl on the steps of a brick double townhouse built in the 1870s. Prompted by the photograph, Delgado removed a massive addition from the back (complete with the club’s tiny stage and shag carpeting). He restored the facade and the original window lintels and sills, which had been hidden behind the Permastone. He also rebuilt the cornice and back wall, and installed exterior doors custom-built from antique wood to replicate the doors in his photograph.”
The house now looks like this, left. It’s good to know that even a house as badly compromised as this one can be rescued. “Finding the photograph made things easier,” Delgado said, “but not less expensive.”