Prospect Heights: It’s Not All Brownstones


I’M STILL HAPPILY DISCOVERING my new neighborhood of Prospect Heights, and haven’t even scratched the surface. It’s been too cold to walk around just for fun. I’ve seen only the blocks immediately adjacent to mine, and the main avenues, where I shop, eat, and do my errands.

I’m starting to appreciate Flatbush Avenue. Along this stretch of it, leading up to Prospect Park, there are large brick apartment buildings that must have been quite elegant in their late 19th century day. Today’s tacky stores detract from the street level, but if you look up, you see a bit of history. The date, the building’s name, and the cornice detail, top, suggest the Prospect View must have been a very desirable address.


The square turret on the late Victorian building, above, is like something out of Peter Pan, which is not atypical of the area.


The former carriage house, above, however bastardized, is a reminder that Flatbush Avenue was once the main route for horse-drawn vehicles, first carriages called omnibuses, then horsecars, which ran on tracks. They carried the residents of the developing areas around Prospect Park, which opened in 1873, down to Fulton Ferry landing where they could catch one of 1,200 boats a day to Manhattan.


Plaza Street rims Grand Army Plaza, a majestic traffic circle with an unoriginal triumphal arch and an extraordinary 1932 fountain with figures of Neptune and the Tritons (best photographed in spring, when the water’s on). On Plaza Street, pre- and post-war apartment buildings, above, alternate.


The controversy has died down over Richard Meier’s 1 Grand Army Plaza, above, a glazed behemoth that is a century newer than any other building in the area. When modern architcture is good, and this assured, subtly complex building is very good, it’s welcome in my book.


The main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, above, is apparently considered one of the most important Art Deco buildings in America. It has a concave facade designed to fit around Grand Army Plaza’s oval contours. Ground was broken in 1912 for a Beaux Arts building similar in style to the nearby Brooklyn Museum, but costs and city politics slowed construction (so what else is new?) By the time construction recommenced in 1938, styles had changed and new architects were commissioned. It opened to acclaim in 1941.

Between the grand portals, below, with gilded figures from history and myth, and the inscription

Here are enshrined the longing of great hearts and noble things that tower above the tide, the magic word that winged wonder starts, the garnered wisdom that has never died

the library is an inspiring destination on a bitter cold day.


After a day of local errands, I like to stop into Pequena, below, a colorful and high-spirited Mexican restaurant on Vanderbilt Avenue. I assume the festive lights are seasonal, but maybe they’re a year-round fixture. How should I know? I’m new in town.


The Wisdom of Dan Cooper

MY NEIGHBOR ACROSS THE ROAD came for tea yesterday, bearing a copy of a 1946 decorating book as a housewarming gift. Couldn’t be more apropos, considering my house was likely built in the 1940s.

The book, Inside the Home by Dan Cooper, with chic line drawings by Teresa Kilham, is an illuminating view into the mind of the postwar homeowner. Cooper (1901-1965), best known as a textile designer and creator of a ready-to-assemble furniture line called PAKTO, exhorts his readers to ignore fads and get back to basics. Here’s his list of what a home needs:

“A place to sit

for reading

for talking

for games or such relaxations as you prefer

A place to sleep

A place to eat

A number of places to put things in or onto”

That’s it!

Inside the Home is an opinionated, tongue-in-cheek handbook on how to live the modern life. “There have been too many calls to lead the good life by using this period or that period, by combining blue with fuchsia, by pickling wood or padding headboards…Like sheep, we have followed one another from Gothic to Colonial to Mission to Regency. It is time to cut through all this claptrap and free the mind.”

Not, in other words, this:

inside 2

Integrity, simplicity, usefulness are Cooper’s watchwords. Avoid reproductions. Never buy sets of furniture (“oppressive monotony”). Save by doing without rather than buy poor quality. What timely advice.

“Spend your money on a few lovely things and cobble up any other necessities out of inexpensive materials. Your extravagances will warm your heart every time you look at them.” Yeah!

Discard, discard, discard! “Empty spaces are delightful. Clutter is your worst enemy. Do not buy as much as a spoon for which you do not see an immediate need.” (Yard sale aficionados, take note.)

A home should suit the people who live in it, be “mentally and physically cheerful,” “clean and fresh and easy to keep that way.”

Something more along these lines:

inside 3

I like his message, which Cooper drives home with some crazy anecdotes. Here’s how he illustrates the point that a home should please all its occupants:

“Not long ago in one of our large cities. there was a strange epidemic among school children. In first one home and then another, the offspring piled the furniture in the middle of the kitchen floor and set fire to it. Naturally this practice was frowned upon….In the subsequent investigation, it was found that in each case, the child felt ashamed of his home and did not like to bring his friends back to it.”

So make sure your kid likes the decor, or you might have what Cooper calls an “incendiary moppet” on your hands.

There are other chuckles. “If you have to suppress a scream when a guest lowers his weight” onto one of the “dear old chairs on which the family has been trained not to sit, it is possible you are on the wrong tack.”

My parents got married in 1946. I don’t know if my mother was aware of this book, but she would have loved it.