Perched on the East River waterfront and offering up stunning views of the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights is the borough’s most expensive neighborhood and attracts tourists by the busload.
The scenic neighborhood is known for its tree-lined streets, well-manicured public parks, and picturesque rows of stately brownstones and Greek and Gothic revival houses. The promenade, considered by many to be one the most romantic spots in New York City, is a favorite destination for tourists, joggers, strollers and weddings. The one-third of a mile long pier has popped up in the feature films Annie Hall and Moonstruck.
Located directly across the East River from Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights is bordered by Atlantic Avenue to the south, Cadman Park and Court Street to the east, the East River to the west, and Old Fulton Street to the north. This tony enclave has long been a haven for a number of New York’s most elite residents, notable personalities and literary figures.
Brooklyn Heights was also the first neighborhood protected by the 1965 Landmarks Preservation Law of New York City. Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims and our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Cathedral are also located in Brooklyn Heights.
When Thomas Fulton introduced the steam ferry in 1814 many considered Brooklyn Heights to be New York’s first commuter town with the ferry providing daily, reliable service from Brooklyn Heights to Wall Street.
Shortly after wealthy families, notable New Yorkers and well-to-do industrialists began moving to Brooklyn Heights to enjoy “all the advantages of the country with most of the conveniences of the city,” according to a local real estate agent. With the opening of the first subway in the early 20th century, vast numbers of New Yorkers began migrating to Brooklyn Heights.
The executive offices of the Brooklyn Dodgers were located for many years at the intersection of Montague and Court Street. A plaque on the building that replaced the Dodgers’ former headquarters at 215 Montague Street identifies it as the site where baseball player Jackie Robinson signed his landmark major league contract in 1945. He debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers (breaking major league baseball’s color line) on April 15, 1947.
By the 1950s, a new generation of property owners began moving into the Heights. They pioneered a Brownstone Revival by buying and renovating pre-civil war period houses. This movement culminated in the passage of the 1965 Landmarks Preservation Law. The details of this period are described in the 48-page illustrated book “Battling for Brooklyn Heights/New York’s First Historic District,” which is available on the website of the Brooklyn Historical Society.
The list of literary figures who have called Brooklyn Heights home is long and impressive. Arthur Miller, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Carson McCullers, Walt Whitman and Thomas Wolfe are just a few influential writers who have resided in the neighborhood.
Henry Miller, author of the infamously banned novels Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn moved into 91 Remsen Street with his wife June, in 1924. “It was a stunning place she had to rent, but far beyond our means,” Miller wrote of his Brooklyn Heights apartment in Plexus, book two of the fictionalized account of his early life, “I was convinced if we took it we’d be sunk.”
Henry and June were evicted from the Remsen Street digs a year later for failing to pay the rent. Actors Fred Ward and Uma Thurman portrayed the pair on the silver screen in the film “Henry and June” in 1990.
Brooklyn Heights Today
Many believe that the architectural preservation is part of the neighborhood’s allure and charm.
The yellow mansion at 70 Willow Street where Truman Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1958 recently sold for $12.5 million. According to city records, the sale is the most expensive in Brooklyn history as well as anywhere outside of Manhattan.
The affluent neighborhood continues to attract prominent New York personalities. Actors Paul Giamatti and Gabriel Byrne are current residents. Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick are in the process of purchasing a pair of townhouses in South Brooklyn Heights on State Street near Sidney Place.
Brooklyn Heights also continues to make cameos in feature films. The 2011 Romantic Comedy was filmed primarily in Brooklyn Heights. The neighborhood also was the setting for several television sit-coms including “The Cosby Show” and “The Patty Duke Show.”
Saint Francis College is located on Remsen Street and occupies half a city block. As of 2010, 2,000 full-time students and more than 400 part-time students from 80 countries attend the college. The school has been ranked by the New York Times as one of the more diverse colleges in the United States.
The area also attracts tourists and New Yorkers for its’ popular literary tours, and influx of art galleries and restaurants.
Christy Smith-Sloman is a staff writer for The Cooperator.