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.

Whole House in Cobble Hill Can Be Yours Tomorrow!

KNOW ANYBODY WHO WANTS TO RENT a 5BR, 3 BATH TOWNHOUSE in Cobble Hill? A truly special four-story house, on a coveted park block, with great light, two working fireplaces, a high-end kitchen, wood floors, lots of original detail, and a delightful garden?


That would be mine. It’s been vacant for two whole weeks, and I’m getting nervous.

Sure, I was smug a few months back, sitting pretty with my rental property 100% occupied, crowing about the strength of the rental market. That was when I thought I could, as usual, segue easily from tenant to tenant. That was before this damn recession affected me personally.


I even had the nerve to start a blog subtitled “Old Houses for Fun and Profit.” Well, forget the profit. With the Cobble Hill house unrented, my monthly income is suddenly halved, and there’s no fun in that, either.

I thought I was doing everything possible to rent the place, listing it with several brokers and painting the house top to bottom. But I haven’t tried blogging about it until now.

So: if you are (or know someone who is) a large, solvent family in need of an extraordinary dwelling in a prime Brooklyn neighborhood to the tune of $8,000/month — a lot of money, granted, but it’s also a lot of house — e-mail without delay, and save a hefty broker’s fee.




A few quirky tidbits about the house and its location:

  • The house is pre-Civil War, built in the 1850s.
  • It has more original interior detail than any other on the block (and I’ve been in most of them). That includes 4 marble mantels, parquet floors on the parlor floor, cove moldings on the parlor floor, and the staircase/balusters. The ornate fixture in the front entry hall was once a gas fixture and is original to the house.
  • Legend has it that the house is part of a row of five, all built by one gentleman on Warren Street for his five daughters and their families. These were not carriage houses, though there are several on the block; they were always one-family houses.
  • The house is backwards! (That may be true of the whole row of five.) What is now the front facade of the house was originally the rear facade; that’s why the front is unimpressive.  If you stand in the garden and look up, you see its full size.
  • The house is backwards probably because access was from Warren or Henry Street. There must have been an opening or possibly a road that ran through what is now the back garden in the 19th century.
  • The rear parlor (living room) was originally the front parlor. We opened up the hallway and inserted the columns (which are salvaged porch columns) in the late 1980s, shortly after we bought the house.
  • We also raised the ceilings on the top floor in the two back bedrooms (when we bought the house, those two rooms were an attic you couldn’t stand up in) and added the three arched windows.
  • The kitchen dates from 2000. Cabinetry is custom maple, and the appliances are all status symbols (Viking, Bosch, Sub-Zero, etc.)
  • Cobble Hill Park became a park in the 1950s. Prior to that there was a church there, and Verandah Place was gated. The church was torn down, and a supermarket was set to go up in its place. The community objected, and the park was created. It was renovated in 1989.