The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York

By Suleiman Osman | Go to book overview

3 The Middle Cityscape
of Brooklyn Heights

I live in Brooklyn, by choice.

—Truman Capote

In 1957, Truman Capote discovered Brownstone Brooklyn. In a travel article for Holiday magazine, the young author and new Brooklyn resident described his impressions of the “uninviting community” of Brooklyn, a vast, dreary proletarian space, “a veritable veldt of tawdriness where even the noms de quartiers aggravate: Flatbush and Flushing Avenue, Bushwick, Brownsville, Red Hook.” Yet in this dreary space, Capote found Brooklyn Heights, a lovely, unique neighborhood that was a sharp contrast to its drab surroundings. Capote thought Brooklyn Heights to be an isolated island of culture and civility amidst a sea of urban blandness. “In the greenless grime-gray,” he assured the reader, “oases do occur, splendid contradictions, hearty echoes of healthier days.”1

Sitting in the shadows of the modern towers of Concord Village and the Civic Center, in a borough that was indistinguishably gray, Brooklyn Heights was a rare sanctuary of a simpler past: an age of Victorian nobility, brownstone mansions, carriage horses, small shops and bakeries, and handcrafts. “These houses bespeak an age of able servants and solid fireside ease, invoke specters of bearded seafaring fathers and bonneted stay-at-home wives: devoted parents to great broods of future bankers and fashionable brides.”2 In an era of new and sterile department stores and suburban malls, Brooklyn Heights had small antique stores run by elderly eccentrics. Their diverse offerings were delightfully disorganized and eclectic: “pink apothecary jars from an old pharmacy, English brass, Barcelona lamps, French paperweights… Spanish saints, Korean cabinets; and junk, glorious junk, a jumble of ragged dolls, broken buttons, a stuffed kangaroo, an aviary of owls under a great glass bell, the playing pieces of obsolete games, the paper moneys of defunct governments.”3 Surrounded by drabness, Brooklyn Heights was a mélange of ethnic color. “There is a street of Gypsies, with Gypsy cafés (have your future foretold and be tattooed while sipping tankards of Moorish tea); there is also an Arab-Armenian quarter

-82-

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The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 3
  • 1- Urban Wilderness 17
  • 2- Concord Village 52
  • 3- The Middle Cityscape of Brooklyn Heights 82
  • 4- The Two Machines in the Garden 119
  • 5- The Highway in the Garden and the Literature of Gentrification 164
  • 6- Inventing Brownstone Brooklyn 189
  • 7- The Neighborhood Movement 233
  • Conclusion- Brownstone Brooklyn Invented 270
  • Abbreviations 281
  • Notes 283
  • Index 327
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