Magazine article The New Yorker

EMIGRES; HOUSING DEPT. Series: 5/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

EMIGRES; HOUSING DEPT. Series: 5/5

Article excerpt

One recent Saturday afternoon, some three hundred and sixty years after Dutch settlers chartered the town of Breuckelen, representatives of a more recent migration were milling around the back patio of one of the borough's newer bars. They had come to toast the first birthday of Brownstoner, a blog professing "an unhealthy obsession with historic Brooklyn brownstones and the neighborhoods and lifestyles they define." The party was in Red Hook, Brooklyn's defunct dock district, so there were no brownstones in sight, but the bar's name (Pioneer Bar-B-Q) and the up-and-coming character of the neighborhood (Ikea and Fairway due to arrive soon) fit the spirit of the occasion.

Brownstoner is a virtual back fence for Brooklyn real-estate watchers. In frequent postings, its users vet listings, trade tips on brokers and neighborhoods, and gossip about who saw what at which open house. "That place is a 'five minute walk to Prospect Park' only if you're a giraffe," Linusvanpelt wrote recently. "Why is the Chester Court listing so relatively affordable?" Clinton hillbilly said. "Was someone murdered there or something?"

The blog's founder, who works on Wall Street and who last year bought a fixer-upper in Clinton Hill, is known to readers as Brownstoner; his wife is Mrs. Brownstoner, or Mrs. B. Like Mr. and Mrs. B., most of the guests at the party were in their thirties; many wore expensive jeans and sneakers, and a disproportionate number of them had on eyeglasses with square frames. They travelled in pairs, towing a stroller and a child or two, and lived in neighborhoods that they described in optimistic tones as "improving," including not only Clinton Hill but also Windsor Terrace, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights.

The group had its own vernacular, sprinkled with terms like "pocket door," "parquet," "gut reno," "Farrow & Ball" (a brand of English paint with extra pigment), and the verb "to rehab" (as in, "I bought a single-family house from a Louisiana minister. There were illegal tenants, one of whom died in contract. And then I rehabbed it"). Some expressed feelings of connection to a bygone era. One woman on her move to Clinton Hill: "I was reading a lot of Edith Wharton last summer, and it seemed so appropriate."

As Beck played over the loudspeakers and children tossed horseshoes, adults drank bottles of Stella Artois, gnawed on ribs, and compared notes about their paths to the outer boroughs. "It was my dream, when I first found Brooklyn, to own a brownstone," one transplant from Manhattan to Crown Heights by way of Park Slope said. …

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