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.

Mews-ing in Cobble Hill


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. DSCN0437A 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.