Heights History: Retro Promenade


Brownstoner posted this photo today of a pre-BQE Promenade:

This photo from the turn of the century shows a much different promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Until they were demolished in 1946 to make way for the expressway, this arched viaduct, greenhouse and buttressed wall were accessible by the stone stairways that led down from the mansions above to the ferry landing below. The grand double-brownstone at right was designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1857 for the merchants A. A. Low (as in Low Library at Columbia) and A. M. White. To the left (at center in the photo) is the Henry Pierrepont mansion.

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  • http://www.selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Very interesting. I\’ve never before seen a photograph of that vintage taken from a similar vantage. It appears that the photographer was standing on Montague Street, which seems to have been on an inclined embankment carrying it down to the level of the piers below.

    I look out my windows at the opposite sides (facing Pierrepont Place) of the double brownstones, one of which retains its solarium. (A scene from the 1985 movie Prizzi\’s Honor, in which a mafia hit man, played by Jack Nicholson, met with his Don, played by William Hickey, was made in the garden adjoining that solarium.) A.A. Low, who lived in No. 3 Pierrepont Place, the southernmore of the two buildings (and the one with the remaining solarium), became wealthy in the China trade, and was the father of Seth Low, who became mayor of Brooklyn, then president of his alma mater, Columbia, and later served one term as mayor of the recently consolidated New York City.

    According to White and Willensky\’s AIA Guide to New York City, Nos. 2 and 3 Pierrepont Place (the surviving brownstones) were designed by Frederick A. Peterson, while the adjoining Pierrepont mansion (demolished in 1946) was by Richard Upjohn. Two of Upjohn\’s works in the Heights that survive (he is principally remembered as a church architect, with his most famous commission being Trinity Church in lower Manhattan) are the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lebanon (originally the Congregational Church of the Pilgrims, which later merged with Plymouth Church) at Henry and Remsen, and Grace Church (at Hicks and Grace Court).

  • Mary

    Anyone know the history of Middagh St. it looks very old and historic, and I believe contains the oldest house in the heights.

  • http://www.selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales


    Your post made me get my copy of Clay Lancaster’s Old Brooklyn Heights – New York’s First Suburb (2d Ed., Dover, 1979) (still, I believe, in print), probably the best comprehensive history of the neighborhood, focusing on its architecture. Lancaster notes, in his intoduction (at pp. 18-19) that “not a single building existing in Brooklyn Heights today” was shown on maps of the neighborhood made in 1816 and 1819, except possibly for a portion of 39 Henry Street that can no longer be seen from outside. However, he notes that considerable construction activity occurred shortly after these surveys were made, and that the surviving buildings from that period (the 1820s), at the time his book was written, included “houses … of frame construction, such as Nos. 38, 40, 68, 70 and 72 Hicks Street and Nos. 24, 27, 29, 55, 57, and 59 Middagh Street.” So, yes, Middagh does have some of the Heights’ oldest existing houses.

    Perhaps Middagh’s most “historical” moment was the year before Pearl Harbor, when the house at 7 Middagh was occupied by an amazing collection of talents: the British poet W.H. Auden and his countryman, the composer Benjamin Britten, who together wrote their “American” opera, Paul Bunyan, while living there; the Georgia born novelist Carson McCullers, who did substantial work there on her two novels The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe; the writers Jane and Paul Bowles, later associated with the “beat generation”; and the burlesque artist (and later inspiration for a Broadway musical) “Gypsy” Rose Lee, who wrote a novel, The G-String Murders, while living there. All of this is recounted in Sherrill Tippins’ excellent book, February House (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).

    Unfortunately, 7 Middagh, along with the rest of the western extremity of the street, was demolished in the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

  • http://brooklynheightsblog.com Qfwfq

    For more on 7 Middagh and the book February House, here’s an overview article, “The House On Middagh Street”.

  • http://brooklynheightsblog.com Qfwfq

    Sadly, I don’t think Old Brooklyn Heights is in print anymore, I can only find used (or slightly used) copies out there.

  • http://www.petebrush.com pbdotc


    damn them.

  • http://www.selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Qfwfq: double thanks. First (I’m assuming you done the deed) for cleaning up my HTML gaffe – failing to close an italicization in my top post – which then carried over to subsequent posts.

    Second, thanks for the link to the Brooke Allen piece. I had forgotten that Richard Wright was one of the literary worthies who hung out there from time to time. Also, it revived a memory by confrming that Oliver Smith, who acted as “super” for the house during its heyday, was the same Smith who later acquired the handsome yellow mansion on Willow Street and took in an aspiring writer from New Orleans named Capote as his handyman. Several years ago, my wife and I took a walking tour of the Heights sponsored by the Beaux Arts Society. As we admired that mansion, the guide told us of the time when Smith was absent for some time working on a play in Boston. On his return, he went to a party in Manhattan, and was chatting with a woman who asked him where he lived. When he said “Brooklyn Heights”, the woman said she had just a week or so before been to a party there given by a young man named Capote who had a magnificent house.

    I especially loved the Auden quote about bohemianism and bourgeois respectability near the close of the article. I hadn’t seen it before, and will add it to my collection of cherished epigrams.

    I’m sorry to hear that Lancaster’s book has gone out of print. Perhaps he (if he’s still alive and well) or someone else should do an updated version.

  • Mary

    anyone know why they don’t allow parking on the end of middagh street (from Hicks to the promenade? Does it have to do with these homes being the oldest, and most historical?