CVS Site Was Once Henry Miller’s Hellhole

Over the years, Brooklyn Heights has been home to enough writers, actors, musicians, and visual artists to rival its not-too-distant neighbor Greenwich Village as a Bohemian community. Many, including novelist Norman Mailer, playwright Arthur Miller, and sculptor John Rhoden, seem to have liked living here. Horror fiction master H.P. Lovecraft, by contrast, found the neighborhood “decrepit” and may have suffered a nervous breakdown during his stay at Clinton and State streets in 1925-26. For novelist Henry Miller, things started out well in the Heights, but came to an unfortunate conclusion.

Miller, perhaps best known for having pushed the First Amendment envelope with his autobiographical novel Tropic of Cancer, was born in Manhattan of German immigrant parents who moved to Brooklyn shortly after his birth, and raised in Williamsburg and Bushwick. He moved back to Manhattan as a young man, went through an unsuccessful first marriage, then in 1924 married his second wife, June Mansfield and, as told by Saskia de Rothschild in her Brooklyn Ink story “Becoming Henry Miller: How Brooklyn Fired a Writer’s Imagination”, moved to the Heights, taking an apartment at 91 Remsen Street. According to de Rothschild, it “was a beautiful space, all made out of wood” that Miller called “the Japanese Love Nest”. Unfortunately for Miller and his wife, the rent was too dear for their income, and they were evicted after living there a year and six months. According to the chronology at the bottom of de Rothschild’s story, their next move was to Garden Place, which in 1925 evidently didn’t have the cachet it does today, not to mention lower rent. Nevertheless, they were ousted by a “racist landlord” who objected to their socializing with a neighboring Syrian couple.

At this time, June’s affections were drifting away from Miller and toward another woman, Jean Kroski. Faced with this, and with his inability to find secure employment, Miller, according to de Rothschild, felt that he “was slowly going mad.” When he and June moved to their final Heights home, a basement apartment at Henry Street and Love Lane (the site now of CVS, formerly d’Agostino’s and before that Bohack), Kroski moved in with them. Miller described this place as “a lunatic asylum, only worse.” After his wife and her lover left, Miller moved to Paris, where his literary career would later begin in earnest. As de Rothschild summarizes Miller’s time here: his “darkest years were paradoxically spent in clean and proper Brooklyn Heights.”

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  • guy

    dylan’s montague street is in new orleans, alas, as he sings in the third verse “So I drifted down to New Orleans…” that better fits in with the “dealing with slaves”

  • Claude Scales

    Wondering about the lyric, I once asked a New Orleans native if there was a Montague Street there, and was told there isn’t. Someone here once said they knew where the “basement down the stair” where Dylan stayed was. Slender evidence, but I was willing to go with it. Nevertheless, after checking Google and seeing that there’s a consensus that the Montague Street in question is in New Orleans (it may actually be “Montagut”) I’ve removed the Dylan reference from the post, as well as from the Wikipedia entry for Brooklyn Heights.

  • nabeguy

    Can you imagine if Miller was still alive today? He’d be in that CVS twice a week stocking up on Viagra.

  • Eddy de Lectron

    Hummm Not so fast Claude , According to the official Bob Dylan website the lyrics for Tangled up in Blue are: “I lived with them on Montague Street
    In a basement down the stairs” There is no Montague St in New Orleans.
    When I was a child, I personally saw Bob on Montague St, my mother pointed him out to me. It is known he used to hang out at Capuletts a cafe’ that was on Montague St, back in the day.
    Also, I couldn’t confirm the “consensus” that you speak of. The argument seems to go both ways and it’s all just personal opinion… So who knows, I guess only Bob himself can settle the debate. Does any one here know how to get in touch with him?

  • AEB

    Mr. Miller had great glasses. Ditto the fedora….

  • nabeguy

    Eddy, actually I do have a contact, and I’m seeing him this weekend. I’ll ask about the connection.

  • Claude Scales

    Eddy: Thanks for the confirmation of a Dylan sighting on Montague. I’ll take that as conclusive that he at least visited the neighborhood, though not necessarily that he lived here. I was a regular at Capulet’s from the time I moved here in 1983 until it closed a few years later. I don’t remember anyone mentioning Dylan’s having hung out there, although that would have been some years before I arrived. If he did, that will make three bars that Dylan and I have in common, though at different times, the others both being in the Village: the Lion’s Head and the Kettle of Fish.

    Nabeguy: I think I know who your “contact” is. I haven’t read his book yet, and eagerly await your report.

  • nabeguy

    As a born Heightster, I’m sure he must have asked him the question at some point in their conversations, Claude.