Brooklyn Heights Blog » History Dispatches from America's first suburb Sun, 23 Apr 2017 03:22:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Tue, 11 Apr 2017 11:17:27 +0000

Tomorrow evening, Wednesday, April 12, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a screening of part one of Ken Burns’s documentary, Jackie Robinson. This film focuses on Robinson’s early life, from his childhood in Georgia through his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. It will be introduced by co-directors, producers, and writers Sarah Burns and David McMahon, and is presented in conjunction with BHS’s exhibition on Jackie Robinson and his historic breaking of major league baseball’s color barrier. Part two of the documentary will be shown the following Wednesday, April 19. The event is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

On Thursday evening, April 13 at 6:30, BHS presents Randy Cohen, of Person Place Thing, with award-winning novelist and essayist Siri Hustvedt. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; purchase tickets here.


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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Tue, 28 Mar 2017 03:38:16 +0000

This coming Saturday, April 1, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. the Brooklyn Historical Society will host a Family Play Day

where families get to try hands-on activities and games that will be featured in a new exhibition about the history of the Brooklyn waterfront.

The activities will include building puzzles, making postcards, drawing murals, and others, and are designed for children ages two to twelve. Participants will become important in deciding what becomes a permanent part of the Society’s exhibition when it opens later in 2017. Snacks will be served, and those who attend will receive a gift from BHS. Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

Did you know that Brooklyn briefly had an NHL team before the Islanders? Word has it that the Isles stay here may be brief, but not so much so as the Brooklyn Americans, who had previously been the New York Americans, and who played under the Brooklyn name for one season (1941-42) that proved to be their last. On Monday, April 3, starting at 6:30 BHS will present a screening of Dale Morrisey’s new documentary, Only the Dead Know the Brooklyn Americans. The film will be followed by a discussion with Stan Fischler, MSG’s “Hockey Maven,” and Allan Kreda of the New York Times. Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society: Remembering Jane Jacobs; Appreciating Immigrant New York Tue, 14 Mar 2017 18:08:25 +0000

This Thursday evening, March 16, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “The Legacy of Jane Jacobs,” a panel discussion moderated by New York Times writer Ginia Bellafante and featuring Matt Tyrnauer, director and co-producer of the documentary Citizen Jane; Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line; and Samuel Zipp, Associate professor of American and Urban Studies at Brown University and co-editor of Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs. Jacobs’ pioneering work on urban preservation, initially focused on her home neighborhood, Greenwich Village, inspired the movement that led to the designation of Brooklyn Heights as New York City’s first Historic District. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; buy tickets here.

On Monday evening, March 20, at 6:30, BHS presents Tyler Anbinder, Professor of History at George Washington University, to discuss his book City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York, which

shares the sweeping story of how newcomers have continually helped to define and redefine this city and country over the past few centuries, and shows how together, we have created a beautifully dynamic, deeply complex community.

Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing. Admission is $5, or free for BHS members and one guest. Reserve tickets here.

Photo: Human Transit

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Benefit Folk Concert and Square Dance Saturday Evening to Benefit St. Ann’s Church Restoration Wed, 08 Mar 2017 03:49:20 +0000

This Saturday evening, March 11, starting at 7:30 the Brooklyn Folk Festival will present a benefit for the restoration of the beautiful St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, at Clinton and Montague streets (photo), at which the event will be held. On the program are Eli Smith, playing American folk and banjo tunes; Eva Salina and Peter Stan doing Serbian accordion and singing; and a chance to swing your partner and do-si-do with Dave Harvey and the NYC Barn Dance.

Tickets for the event are $20 per person; $50 gets you into the event plus the final day (Sunday, April 30) of the 2017 Brooklyn Folk Festival, and $100 gets you all that as well as the first two days (Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29) of the Festival (Festival schedule here). You may buy tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Sun, 05 Mar 2017 02:34:38 +0000

On Thursday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m., the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a conversation between Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn, and Juie Scelfo, author of The Women Who Made New York, on the topic “Are We There Yet, Sisters? Will We Ever Be?” The discussion will focus on “[p]ower dynamics, double standards, puritanism…are gender disparities still ruling, or even hampering, female lives?” Because of the nature of the content, this event is suggested for adults only. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members; purchase tickets here.

If you’re a native of Ireland, or, like me, proud of your Irish heritage, or if you just like, at this time of year, to pretend you’re Irish, this Friday, March 10, starting at 5:00 p.m. BHS will present a Free Friday with free museum admission and the theme “Irish Brooklyn.” It will feature Irish history, Brooklyn whiskey, Brooklyn Brewery beers, and live music.

Image: public domain, via Wikimedia.

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Brooklyn Historical Society Hosts Panel on LGBTQ Rights Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:49:13 +0000

This coming Wednesday, March 1, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present a panel discussion on the topic, “LGBTQ Rights: The Struggles, Victories, and On-Going Fight for Equality.” Participants will include Susan Sommer, Associate Legal Director and Director of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal, along with James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, and Cara Page, Executive Director of the Audre Lorde Project. The discussion will be moderated by Linda Villarosa, who directs the journalism program at City College of New York. Admission is $10, or free for BHS members; reserve tickets here.

Photo by Benson Kua via Wikimedia Commons.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Mon, 06 Feb 2017 04:29:54 +0000

This Tuesday evening, February 7, from 7:00 to 9:00, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present Black Voices, Black Art: Upending Convention with Kellie Jones and Kimberly Drew. Admission is $10, or $5 fOr BHS members. More information and buy tickets here.

Journalist and cultural commentator John Strasbaugh will be at BHS Thursday evening, February 9 at 6:30 to discuss his new book, City of Sedition: The History of New York during the Civil War. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members. More information and buy tickets here.

Friday, February 10 brings another of BHS’s “Free Fridays”; this one on the pre-Valentine’s theme “Mad, Dangerous Love”. Admission is free, and the fun goes from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. The event features “Brooklyn Brewery beer, vintage cartoons, a lecture on poisons, and more!” There’s more information here.

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Trump’s Muslim Ban Halted Right Here in Brooklyn Heights Sun, 29 Jan 2017 03:46:01 +0000

If you heard the roar of a crowd tonight, it was coming from the Eastern District federal courthouse on Cadman Plaza. At around 8:30 p.m., the chant “Let them stay! Let them stay!” was heard from a boisterous group of protesters outside the courthouse. Why were protesters outside the courthouse on a Saturday night? According to the ACLU facebook feed, it had filed an emergency petition for a stay against Trump’s executive order banning immigration from certain predominantly Muslim countries. The first legal challenge to that order was heard tonight, right in our backyard.

The ACLU named two men being detained at JFK airport as petitioners in its court papers. Earlier in the day, there had been a protest at JFK airport with crowds chanting, “Let them in! Let them in!” According to ACLU’s petition, one of the men, Khalid Darweesh, is an Iraqi who had been granted a Special Immigrant Visa as a result of his service to the U.S. military as an interpreter and engineer. The other is Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, an Iraqi who was granted a Follow-to-Join Visa to rejoin his wife and children who had been granted refugee status.

At around 9:30 p.m., thundering cheers came from Cadman Plaza that sounded like a Superbowl win. Shortly after, the ACLU announced that it had won and the stay was granted. The stay is nationwide but temporary, and saves people who have already landed in the U.S. or are currently in transit from deportation.

A few sirens were heard near the protest site, but so far, no signs of anything but a loud and impassioned protest. As of this writing at 10:30 p.m., the protesters are still celebrating the win and chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go!”


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Two Montague Street Buildings Designated Landmarks Wed, 25 Jan 2017 04:26:15 +0000

The Eagle reports that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has voted unanimously to designate two buildings on Montague Street’s “Bank Row” between Clinton and Court streets as city landmarks. We noted their nomination for landmark status last August. The buildings–181-183 Montague, the People’s Trust Company Building, now occupied by Citibank; and 185 Montague, the National Title Guaranty Company Building, now occupied by offices and Chipotle–are in contrasting styles, Neoclassical and Art Deco, respectively. They are both excellent representatives of their types. The Eagle piece notes that the Brooklyn Heights Association has campaigned for their designation for over a decade, and quotes Brooklyn Heights preservation pioneer Otis Pratt Pearsall as saying, “It’s a wonderful moment.”

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Sun, 08 Jan 2017 05:10:55 +0000

This Wednesday evening, January 11 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present “Civic Responsibility Then and Now: A View from the Archives”, in which BHS’s Director of Public History Julie Golia and Oral Historian Zaheer Ali will “delve into our archives to consider the varied approaches to Civil Rights tactics over the course of our nation’s history.” This event will be recorded live as part of Ms. Golia’s and Mr. Ali’s podcast Flatbush + Main. Admission is $5, or free for BHS members; you may purchase or reserve tickets here.

As a reminder, this Thursday evening, January 12 at 7:00 p.m. there will be a free screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, and based on Truman Capote’s novella. Seats are still availble; you may reserve tickets here.

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Catching Up With Kenn Lowy: The Last Owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinemas Tue, 27 Dec 2016 17:12:31 +0000

Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, at the end of its 42-year run, was the oldest independently-owned cinema in all of New York City. When the cinema shut off its projectors for good in 2014, the neighborhood collectively mourned the loss of yet another community sanctuary. A place where neighbors and visitors gathered for shared experiences. A place where you walked in and the owner and employees knew your name and what you liked without asking. If you were a regular customer, you probably miss the last owner, Kenn Lowy, as much as the cinema itself. When the neighborhood thinks of the old cinema, we think of Kenn, although he only owned it for its last three years. In the interview below, Kenn tells his story of his one-man mission to save the cinema, a labor of love that was life-altering in both good and bad ways.

BHB: How did you become the last owner of Brooklyn Heights Cinemas?

KL: I had been going to the cinema off and on since I was 17 years old. My family had moved from Philadelphia to Cobble Hill in the late 70’s and that was the only cinema around. I lived for a time in Brooklyn Heights, Vinegar Hill, and Park Slope, and then I moved away for a few years. And when I moved back 20 years ago, it became my cinema again. I used to go there all the time. Then, in late 2010, there was an article in one of the local papers about the owner being indicted for wire fraud. There had been several times before when the cinema almost went out of business. I wondered what was going to happen to the cinema. So I went and saw Amy, the Manager there. She knew me as someone who saw almost every movie they played. I asked her what was going to happen and she half-jokingly said, “Do you want to buy the place?” Like an idiot, I said, “Yeah, maybe.” She said, “I don’t know if he wants to sell it or not, but I’ll ask.” Literally, a week later, I was sitting down with the owner and we started talking about how I could buy the place. That’s what led to it. It would have gone under unless someone bought it. The cinema had been losing money for years. The owner had other cinemas, one that was making money and another one that was going nowhere. It took about six months of negotiating. I had no money, so I cashed in my IRA’s and maxed out my credit cards. And that’s how I bought the place.

BHB: What led you to take such a risk?

KL: {Laughs} I thought at the time that I could make it work. I didn’t think they were getting the best movies. They were getting good ones, but not the ones enough people wanted to see to make it viable. But I wanted to keep it as an independent cinema. I thought I could make it work. I never thought I would make money from it. But as long as I could break even, I was going to be happy, just to keep it going. Personally, it was an important place to me. It had been my local movie theater, like for many in Brooklyn Heights. This was our hometown movie theater.

BHB: At the time, were you making a living with a day job?

KL: Yes. I was a computer consultant, mostly Apple computer stuff. I had been doing that pretty much most of my life. Until my early 30’s, I was a journalist and a musician. I’m still a musician, but that’s how I used to make a living. Then the music industry changed and journalism changed, where I really couldn’t make a full time living at it. That’s when I got into computers and I’ve been doing that for the last 25 years.

BHB: When you bought the cinema, did you think, “If I break even I’ll be okay because I could support myself with the computer consulting?”

KL: No, when I said “break even,” I meant to be able to support myself, where maybe I wouldn’t be saving a lot, but I wouldn’t be losing money. I tried doing the consulting half the time and the cinema the other half, but that just wasn’t working. The first couple of months, I was at the cinema on the weekends and just hanging out. But after that, I was pretty much there full-time, along with my manager and the projectionist. After a few months, I wanted to be more hands-on and not being there didn’t make much sense.

Kenn Lowy in his

Kenn Lowy in his Brooklyn Heights Cinema (Photos by: Claudia Christen)

BHB: During the three years when you owned the cinema, did you see the numbers or the character of the audience change at all?

KL: The numbers definitely went up, which was desperately needed. We were getting people from other parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. What I was able to do was get a lot of exclusives for Brooklyn. So we had a lot of movies for which we were the only theater in Brooklyn playing them. Sometimes it really paid off because they were big films, and sometimes nobody wanted to see them anyway.

BHB: How did you pull off getting so many exclusives?

KL: Some of it was luck and most of it was because of my buyer, Steve Florin, who was really looking out for us and wanted the cinema to do well. It shouldn’t have mattered to him personally, since he would get paid the same either way. But he really wanted to help and made some great deals. Sometimes, there were so many films out, there wasn’t room at BAM or Cobble Hill to play them all. So they would come to us and ask, “Hey, would you want to play this?” Every once in a while, it was a film where it was like, “Are you kidding me? Of course I want to play this.” And then certain distributors would just come back to us and ask if we would take other films.

BHB: Can you name some of the films that sold the most seats at the cinema?

KL: Oh sure, I can think of a couple that really stand out, and it was interesting because they were films that were either exclusives or close to it. One was The Descendants and the way we got it was interesting. It was playing at BAM and then Cobble Hill, and after New Year’s, the other theaters started playing other films. And it was still doing well, and then it got nominated for the Oscars and then the Golden Globes, and we were still playing it. It did so well and we played it for so long, that regular customers started coming in and asking, “When are you getting a new film?” And I would tell them, “It’s doing so well, I can’t let it go!” They were very understanding.

The other film was The Artist, a black and white film. I saw it at the NY Film Festival and I really wanted it. I told my buyer and he said, “I’m not sure how well it’s going to do.” But we got it and it was the same thing – got nominated for the Oscars, and then the Golden Globes. We played that for a long time too.

The third one was Margin Call, the film about the Lehman Brothers collapse. We were the only theater in Brooklyn that had it. And I had never even heard of it. So my buyer called and said, “I’ve got this movie and it’s going to do well.” I looked it up and saw the trailer and thought, “Yeah, we should show it.” About a month later, we were the only theater in NYC showing it. So people from all over the city were coming to see it.

BHB: What films did the worst?

KL: One was a foreign film from Czechoslovakia. I can’t remember the name. Usually you have to guarantee a two-week run, but we had to stop showing it after one week. It was a shame, because it was a good film, but no one wanted to see it. Even the distributor called me and said, “Listen, we’ll let you out of this.”

And then there were a couple of small, local films that I played because it was the right thing to do and I wanted to support them. One was Battle for Brooklyn about the Atlantic Yards. We played that for about a week. And we played it every Wednesday night for months and the producers did a Q and A at every showing. The film didn’t do badly, but I mention it as an example of what we tried to do as a local theater. And I really liked the filmmakers.

The absolute worst one was Jack and Jill with Adam Sandler. What happened was that we were showing a film and it wasn’t doing well. And we had a week lapse before the next film was going to be released. So I had to find something and my buyer said, “I’ll get you the Adam Sandler film for a week. It’s a terrible film, but it will make money for you.” I looked at the trailer online and it was abysmal, but I said, “Fine, it’s just a week.” Well, it did so badly, even the distributor didn’t believe it was doing that badly. So they sent someone to check on a Sunday, and that person was the only one there in the whole theater for the last two shows. My projectionist went and sat down next to her and said, “Listen, you don’t have to sit here.” After about 10 minutes, she said, “I can’t take it anymore,” and left.

BHB: When you bought the theater in 2011, did you have any idea that the building owner was planning on selling the building?

KL: No, but the owner, Tom Caruana, was very honest with me about his intention to develop the building. He gave me a 2-year lease and told me that he might give me an extension, but that he would probably develop it. So he did tell me that I might only have 2 years. He never intended to sell the building. The reason he sold it was because he couldn’t develop it. He was actually a really good guy. The original development plan didn’t have the theater in it, but there was a huge uproar, and I called him up and he said, “We changed it, the theater is in.” He had changed his mind immediately. He was a really big fan and really appreciated the support the cinema had in Brooklyn Heights and he wanted to keep it going. The rent he would have gotten was really low for the space, and he didn’t have to put us in the plan. He made me almost like a partner in the plans. When he went to Landmarks, he asked me to come and speak up on it and I said, “absolutely.” His architect asked me, “Would this work, would that work?” And he was in contact with my architect as well. Tom was a really good guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Brooklyn Heights Association killed that plan. And they’ll say, “oh no, we don’t have that kind of power,” but they definitely did.

BHB: Do you know Tom’s background? How long he owned the building and why at that point he wanted to develop it?

KL: My understanding is that Tom inherited the building from his grandfather. What happened was that there was a 21-year lease on the theater and an automatic renewal for another 21 years. So he couldn’t do anything with it until the additional 21-year lease expired. His plan was to develop it, never to sell it. He did his due diligence. He went to Landmarks and told them what he wanted to do, worked with the staff, and showed them the plans. But by the time he went there, the staff had already told the Commissioners whether they think the plan should be approved or not. The staff told the Commissioners, “This is a good plan, it should be approved.” But the Brooklyn Heights Association was like, “oh no, we can’t do anything to that building, because the building has this brick wall with historical relevance.” And Steve Levin, who’s actually a friend of mine, I don’t mean to say anything bad about him, but he also said, “Oh yes, this is very important, we need to preserve this wall.” The first Commissioner who spoke was a Brooklyn Heights resident who came to the theater all the time. He said it is important that the building be preserved, and then it was all downhill from there. Landmarks was very insistent on preserving that brick wall and the columns. It was all about that wall. I spoke to Judy Stanton, who probably came to see every film we showed, and she said, “We love the cinema, but this is not about the cinema. This is about the building.”

Tom then went to Landmarks a second time about a year later, and the same thing happened. Landmarks rejected the plan. And we were all just shocked. I thought it was a done deal. Tom was going to preserve the bricks, and did everything Landmarks wanted, but it wasn’t the way Landmarks wanted it done. I went back to the cinema and talked to Amy, my manager, and I said, “You know, if I were Tom, I would just sell the building.”

BHB: What was different about Tom’s second plan from the development that was approved and being built right now?

KL: Actually, it was very similar. The only difference was that the first floor was going to be a cinema. The original plan had the cinema in the basement. But the Commissioners didn’t like the idea of a cinema in the basement and even asked, “Are there cinemas in basements?” And I really had to bite my tongue, but I did say, “You know there are no windows in cinemas, so there are a lot of cinemas in basements. Like, for example, the Paris Theater.” They still didn’t like the idea. Then the plan moved the cinema to the first floor, and they still didn’t like that.

BHB: What is your understanding of why they rejected the second plan. Was it still the issue with the columns and brick wall?

KL: Yes, that was it, but I don’t remember exactly what the problem was. I remember thinking it was completely absurd. And I also told Tom, “Listen, there’s an election coming up. Bill de Blasio will be elected and new Commissioners will be in place.” But at that point, I think Tom had enough. He just wanted to be done with it.

BHB: So, how did the new owners finally get a plan approved by Landmarks?

KL: I think there were two things. First, they had more experience doing things with Landmarks and went in with more information. Second, they had the advantage of working with new Commissioners after the election.

BHB: Was the cinema ever in the plan with the new owners?

KL: No. I spoke with them and discussed market rent and there was no way it could happen. The market rent is $12,000 a month for the new space and my lease was $5,500 a month. If Tom had kept the building, the building was already paid for. He just needed to pay for the development and he could have afforded to give me a huge break. The new owner who bought the building for seven million dollars couldn’t afford to do that.

BHB: If you could do it all over again, would you buy the cinema?

KL: That’s really an interesting question that I don’t think anyone ever asked me before. It’s difficult to say, because I absolutely loved owning the cinema and I really miss it. But it absolutely destroyed my life. I will be in debt for the rest of my life.

BHB: But the three years that you owned it were fulfilling?

KL: It really was. The first two years were great. The first year, we broke even. The second year, we made money. But the last 9 months, we lost so much money. The movies just didn’t catch on. It was that particularly brutal winter. People didn’t want to go outside. By the end, I was worried about how I was going to pay the bills all the time. The Weinstein Group took me to court and they’re the slimiest people I ever dealt with. They wanted to force me into bankruptcy. I made good-faith efforts to pay as much as I could. The other distributors wrote off the debts, but the Weinstein Group wouldn’t. Their lawyer told my lawyer that only if I filed for bankruptcy, they would write it off.

BHB: There was a lot of talk about you finding another space for the cinema. What happened?

KL: I looked for a long time. But there just was nothing out there. The landlords wanted so much money. There was one landlord who had a space in Cobble Hill and I was told that he really wanted to do business with someone local and would give me a break. I went to talk to the landlord and when he told me the number, it was laughable. It wasn’t a break at all.

BHB: There were also reports that you would reopen at the old ReBar space in Dumbo.

KL: That was another one. I went and talked to the landlord and he wanted $11,000 a month for 2,500 sq. ft. I said to him, “You know it’s a really small space. If I sold out every show and every person bought a large popcorn and soda, I still wouldn’t come close to making the rent.” I told the owner, “You’ll never get that kind of rent for this space.” The owner said, “I think I can.” I said, “The only business that could make that kind of money in this space is a meth lab.” That’s the problem. The landlords in NYC are lunatics. What’s happened to NY is sickening, and it’s only going in one direction. And people say, “Well, there will be a mid-course correction.” But it’s too late, way too late.

BHB: So where are you now and what do you see in your near future?

KL: I’m spending half of my time in NYC, and half of my time in Europe, where I can make some money. Basically, trying to get back to where I was before. Getting back to, “would I do it over again?” I wouldn’t be in debt, but I wouldn’t have had that experience. Anyone who’s been in debt will tell you it’s completely draining.

BHB: What would you say to your most loyal customers?

KL: That’s easy. I would say, “I’m very sorry I couldn’t keep it going,” and thank them for the years of support. That is one of things that I miss more than anything else, the interactions with the customers. We had so many regular customers. I looked forward to seeing them. They should know my manager Amy and I really valued them and we miss seeing them.


Calls for comments to the current President of the Brooklyn Heights Association and attorney for the Weinstein Group were not returned.

Judy Stanton, former Executive Director of the BHA, provided the following statement:

“The BHA was working via the LPC (Landmarks Preservation Commission) process to preserve 70 Henry, and we opposed proposals that involved demolition of the building. The BHA supported the cinema. In our view, it was possible to retain the cinema within the original walls of the building. A nearby example of that type of preservation approach is the incorporation of the St. Ann’s Warehouse theatre within the old walls of the Tobacco Warehouse. “

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Mon, 12 Dec 2016 04:51:47 +0000

This Tuesday evening, December 13, at 7:00, food historian Sarah Lohman will be at the Brooklyn Historical Society to discuss “How Immigrant Cooks Shape American Food”. Joining her will be Jonathan Wu of Fung Tu and Mario Carbone of Carbone. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase tickets here.

Criminologist Michael D. White, co-author with Henry F. Fradella of Stop and Frisk: The Use and Abuse of a Controversial Policing Tactic, will be at BHS on Wednesday evening, December 14, at 6:30 to discuss the subject of the book, “the first authoritative history and analysis of one of the most controversial policing tactics.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase tickets here.

On Thursday evening, December 15, at 6:30 Andrés Reséndez will discuss his book The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America,
“the myth-shattering story of the mass enslavement of American Indians by European colonists, which he argues was a major factor in the decimation of indigenous populations across North America.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase or reserve tickets here.

Don’t forget the Brooklyn Documentaries, featuring Ric Burns, next Monday evening, December 21, at 6:30. Admission is free; register here.

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BHS to Present Brooklyn Documentary Films, Featuring Ric Burns, Wednesday, December 21 Fri, 02 Dec 2016 20:04:19 +0000

On Wednesday evening, December 21, at 6:30, at the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Film & Arts Festival will present a screening of Brooklyn documentary films. The main feature will be an excerpt of Ric Burns’ New York, A Documentary Film, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker. The event is free, but you must reserve tickets here. Hurry, as this event is likely to be fully booked soon.

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Al Capone, Brooklyn Native, Subject of Book Talk at BHS Monday Fri, 02 Dec 2016 02:28:18 +0000

On Monday evening, December 5, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host a book talk by Deirdre Bair, author of Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend. Born in Brooklyn in 1899, Capone rose to infamy as head of the rackets–principally bootlegging during the prohibition years–in Chicago. “With exclusive access to his descendants,” Ms. Bair “reveals the man behind the notorious gangster.” Admission is $5, or free for BHS or Green-Wood members. Purchase or reserve tickets here.

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Coming Next Week at Brooklyn Historical Society Sat, 26 Nov 2016 06:08:45 +0000

This coming Monday evening, November 28 at 6:30, at the Brooklyn Historical Society, two noted historians, Steven Hahn and Eric Foner, will discuss Hahn’s book, A Nation Without Borders, which is not about America after the closing of a major bookstore chain, but instead “takes a provocative new look at the eight decades surrounding the Civil War.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; buy tickets here.

On Tuesday evening, November 29 at 6:30, Paula Span, columnist for The New York Times, will moderate a discussion among a distinguished panel on the subject of aging and ageism, and “the misconceptions older people face.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; buy tickets here. This event is presented in partnership with Heights and Hills.

On Thursday evening, December 1 at 6:30, archivist John Zarrillo will discuss “how to properly store and handle your family’s papers, photographs, and memorabilia.” Admission is $20, or $15 for BHS or Green-Wood members; buy tickets here. This event is presented in partnership with the New York Preservation Archive Project.

There’s more information about these events, and others forthcoming, here

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German Consul to Speak at Kristallnacht Remembrance, Congregation Mt. Sinai Saturday Fri, 04 Nov 2016 02:43:54 +0000

The night of November 9-10 will be the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”; see photo), when mobs led by Nazi soldiers and police attacked Jewish people and their homes, places of business, and houses of worship. Congregation Mount Sinai, at 250 Cadman Plaza West, will remember Kristallnacht this Saturday, November 5, from noon to 2:00 p.m., following the morning service. Brita Wagener, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in New York, will speak about the late German prosecutor Fritz Bauer, who made it his mission to bring Nazi criminals to justice and to obtain compensation for their victims.

Photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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Electeds, Preservationists Celebrate Brooklyn Heights Historic District at Plaque Re-Dedication Ceremony Wed, 26 Oct 2016 00:37:38 +0000

Fifty years ago, Brooklyn Heights was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. This distinction and the advocacy of many dedicated  preservationists, lead to the passing of New York City’s Landmarks Law in April 1965 and in November of 1965, Brooklyn Heights was designated New York’s first Historic District.  And so to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service and the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, a plaque-the original long since disappeared-was re-dedicated at the Brooklyn Heights Society this past Friday, October 21st.

BHS Plaque Dediation Speakers

Beginning 2nd from left, Jo Anne Simon, Nydia Velazquez, (back row) Joshua Laird, (front row) Meenakshi Srinivasan, (back row) Francis Morrone, Deborah Schwartz, Nancy Pearsall, Otis Pearsall and Peter Bray.

The steady rain forced the ceremony inside but did not dampen the mood. In fact, the pride was palpable.  BHS President Deborah Schwartz presided over the dedication with remarks by Congresswoman Velazquez, Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Meenakshi Srinivasan, Commissionner of National Parks of New York Harbor Joshua Laird, NYC Councilman Steve Levin, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, Brooklyn Heights Association Executive Director Peter Bray and renowned Brooklyn Heights preservationists Otis and Nancy Pearsall.

During her introduction, Deborah Schwartz reflected that the occasion celebrated “the rich history and exquisite architecture of [Brooklyn Heights] and the community of people who have worked so hard to maintain its integrity.”  She also cited the “extraordinary and legendary people” who have called Brooklyn Heights their home including Henry Ward Beecher, Truman Capote and Arthur Miller among our many notable residents. (Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie is currently on exhibit at BHS).

Congresswoman Velazquez, who is credited with securing $450,000 in federal grant monies to restore the “Bishops Crooks” lamp posts to Brooklyn Heights, shared “Not only is Brooklyn Heights an important part of New York’s history, but when it was named a ‘Historic District’ fifty years ago, it helped pave the way for the protection of other culturally significant sites around the country.”

Legendary Brooklyn Heights Preservationist, Otis Pearsall and history buff (who knew?) Councilman Steve Leven

Legendary Brooklyn Heights Preservationist, Otis Pearsall and history buff (who knew?) Councilman Steve Levin.

Later in the program, Peter Bray, spoke to the “inextricable link between our “architectural and cultural history,” explaining that “historic preservation embodies what we value as a society” and in effect keeps history alive in both our own minds and the public consciousness.  He praised ongoing efforts of the Landmarks Preservation Committee and Community Board 2 to include 181 (The CitiBank Temple) and 185 Montague Street, a 15-story office building with a beautiful Art Deco facade, into the historic business district of Brooklyn Heights.

Joshua Laird, provided a brief but in depth history of the evolution of preservation-the establishment of our National Parks (1917), the National Registry of Historic Places (1931) and NYC’s Landmark law (1965)-sharing “we are bound by our past and blind to our future without some appreciation of where we have come from.” The National Register of Historic Places now has over 90,000 properties, of which 900 sites are in New York City with 172 in Brooklyn.  The most recent addition: The Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the LGBTQ Civil Rights movement.

After thanking all the key stakeholders, Steve Levin reflected on the role of history in modern politics. He cited the recent post-Presidential debate discussions on the peaceful transition of power. Evoking the image of George Washington crossing the East River at Fulton Ferry Landing,  he said, “We are nothing without our history…[Brooklyn Heights] is so rich with this nation’s history…going back to the revolutionary war. And it is so tied into who we are as a country.”

Plaque Dedication

Left to Right: Peter Bray, Nydia Velazquez, Joshua Laird, Otis Pearsall, Deborah Schwartz, Jo Anne Simon and Steve Levin.

Otis Pearsall bestowed gratitude upon The National Park Service, The Brooklyn Historical Society, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and Councilmember Steve Levin he regaled the crowd with a detailed recounting of the original dedication ceremony. He beamed with pride that the community now has an “exact replica, (securely fastened!) to the front of the Brooklyn Historical Society.”

Though wet, the brief unveiling ceremony and subsequent photo-op went off without a hitch. Those who chose to brave the rain were treated to a short but detail oriented walking tour of Pierrepont Street with Architectural Historian, NYU Professor and world-renowned tour guide, Francis Morrone.

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Oktoberfest at Brooklyn Historical Society’s This ‘Free Friday’ Thu, 20 Oct 2016 20:08:48 +0000

Hop on over to the Brooklyn Historical Society this Friday, October 21st between 5:00 and 9:00 pm for Oktoberfest!  The program is part of the Society’s monthly “Free Fridays,” when the museum extends its hours and offers special programming with free admission. The event promises “an evening of beer appreciation with a home brewing workshop, beer tastings, a Beauty and the Beer film screening, and more!”


5:00pm-7:00pm Brooklyn Brewery hosts a special beer tasting

5:45pm-9:00pm BHS archivists showcase Brooklyn brewing history with highlights from the BHS collection. Enjoy special behind-the-scenes tours of the library throughout the evening!

6:00pm-8:00pm Brooklyn Brew shop showcases brewing techniques for the intrepid home brewer.

6:30pm-7:15pm Chris Heuberger gives a talk on the history of brewing in Bushwick.

7:30pm-8:45pm Screening of Beauty and the Beer, a documentary about the incredibly popular Miss Rheingold contest, a beauty contest for the Rheingold Brewery in Bushwick.

Remaining Fall Free Fridays are scheduled for November 11th and December 9th.

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70 Henry St. (Former Home to Brooklyn Heights Cinemas) Construction Update Sat, 08 Oct 2016 02:17:28 +0000

Construction at 70 Henry St., former home to our beloved Brooklyn Heights Cinemas, is coming along nicely. Here’s a peek into the guts of the plot of land that is soon to be the site of a five-story, mixed-use development.


This morning, the congenial site supervisor named Mike from Jonico Construction, was keeping watch over the work. The target date for completion is 15 months from now, Mike said. In the photo above, you can see the columns, “probably there since before Lincoln was assassinated,” that are being preserved per Landmarks Preservation Committee’s insistence. The building will house five condo units, including one maisonette townhouse on the Orange St. side. The smallest condo unit will be 1,200 sq. ft. with four bedrooms. On the ground floor facing Henry St. will be a 1,000 sq. ft. commercial space.

What’s going in that commercial space? Let’s dispel the lingering rumor here for good. It won’t be a movie theater. According to Mike, it will be a retail space, but not a restaurant, since the space is not mechanically fit for one. When asked if he’s heard any leads on what types of businesses are interested, Mike said he hadn’t heard. But he figured the neighborhood could use a women’s and/or children’s retail shop of some kind. He’s a smart one, that Mike, we did just lose Heights Kids afterall.

While the neighborhood awaits the completion of this building, let’s have one last nostalgic look at what was once there.


From Google Maps 2009

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Tue, 04 Oct 2016 03:52:46 +0000

On Wednesday evening, October 5, at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society will present CCNY sociology professor William Helmreich (photo; CCNY), who has walked all 816 miles of streets in Brooklyn and is author of The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: An Urban Walking Guide. He will discuss what he found with NY1’s morning anchor and resident Canadian Pat Kiernan in “Block by Block: Exploring Brooklyn”. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; more information and purchase tickets here.

On Friday evening, October 7, at 7:30, the Brooklyn Art Song Society will present “Wien I: Fin de Siècle”, a concert “featur[ing] the work of composers who epitomize the opulence and decadence of late German Romanticism.” Among the singers will be soprano Tami Petty and bass-baritone Tobias Greenhalgh. Show up early for a lecture by NYU history professor Larry Wolff on “Politics and Art in Fin Du Siecle Vienna.” Tickets are $25, or $15 for BHS members; more information and purchase tickets here.

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Coming at Brooklyn Historical Society Sat, 24 Sep 2016 17:57:58 +0000

On Tuesday evening, September 27 at 6:30 the Brooklyn Historical Society will present Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family, and Karen Branan, author of The Family Tree, who will discuss “Confronting a Southern White Past”. The conversation will be moderated by Rachel L. Swarns of The New York Times. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members. There’s more information and you may purchase tickets here.

On Thursday evening, September 29 at 6:30 Jarrett Murphy, Executive Publisher of City Limits, will lead a discussion of “Wild New York” with a panel of experts on the subject of wildlife, past and present, in New York City. Admission is $5, or free for BHS or Green-Wood members. There’s more information, and you may purchase or reserve tickets here.

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Daily News Tells Story Behind Iconic Shot of Ladder 118 Truck on the Bridge to WTC Mon, 12 Sep 2016 01:23:15 +0000

The Daily News interviewed the man who shot the iconic photograph of the Ladder 118 firetruck on the Brooklyn Bridge, rushing toward the burning towers seen in the background, on that horrific day 15 years ago. (Photo in link to article here.)

Aaron McClamb, a 20 year-old amateur photographer, was printing bibles at the Jehovah’s Witness watchtower when he started taking photos of the firetruck that carried our brave firefighters from Middagh St., “with no understanding that those guys wouldn’t come back.”

The heroes in that firetruck who made the ultimate sacrifice that day were Vernon Cherry, 49; Leon Smith, 48; Robert Regan, 45; Pete Vega, 36; Joey Agnello, 35; and Scott Davidson, 33.



“’They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I don’t think there’s any word that describes that picture,’ said retired Firefighter John Sorrentino, 51, who worked out of the same firehouse as a member of Engine Co. 205. ‘To me, it represents the courage and sacrifice of all the first responders who lost their lives that day.’”

(Lead photo: 9/10/16, Mary Kim for BHB)

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Remembering Fifteen Years Ago Sun, 11 Sep 2016 03:44:06 +0000

The beams no longer shine from the location of the two towers; that location has been taken by a new building and by a memorial. Still we remember lost neighbors, kin, and friends, and the eight brave firefighters who never returned. Addendum: There will be an interfaith memorial service at the Montague Street entrance to the Promenade this afternoon (Sunday, September 11) at 2:00.

Photo: Martha Foley

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This Week at Brooklyn Historical Society Mon, 05 Sep 2016 22:09:58 +0000

There are three events at Brooklyn Historical Society this week. Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 6) evening at 6:30, Renée Dinnerstein, author of Choice Time: How to Deepen Learning Through Inquiry and Play will discuss her book with Anna Allanbrook, principal of P.S. 146 Brooklyn New School, followed by Q&A with the audience. Light refreshments will be served. The event is free and open to all; no RSVP necessary.

On Wednesday evening, September 7 at 6:30, Harvard history and law professor Annette Gordon Reed, author of “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination and The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family, will, as part of BHS’s “Race and History” series, discuss “her groundbreaking research on Thomas Jefferson, the Hemings family, and slavery in America.” Admission is $10, or free for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase or reserve tickets here.

On Thursday evening, September 8 at 7:00 BHS will, as part of its #LetsTalkFeminism series, host a panel discussion, “Are We There Yet? The Illusion of a Post-Sexist Society”, featuring a panel of distinguished writers on the subject, moderated by Teresa Younger, President and C.E.O. of the Ms. Foundation for Women. Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS or Green-Wood members; purchase tickets here.

There’s more information here about these and other forthcoming events at BHS.

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How Do You Like Living in a Historic District? Take the Survey Mon, 29 Aug 2016 19:31:46 +0000

As most, if not all, regular readers of this blog know, Brooklyn Heights was New York City’s first designated historic district. This means there are strict controls on what can be built here and how existing buildings can be modified. Without these rules, it seems likely to me that all the townhouses along the west side of Columbia Heights by now would have been demolished and replaced by a phalanx of high-rises. Some regulations seem to me a bit persnickety. Why is it that the owner of a nineteenth century townhouse that had its stoop removed a century ago can’t have a new stoop installed unless she has access to the design of the original stoop and can duplicate it exactly? If the design has been lost, I’d rather see a reasonable facsimile of a nineteenth century stoop there than none at all.

Some object to historic districts generally because they adversely affect the availability of affordable housing by limiting allowable density, thereby reducing the supply side of the supply/demand equation. Others object on the grounds that they infringe on the rights of property owners, or prevent what they consider the proper operation of real estate markets.

We’ve received notice from Community Board 2 and from the Brooklyn Heights Association that researchers at Columbia University are conducting an online survey “to better understand how different New Yorkers value the social, environmental, and economic aims of historic district preservation.”

The researchers are looking to reach a broad cross-section of the city’s population so anyone may participate in the survey. In particular, they are hoping to reach the growing number of stakeholders within and beyond the traditional core of preservation. They believe that the residents and business people within Brooklyn Community District 2 could be critical participants and would be very grateful if you take the survey.

We’re told the survey takes about five minutes to complete (I did it in four). Access it here

Photo: Claude Scales

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“The Great Escape”, Commemorating Washington’s Evacuation of Brooklyn, at Brooklyn Bridge Park Saturday Fri, 26 Aug 2016 02:38:07 +0000

This Saturday, August 27 marks the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn, also sometimes called the Battle of Long Island because where the fighting took place, in what is now Prospect Park, Park Slope, and Green-Wood Cemetery, wasn’t yet part of Brooklyn. It was the first battle in which regular Patriot troops under the command of General George Washington, as opposed to local militias, faced British troops.

It proved to be the largest battle of the Revolution, and went very badly for the Patriots. Several well fought rear-guard actions allowed most of Washington’s army to escape to Brooklyn Heights, where they camped. The British General Howe did not pursue and attack them, hoping that his brother, Admiral Howe, whose fleet as anchored off Staten Island, would sail into the East River and cut off Washington’s escape route. Weather proved to be on the Patriot side, as heavy rain kept Admiral Howe from moving his ships and General Howe from advancing his troops. Following a council of war, Washington decided to evacuate his troops to Manhattan. This was done on the night of August 29-30.

On this Saturday, August 27, from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM, Brooklyn Bridge Park and The Old Stone House, site of an especially valiant rear guard stand by a Maryland regiment, are partners in sponsoring an event, “The Great Escape”, commemorating the successful evacuation of the Continental Army, which saved the Revolution from being crushed in its early days. Hosts for the event are Glover’s Marblehead Regiment, from Massachusetts, whose sailors manned the boats that carried the troops, and the Village Community Boathouse. The event is free; it may be cancelled in the event of extreme weather conditions. It will be held on the beach near the Main Street entrance to the park, in DUMBO.

For other events coming up at Brooklyn Bridge Park, see here.


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Coming Events at Brooklyn Bridge Park Fri, 19 Aug 2016 22:08:00 +0000

Tomorrow (Saturday, August 20) from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. there will be a free Pier 5 Family Field Day, with potato, sack, and Hula Hoop races, parachute games, soccer skills lessons, and scrimmage games. More information here.

On Sunday afternoon, August 21 from 2:00 to 5:00 the Nantucket lightship (photo), docked at Pier 6, near the foot of Atlantic Avenue, will be open for free public tours. More information here. At 4:00 p.m. there will be a special treat for kids, as Brian Floca, author of Lightship, reads from and discusses his book. More information here.

Monday, August 22 is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and there will be a day and evening long celebration at Pier 1, with guests from Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey on hand to provide fun, games, and entertainment. The kid-friendly band Ramblin’ Dan will provide music, and there will be a free ice cream social during the afternoon hosted by Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. During the evening, Bill Nye the Science Guy will host an interactive game in which participants can control lights on the One World Trade Center’s spire, while DJ Questlove will provide ambient music. More information here.

Saturday, August 27 is the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn, and as part of the Battle Week observances, the Park’s weekly Wednesday Night Tour, this time led by Robert Furman, author of Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb, will focus on the role of the East River in the early stages of the American Revolution. Tickets are $10, or free for Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy members; more information and purchase or reserve tickets here.

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Historian on Emotional Roots of American Revolution at Brooklyn Historical Society Thursday Tue, 16 Aug 2016 02:52:38 +0000

Nicole Eustace, Professor of History at New York University and author of Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution will speak at the Brooklyn Historical Society this Thursday evening, August 18 on “1776: Revolution and Emotion”. The program begins at 6:30 p.m. This event is presented in connection with the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn, coming on August 27, and is offered by BHS in conjunction with Old Stone House and Green-Wood. Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets here.

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Times Covers 100 Clark St. Restoration Tue, 16 Aug 2016 02:45:35 +0000

Yesterday’s New York Times piece is a fascinating read on the painstaking architectural endeavor behind the reconstruction of 100 Clark St., and the owner’s commitment to restore, as closely as possible, the building to its original glory.

Margaret Streicker Porres, the owner of the realty company that bought the building in 2010 for $1.2M, hired Tom van den Bout, an architect and Brooklyn Heights resident, for the reconstruction. Incidentally, on that infamous day in 2008 when the top two floors of the building were demolished by the City, a “distraught local resident” called Mr. van den Bout. When he arrived, the workers were halfway done and one wall was missing. “It was surreal; it was like looking at the side of a dollhouse,” Mr. van den Bout told the Times. “There were people’s dining room tables all set up with books on them. It was very, very strange.”

Mr. van den Bout and his team are using the only two existing photographs, one dug up from the archives at the New York Public Library, that are clear enough to see all of the magnificent details of the original building. The architects even “counted bricks to calculate proportions and studied the set of the stoop, which went missing long ago, to match the original.”

Meanwhile, Ms. Streicker Porres told the Times, “’Frankly, it never crossed my mind to try and put a modern glass structure there. It seems so obvious that the appropriate reintervention was to attempt a 21st-century re-creation. It’s melding three centuries, through use of a historic skin and a modern exterior.”

The Times reports that there is also a financial benefit to restoring the building to mirror the original. The plan is to build out several apartments, including a triplex, and by using the existing footprint, a larger structure can be built than is allowed by zoning rules.

It’s safe to say that the entire neighborhood is looking forward to this job being completed, and that Mr. van den Bout and Ms. Streicker Porres may be strong contenders for the BHB Ten for 2016.

(Lead photo: Google Maps street view image)

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Coming at Brooklyn Bridge Park Mon, 15 Aug 2016 04:27:27 +0000

Tomorrow (Monday, August 15) evening at 7:00, at the Granite Prospect on Pier 1, Brooklyn Bridge Park, in partnership with BookCourt will present Eowyn Ivey reading from her latest novel, To the Bright Edge of the World. The event is free; books will be available for purchase and signing. Perhaps this Alaskan writer can bring some cool northern breezes with her. More information here.

On Tuesday evening, August 16 at 6:00 on the Nantucket lightship ( since moved from Pier 5 to the north side of Pier 6), your correspondent’s friend Will Van Dorp, whose blog Tugster is a delight, and Gary Kane will present a free screening of Gary’s film The Graves of Arthur Kill, followed by discussion. More information here.

On Wednesday evening, August 17, from 6:30 to 7:30, starting at the park entrance near the foot of Old Fulton Street, the latest in the series of Wednesday Night Tours will explore “Over and Back: How Ferries Built South Brooklyn.” Admission is $10, or free for Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy members. More information and purchase tickets here.

For more information about upcoming events at Brooklyn Bridge Park, see here.

Photo: BookCourt.

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