Brooklyn Heights Blog » Brooklyn Heights Dispatches from America's first suburb Tue, 17 Oct 2017 02:34:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Free Friday at Brooklyn Historical Society Presents “Lost Brooklyn” Tue, 17 Oct 2017 02:34:36 +0000

This Friday evening, October 20, from 5:00 to 9:00, the Brooklyn Historical Society will open its doors to all for its monthly Free Friday. This month’s theme is “Lost Brooklyn”:

Explore lost parts of our beloved borough’s history on a trip through the forgotten, the vanished, and the underground! Enjoy free access to our galleries and of course, cold beer!

There’s more information here.

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Sounds of the Court of the Sun King by Repast Baroque Ensemble this Friday Sun, 15 Oct 2017 03:34:03 +0000

François Couperin (1668-1733) was a French baroque composer and musician whose career came to full fruition at the court of Louis XIV (the “Sun King”; image). On Friday evening, October 20, at 8:00, the Repast Baroque Ensemble returns to the McKinney Chapel, First Unitarian Church, 116 Pierrepont Street (between Monroe Place and Clinton), to perform works by “Couperin and Friends.” Tickets are $30 general admission, $20 for seniors, and $10 for students. You may purchase them here (online purchases incur a small service charge in addition to the ticket price) or pay cash at the door.

Image: Charles Le Brun – La Varende, Jean de: Louis XIV, Paris : Éditions France-Empire, 1958. – Château de Versailles
Public Domain

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Brooklyn Women’s Exchange Hosts Craft Workshop For Kids This Sunday Fri, 13 Oct 2017 03:20:01 +0000

This Sunday, October 15, the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange, 55 Pierrepont Street (between Hicks and Henry) will host a Fall Finger Puppets craft workshop for kids five years old and up, accompanied by a caregiver. The project will be the making of hand-sewn finger puppets (see illustrations here). Stop by anytime from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. No RSVP needed. Suggested donation is $5.00 per family.

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Open Thread Wednesday Wed, 11 Oct 2017 03:51:26 +0000

What’s on your mind? Comment away!

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Town Hall with Mayor de Blasio at St. Francis Wednesday, October 18 Tue, 10 Oct 2017 19:35:58 +0000

Our friends at Community Board 2 have advised us that Mayor Bill de Blasio will be at St. Francis College, Founders Hall, 180 Remsen Street, on Wednesday evening, October 18, for a Town Hall to which all are invited. Admission is free. The event begins at 6:00; doors will open at 5:30 and close at 6:30. The Town Hall is presented by City Council Member Stephen T. Levin. If you want to attend, please RSVP by Monday, October 16 at this website, e-mail to or phone 212-788-7929. Space is limited.

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Joe Coffee Perks Up in Brooklyn Heights Mon, 09 Oct 2017 03:20:12 +0000

On the corner of Hicks and Pineapple Streets, in what was once a dark pet store now resides the airy and light-filled Joe Coffee.  Joe officially opened for business this past Friday morning and by 8:30 am, was bustling with residents in need of a caffeine fix.  In addition to their meticulously crafted brews, Joe serves eats and treats from Cobble Hill’s Watty & Meg, Under West Donuts, One Girl Cookie and banana pudding by local purveyor, Shalini’s Kitchen. They also offer a selection of savories and sweets such as frittata, muffins and sandwiches provided by their partner Union Square Restaurant Group.  The shop is open 7:00 am – 8:00 pm, daily.

Joe devotee Chandra Glick shared, “I have lived in the West Village, Chelsea and now Brooklyn Heights and I’ve been going to Joe in each of those neighborhoods. Now I’m excited they’ve followed me to Brooklyn Heights so I can continue [enjoying] delicious coffee.”  This correspondent can attest that the coffee, is in fact, delicious.

No Sleep Til...

Photo by SongBirdNYC

Per the company website, “Joe was founded in 2003 as a singular specialty coffee house in Manhattan’s west village with the simple vision of brewing the highest quality, unique coffees and serving them with unsurpassed hospitality and knowledge.” Joe has expanded to fourteen shops in Manhattan and two in Philadelphia.  Joe also offers barista classes and has a wholesale division.

While it’s roasting facility was established in Red Hook in 2013, the Brooklyn Heights cafe is the company’s first retail outlet in Brooklyn.  The operations team continues to put finishing touches on the decor (the window sills will being festooned with plants and the team is awaiting a communal table and shelving to arrive) one design element is hard to miss: the neon nod to our beloved borough. We wish Joe longevity and success!

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C’est Magnifique! LaFrance Music Festival at Brooklyn Historical Society This Friday Thu, 05 Oct 2017 21:15:32 +0000

The first of five concerts celebrating french culture will take place on Friday at the Brooklyn Historical Society this Friday. Details from BHS website in full below:

Brooklyn Art Song Society Presents
La France I: Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel

Fri, Oct 6, 7:00 pm
$15/Senior & Student


“Brooklyn Art Song Society (BASS) opens its eighth season on with the first concert in its 5-concert festival La France, featuring some of the best-loved melodies by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Highlights include Debussys epic setting of Paul Verlaine, Ariettes oubliées sung by soprano Kristina Bachrach and Ravel’s dashing Don Quichotte à Dulcinée performed by Steven LaBrie (BASS debut). Additional artists include mezzo soprano Samantha Malk, baritone Jesse Blumberg, and pianists Brent Funderburk and Miori Sugiyama. This concert will be proceeded by a pre-concert lecture [“Debussy and Ravel: Conjuring Sensuality in Sound] by Columbia professor Marilyn McCoy.”

Artwork: Joan Chiverton via BASS


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Hurricane Relief Pop Up Site This Sunday Fri, 29 Sep 2017 17:42:14 +0000

This weekend a pop up donation drop site is scheduled to collect supplies critical to the relief efforts for Puerto Rico.  You may donate on Sunday, October 1st near the High Street A/C Subway on Cadman Plaza West between 2:00 – 5:00 pm.  Here’s what they are asking for:

  • Diapers
  • Baby food
  • Batteries
  • First Aid Supplies
  • Feminine Hygiene Products

All of the items received will be transported to one of the eighteen official NYC FDNY/EMS collection sites established across the five boroughs last week.  Per the City’s press release,“Please note the City is only collecting the items listed above. All donated items must be non-perishable, not second-hand, nor contain any liquids of any kind. Open or unsealed donations of food or hygiene supplies will not be accepted. Wet wipes will also not be accepted. Any other items will be kindly returned.”

If you are unable to contribute this Sunday, goods may be delivered to any of the city’s sites between the hours of 7:00 am and 9:00 pm.  These are the Brooklyn locations:

  • Engine 271/ Ladder 124: 392 Himrod Street, Brooklyn, NY 11237 (Bushwick)
  • Engine 277/ Ladder 112: 582 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11221 (Bushwick)
  • Engine 201/ Ladder 114: 5113 4th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11220 ( Sunset Park)
  • Engine 228: 436 39th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11232 (Sunset Park)
  • Engine 218: 650 Hart Street, Brooklyn, NY 11221 (Bushwick)
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Participatory Budgeting Meeting at St. Francis College Tuesday Evening, September 26 Tue, 26 Sep 2017 02:22:51 +0000

Sorry for the late notice. City Council Member Steven Levin (photo) has advised us that there will be a Participatory Budgeting meeting at St, Francis College, 180 Remsen Street, on Tuesday evening, September 26 starting at 7:00. Levin has a kitty of money to spend on projects in his district, which includes Brooklyn Heights and nearby areas. The purpose of the meeting is for you to let him know what you’d like some of this money used for. If you want to attend, you may RSVP, but you may also just show up. If you can’t make it, you may submit a suggestion for a project that needs funding here. There’s a list of past funded projects here. If you have any questions you may contact Benjamin at or 718-875-5200.

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Atlantic Antic This Sunday Tue, 19 Sep 2017 04:25:13 +0000

The theme of this year’s 43rd Atlantic Antic is “The Pulse of Brooklyn.” It will be held this Sunday, September 24 from noon to 6:00 p.m., rain or shine, on Atlantic Avenue between Hicks Street and 4th Avenue. There will be live and DJ’d music, food, vendors, activities for kids, and special deals from merchants along Atlantic. There’s a stage and program schedule here and street map here.

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Bargemusic This Weekend Thu, 14 Sep 2017 02:48:31 +0000

This will be an all piano weekend at Bargemusic. On Friday evening, September 15, at 8:00, Sophia Agranovich will play works by Beethoven, Liszt, and Chopin. On Saturday evening, September 16, at 6:00 Steven Beck (photo) will play the complete English suites of J.S. Bach. He will return at 8:00 PM to play Bach’s complete French suites. (These are separate concerts, and require separate admission.) On Sunday afternoon, September 17, Mr. Beck will repeat these performances, with the English suites starting at 2:00 and the French suites at 4:00.

There are details for each concert and you may buy tickets here. On Saturday afternoon at 4:00 there will be a free, family oriented “Music in Motion” concert, co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. Doors open at 3:45; first come, first seated.

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Yes, Matt Damon Likely Will Be Your Neighbor Wed, 13 Sep 2017 03:07:43 +0000

The Real Deal, citing a Wall Street Journal story that’s behind a paywall, reports that actor Matt Damon is in contract to buy the penthouse at The Standish, 171 Columbia Heights. According to the Real Deal, if the sale goes off at the asking price of $16.645 million, it could set a new record for Brooklyn.

Several years ago Damon was considering the purchase of the mansion at 3 Pierrepont Place. It’s said he lost interest after St. Ann’s refused to bend its rules to let his kids in after the admissions deadline.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

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Montague Street “Sunday Social” on the 17th Mon, 11 Sep 2017 03:21:07 +0000

The Montague Street Business Improvement District is presenting a “Make it Montague Sunday Social” this coming Sunday, September 17 from noon to 4:00 PM. It will feature music, dancing, and a kids’ zone. Montague Street between Hicks and Henry, between Henry and Clinton, and between Clinton and Court will be closed to traffic during the event. Admission is free.

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Brooklyn Women’s Exchange Open After Summer Vacation Mon, 11 Sep 2017 02:43:45 +0000

The Brooklyn Women’s Exchange, 55 Pierrepont Street (between Hicks and Henry), has re-opened following its customary summer break, occasioned by the fact that it is staffed by volunteers (disclosure: your correspondent’s wife is one of those volunteers), most of whom take summer vacations. It is a not-for-profit craft and gift shop that supports “craftspeople from Brooklyn and beyond.”
IMG_8997The exchange’s fall offerings include children’s clothes, toys, and books…
IMG_8999…as well as items for adults, including t-shirts, housewares, condiments, books, and these superb chapeaux.

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“Police Emergency” Caused Helicopter Noise Tonight Sat, 09 Sep 2017 02:21:35 +0000

Having heard the noise from the helicopter hovering for hours over the Downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights border, and having received complaints from readers, your correspondent called the 84th Precinct, and was told it was because of a “police emergency.” I asked if I could be told the nature of the emergency, and was told I may get a call back. If and when I do, I will update.

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Theater 2020 Presents Free Reading of Shaw’s “Village Wooing” Saturday Afternoon Wed, 06 Sep 2017 12:05:02 +0000

Theater 2020, Brooklyn Heights’ resident professional theater company continues its popular Hearthside Reading Series at the Brooklyn Public Library, 109 Remsen Street (between Henry and Clinton) with a FREE reading of George Bernard Shaw’s forty minute one act comedy “Village Wooing” this Saturday, September 9, starting at 2pm. The readers will be Theater 2020’s Co-Producing Artistic Director and actor David B. Fuller, and actor/playwright Lynn Marie Macy.

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Recycling and Trash Schedule for Labor Day Weekend Fri, 01 Sep 2017 14:35:51 +0000

This in from the Brooklyn Heights Association:

On Tuesday, September 5th, the DSNY will only operate its organic recycling trucks in the portion of the neighborhood south of Joralemon Street. On these streets, other recyclable materials – paper, cardboard, plastics, glass and metal – will not be collected until Monday, September 11th.

On streets including and north of Joralemon Street, recyclables and organic materials will be picked up as usual on Wednesday, September 6th.

Regular household trash will not be picked up until Wednesday, September 6th.

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Rocker Patti Smith to Open 2017 Brooklyn Book Festival Fri, 25 Aug 2017 05:57:13 +0000

Brownstoner reports the legendary punk priestess, poet and author, Patti Smith will kick off the 2017 Brooklyn Book Festival (BKBF) with a reading from her new book, Devotion. BKBF describes the latest tome as a “deeply personal look into the alchemy of Smith’s creative process.”

Aptly, the “Bookend” event takes place Monday, September 11th at St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, 157 Montague Street.  Smith will begin reading at 7:00 pm,  seating is first come-first served.  Tickets are $25.00 and can be purchased HERE.

The festival marks it’s 11th year and runs through September 17th. Highlights include a Children’s Day on September 16 in MetroTech Commons and Festival Day in Downtown Brooklyn on Sunday, September 17. Other authors of note: Karl Ove Knausgård, Joyce Carol Oates, Colson Whitehead, Jacqueline Woodson, Jonathan Lethem, Claire Messud, Chris Hayes, Carolyn Forché, Sarah Dessen, Alexandra Bracken, Thi Bui, Lynn Nottage, Hisham Matar, Maira Kalman.

Photo: Jesse Ditmar via Official Patti Smith

UPDATE: The event is now sold out.


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Witnesses Dispose Of More Brooklyn Heights Properties Fri, 18 Aug 2017 03:20:41 +0000

The Eagle reports that L.A. based real estate investors Hawkins Way Capital have bought 117 Columbia Heights (photo), a Brutalist intrusion, by Ulrich Franzen, into a row of nineteenth century townhouses, three of which were also bought by Hawkins from Watchtower and, like 117, became residences for Witnesses.

The sale seems to indicate that the last of the major Watchtower properties in the Heights, with the exception of the former Leverich Towers Hotel, which remains on the market, have been sold.

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Worker Injured In Fall From Roof Of 135 Joralemon Thu, 17 Aug 2017 02:47:50 +0000

The Daily News reports that a construction worker, Antonio Garcia, “suffered serious injuries” because of a fall from the roof of 135 Joralemon Street (photo). Mr. Garcia was replacing shingles on the roof of the landmarked 185 year old house when he fell and landed on his head. He was taken to Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, where he is in serious condition.

Mr. Garcia is employed by V Roofing and Construction. The Daily News contacted them, but they would not comment. The General Contractor, American Residential Contractor LTD and a subcontractor, Velu General Contracting, were both cited for not providing adequate fall protection.

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Kushner Companies Sued Over Alleged Rent Violations At 89 Hicks Wed, 16 Aug 2017 03:41:13 +0000

Curbed reports that tenants at 89 Hicks Street (photo), which the Kushner Companies bought from Brooklyn Law School, which had used it as a dormitory, in 2014, are suing because they claim the new owners

waged a “deceptive, systematic and pervasive pattern of misconduct to skirt rent stabilization laws,” and may have bilked tenants out of as much as $1 million in rent overcharges.

The suit was brought following an investigation of the Kushner Companies’ practices concerning rent stabilization requirements by Housing Rights Initiative, a non-profit organization that “systematically and proactively investigate[s] rent fraud in rent stabilized buildings and connect[s] tenants to legal support.”

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law, was previously CEO of the Kushner Companies. He resigned when he assumed his present position as Senior White House Advisor.

Photo: N*ked Apartments.

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Squadron Resigning From New York Senate Wed, 09 Aug 2017 12:49:04 +0000

In an opinion column in today’s Daily News State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district includes Brooklyn Heights along with Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens (where he resides with his wife and children) and much of lower Manhattan, announced his resignation from the New York Senate, where he has served since 2009. His resignation is effective this Friday, August 11. His replacement will be elected this November; meanwhile, he said, the balance between his party, the Democrats, and the GOP in the Senate will not be affected.

His decision came because of his frustration with “structural barriers, including ‘three men in a room’ decisionmaking, loophole-riddled campaign finance rules and a governor-controlled budget process.” While he called New York “a particularly seedy example” of government overwhelmed by moneyed interests and a culture of corruption, he noted that other states have similar problems. Following his resignation, he plans to join with entrepreneur Adam Pritzker and Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University to “launch a national effort focused on addressing this crisis — joining others already doing important work toward 2018 and beyond.”

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Will 67 Remsen Be Brooklyn Heights’ Next Mansion? Fri, 04 Aug 2017 03:23:26 +0000

Curbed reports that owner Gili Haberberg wants to convert the ten unit apartment building at 67 Remsen Street (photo) to a mansion-sized (4,700 square feet) single family residence. Haberberg bought the property from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2012 for $3.35 million. It sits next to the back end of the Bossert, between Hicks and Henry streets.

Photo by C. Scales for BHB.

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Library Site Developer Sued Over Commission Fri, 04 Aug 2017 03:05:08 +0000

The Real Deal reports that real estate private equity bankers Carlton Group are suing Hudson Companies, developers, on the site of the former Brooklyn Heights Branch Library, of the high rise residential and commercial building that will include a new branch library on its ground and lower floors. Carlton’s suit alleges that Hudson failed to pay $2.2 million in commissions owed for arranging financing for the new building. The Real Deal story quotes a Hudson spokesman as saying the case is without merit.

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FDNY May Take Part Of Former Hillary HQ At One Pierrepont Plaza Fri, 04 Aug 2017 02:42:13 +0000

The Real Deal reports that the FDNY is considering taking half of the space at One Pierrepont Plaza (photo) vacated by Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters, to replace part of the administrative space in nearby MetroTech that it has now outgrown.

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Hot Event At Brooklyn Historical Society Thursday Evening, August 10: How Curry Spiced Up New York Wed, 02 Aug 2017 02:14:20 +0000

Did you think America’s first celebrity chef was Chef Boy-Ar-Dee? He was a mere toddler when J. Ranji Smile arrived in New York in 1899 to introduce curry dishes to the city’s high society. On Thursday evening, August 10 at 7:00 the Brooklyn Historical Society will present gastronomic historian Sarah Lohman and MIT scholar Vivek Bald, who will discuss Chef Smile’s “sometimes scandalous rise to fame and his lasting impact on American cuisine.” Admission is $10, or $5 for BHS members. There’s more information and buy tickets here.

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String Orchestra of Brooklyn Presents Summer Concert at St. Ann’s This Saturday Tue, 01 Aug 2017 03:10:24 +0000

This Saturday evening, August 5 at 8:00 the String Orchestra of Brooklyn will present a summer concert at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church. On the program are Mozart’s Symphony Number 41, “Jupiter” and Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” his musical adaptation of James Agee’s prose poem of the same title, featuring the soprano Kristina Bachrach (photo). Admission is a suggested donation of $15, but no one will be turned away. There’s more information here.

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Is The Brooklyn Heights Historic District a Mistake? Heights Resident Sandy Ikeda Thinks So Mon, 31 Jul 2017 03:24:02 +0000

Sandy Ikeda is a professor of economics at SUNY Purchase, and a resident of Brooklyn Heights. He’s also a very personable and bright guy, as your correspondent can attest, having gone on two Jane’s Walks through the Heights that he led, one several years ago and one this April. On each occasion he showed extensive knowledge of the neighborhood, including information that I, a resident of thirty years, didn’t know.

IMG_8039For example, I learned that the townhouse on Clinton Street in the photo above served, in the time just after the conclusion of World War II, as a halfway house for Japanese-Americans who had been interned in camps during the war.

IMG_8040Then there’s this plaque on the townhouse at the corner of Clinton and Livingston, that identifies it as having been the clubhouse of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, baseball champions in 1850, and one of whose pitchers may have invented the curve ball. The Excelsiors were lineal ancestors of the Brooklyn Dodgers, my first love in baseball, even though I lived nowhere near Brooklyn at the time.

Despite his knowledge of, and obvious love for, Brooklyn Heights, Sandy has argued here that the designation of Brooklyn Heights as a landmarked historic district was a mistake. He says he and others have benefited from it; they “enjoy the quiet and charm of a place nearly frozen in time – we basically live in a museum with restaurants.” The problem, he says, is that the restrictions imposed by landmarking have constrained how owners may use or dispose of their property and, for a more far-reaching effect, have limited the supply of housing over the whole local market, making it less affordable for all.

These were “Jane’s Walks,” and Sandy is an admirer of Jane Jacobs, whose The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities examined the question, “What makes cities work?” She championed the idea of the “neighborhood,” an area incorporating a mix of uses: residential, commercial, and public (schools, libraries, police and fire, parks) and a mix of old and new buildings housing people of diverse economic means. She opposed attempts to impose order or rationality through “urban renewal” schemes that were popular in the 1950s and ’60s. Neighborhoods, she thought, should be allowed to develop organically.

Jacobs also fought against the construction of highways through urban neighborhoods, which destroyed large parts of them and created divisions where none had existed before. Sandy noted with approval the efforts by Brooklyn Heights residents to keep Robert Moses from routing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Brooklyn Heights, an effort that caused Moses to re-route the highway to the edge of the bluff atop which the Heights sits, and to create the Promenade above it. Like Jacobs, Sandy saw Moses’ original plan to route the highway through the Heights as a heavy handed government intrusion into a neighborhood; one that would alter its character for the worse.

How, then, did landmark designation, which was brought about by local residents (though no doubt some were opposed) violate Jacobs’ principles? She believed neighborhoods should develop organically, but also (according to this brief bio) was “[a] firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop.” I didn’t put this question directly to Sandy during our Jane’s walk, but I think his answer would have been twofold: first, by tying their own hands with regard to the disposition of their properties, owners at the time of landmarking were also tying the hands of future generations of owners who had no voice in the matter; and second, that the wishes of the neighborhood’s residents in this respect were outweighed by the city’s need for greater density (which Jacobs also advocated) and the affordable housing this would make possible.

I haven’t found any indication that Jacobs took a position, pro or con, concerning the landmarking of Brooklyn Heights, which occurred a few years before she left New York for Toronto. I have learned, though, that Brooklyn Heights was her first home in New York City. She and her sister Betty lived on a block of Orange Street that, some time after they moved out, was demolished to make way for Moses’ Cadman Plaza housing development.

As Sandy and I walked along the Promenade, I asked him if, had Brooklyn Heights developed “organically,” we would be seeing a phalanx of high rises to our right instead of the backs of townhouses and their gardens. His first response was, “Yes,” but then he quickly added, “Well, you can’t really tell.” That’s true; real estate markets have their ups and downs, as do cities as preferred places to live. It’s also possible that the owners of townhouses along Columbia Heights might have made a pact not to sell to any developer. How enforceable that would be, and how long it could be effective, are relevant questions. It’s not unknown, though, for property owners to refuse a deal that would be lucrative in the short run in order to preserve a pleasant ambiance and the prospect of long term appreciation in value. This is just what happened when the owners at 75 Henry Street, part of the Cadman Plaza high rise complex, voted to say “no” to a developer’s offer that would have resulted in the construction of a new high rise on the location of the Pineapple Walk shops.


For better or worse, New York, and Brooklyn in particular, is now considered very desirable. My guess is that the Heights, without landmarking, would today have the phalanx facing the water and many, though not all (some still survive in Midtown East), stretches of attractive row houses (as in the photo above) demolished and replaced by tall buildings, casting many shadows over the neighborhood. The Columbia Heights phalanx would make the Promenade a less attractive place to visit. I think the Heights would still be largely a “residential monoculture,” as that seems, in economic terms, the “highest and best use” as determined by market demand. We’d still have restaurants, probably more of them, and perhaps more high end retail.

What Jane Jacobs may not have foreseen when she wrote her first two great books was that her beloved West Village would be overrun by, well, people like me: people who could afford $350 a month (in 1973) for a one bedroom in a gut rehabbed tenement; people with jobs in law firms (like me), ad agencies, or banks, but who harbored artistic pretensions and were looking for authenticity, instead of the sterility of the Upper East Side or, heaven forbid, the suburbs. This began a trend of gentrification that led to what my friend David Coles describes here. Much of the West Village, like the Heights, became a landmarked district. It also became devoid of what Jacobs praised: a mixture of uses and of people of differing economic circumstances.

The Heights went through a similar process of gentrification, well described with respect to Brooklyn generally by Suleiman Osman in his The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn. The early gentrifiers were in the vanguard of those seeking designation of the Heights as a historic district. Today it is a much less economically diverse community than it was in the 1960s and before, and commercial rents have risen considerably, forcing out some locally beloved stores, the latest being Housing Works. I believe, though, that these changes would have happened with or without landmarking. Any new high rises built in the Heights, because of its proximity to water and its pre-existing charm. would have commanded very high rentals or asking prices. Their combined effect would have been to make the neighborhood less attractive, but not enough to make it affordable for those of moderate means.

Jane Jacobs may not have foreseen gentrification, nor the ability of private developers to disrupt neighborhoods by (sometimes surreptitiously) acquiring assemblages of land and purchasing air rights in order to put up massive structures. I asked Sandy if he believed that private, as well as government, entities could impose on neighborhoods in ways that frustrated Jacobs’ notion of organic development. He unhesitatingly replied, “Yes.”

The question is, was the landmarking of the Heights worth it on a cost versus benefit basis? I would say it was. To Sandy’s first objection, that it puts a burden on property owners in the district, I would say: should the burden become too great for a majority of them, they may petition the city to remove it. To the objection that it constrains the supply of available housing, I would say that the constraint, in the case of the Heights, is minor. My further answer would go to less economic than, dare I say, historic and romantic considerations. I think it’s important to save some neighborhoods, like the Heights and the West Village, as reminders, imperfect as they may be, of what the city once was like, and of the history that played out in them; not only, as in the case of the Heights, that Washington’s army camped here in August of 1776 and that he planned his troops’ escape from Long Island here, or that many great artists, writers, and political figures have made homes here, but also in the more impressionistic words of Truman Capote in his A House on the Heights:

These houses bespeak an age of able servants and solid fireside ease, invoke specters of bearded seafaring father and bonneted stay-at-home wives: devoted parents to great broods of future bankers and fashionable brides.

Landmarking couldn’t save residential or commercial diversity in the Heights or the West Village, but lack of landmarking wouldn’t have, either. Indeed, it would likely, in my opinion, have made things worse.

Photos: C. Scales for BHB.

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Spielberg Turns Willow Street Into D.C.’s Georgetown Sat, 29 Jul 2017 03:19:42 +0000

If you were at the north end of Willow Street today, you may have seen lots of 1970s vintage cars parked there, including a cab with the paint scheme of a D.C. company. If you were lucky, you might have caught a glimpse of Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep playing, respectively, former Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katherine Graham. Director Steven Spielberg cast the North Heights as D.C.’s Georgetown, just as the Coen Brothers did for their Burn After Reading ten years ago. Spielberg’s new flick, which has the working title The Papers, is based on the 1971 Pentagon Papers incident. Read more, and see photos by local residents, as well as a comment by BHB favorite Andrew Porter, in Brownstoner.

Steven Spielberg photo: Helene C. Stikkel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Brooklyn Historical Society Shows How Hollywood Gets History Wrong, For Free! Fri, 28 Jul 2017 02:36:21 +0000

This coming Monday evening, July 31 at 6:30, the Brooklyn Historical Society begins a series of movie screenings, “Hollywood Does History… Poorly.” This series will “look at films that play fast and loose with history, often to absurd effect.” First in the series is Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, and George Carlin (Could anyone do absurd effect better than him?). Newsday’s film critic Rafer Guzman and Slate writer Kristen Meinzer will introduce the show (and, no doubt, tell you what it gets wrong). Admission for this (as for all films in this series) is free, but you should reserve tickets here.

Other films in the series are Disney’s Pocahontas (1995) at 6:30 on Monday evening, August 7; (reserve free tickets here), and Forrest Gump (1994) at 6:30 on Monday evening, August 10 at 6:30; reserve free tickets here.

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