Dutch settlers founded Brooklyn in 1645. The village was sparsely populated until 1814, when Robert Fulton’s steam ferry first offered a means of quick travel to Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights became the island’s first suburb. On April 8, 1834 the New York State Legislature granted Brooklyn - at the time with a population of 25,000 - its city charter. The Heights became a magnet for the affluent and the popular Greek Revival style of the time became the predominant rowhouse along the streets. But you can still find clapboard Federal homes from a decade earlier in Brooklyn Heights. Later homes employed any manner of graceful architecture.
With more than 600 antebellum homes in the Heights the entire neighborhood was granted landmark status by New York City in 1965 - the first historic district so recognized. The designation halted any new construction, ironically at a time when the Heights was in decline. Brooklyn Heights has roared back with a vengeance and today a foot explorer can trace practically the entire history of New York residential design beginning in the 1820s.
Our walking tour will start in the eight acres of open space surrounded by government buildings in Cadman Plaza. The Reverend Doctor Samuel Parkes Cadman was a Brooklyn Congregational Church minister known far and wide for his oratory, and first to have his own regularly scheduled coast-to-coast radio sermon. For 36 years of his life, Cadman was pastor of the Central Congregational Church in Brooklyn and helped to found the Federated Council of Churches in America, which he headed from 1924-1928. After World War II this was the largest civic development project in the country ...
General Post Office
271 Cadman Plaza East, northeast corner of Johnson Street
The federal government announced its presence in Brooklyn with this massive granite building that functioned as a post office and courthouse. Designed in 1885 by Mifflin E. Bell, supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, the High Victorian Romanesque composition is stuffed with arches and roof dormers and turrets and was completed in 1892. In 1933 the federal building picked up a seven-story addition to handle the influx of government workers accompanying Great Depression relief efforts.
Henry Ward Beecher Statue
This rendering of abolitionist and famous Brooklynite Henry Ward Beecher is considered one of the finest works by sculptor John Quincy Adams Ward. The Ohio-born Ward is best known for his monumental depiction of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall on Wall Street. Here, the preacher stands among figures representing his work as a teacher and abolitionist, clad in flowing Inverness cape atop a granite pedestal designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Beecher’s reputation survived a “trial of the century” in 1875 for adultery with a married woman and this honorarium was unveiled in 1891, four years after his death.
New York Supreme Court Building
360 Adams Street, east side of Cadman Plaza
Established in 1691 by the Colony of New York, the Supreme Court is America’s oldest. There is a branch of the New York Supreme Court in each of New York State’s 62 counties. Its creator, the architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon carries quite a pedigree, having been responsible for the Empire State Building. But, with its strings of tiny windows, this is a much reviled building likened in some quarters to “a beached limestone whale.” The Supreme Court replaced a much-admired building by Rudolph L. Daus, the Hall of Records, and two bronze lamp standards from that structure were salvaged and placed at the south end here.
Court Street, facing Cadman Plaza
Born as City Hall for then decade-old Brooklyn in 1845, Borough Hall was designed by Gamaliel King who did architecture in his spare time. By trade he was a grocer and carpenter. King had actually been the runner-up in the 1835 competition to design City Hall to Calvin Pollard, a busy and prominent New York architect. A national Depression in 1837 scuttled building plans and by the time work resumed Pollard was elsewhere. King retained much of Pollard’s Greek Revival design although today the original architect is completely forgotten - by ill luck not one of his New York buildings survives. The center cupola was added in 1898, the year Brooklyn was consolidated into New York City.
WALK PAST BOROUGH HALL ONE BLOCK DOWN COURT STREET.
Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce Building
75 Livingston Street, northwest corner of Court Street
Now a residential co-op, this 30-story crown jewel in the new Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District is one of the town’s most dramatic towers. Architect Abraham J. Simberg may be the most unlikely author of a New York City landmark - he had no major commissions before or since. Completed in 1927, the Neo-Gothic skyscraper is awash in setbacks and terra cotta parapets. Despite the applause on its unveiling the onset of the Great Depression dried up any hopes the Ukranian-born Simberg had for future projects. After renovating some tenements Simberg moved to Florida with only this monument to his legacy.
RETURN UP COURT STREET TO CADMAN PLAZA AND TURN LEFT ON MONTAGUE STREET.
Municipal Credit Union Building
185 Montague Street
Harvey Wiley Corbett was a San Francisco native known for his skyscraper work in New York and London, In his fifties Corbett was one of the architects involved in Rockefeller Center during the 1920s. He resigned to work on a 100-story tower planned to be the tallest in the world. It never got built but Corbett continued to champion modern skyscrapers and this high-style traceried Art Deco scraper came along in 1930.
People’s Trust Company (Citibank)
183 Montague Street
Architects Louis Montayne Mowbray and Justin Maximo Uffinger formed a partnership in New York City in 1895 and designed over 400 banks over the next three decades. This banking temple with a full-width triangular pediment and chock full of sculpted allegorical figures was a 1903 creation. A quartet of fluted Corinthian columns frame the entrance.
Brooklyn Trust Company
177 Montague Street
Edward York and Philip Sawyer were another pair of architects known for their bank work after teaming up in 1898. With engaged Corinthian columns above a monumental entrance arch this is has been hailed as one of their best banks. The griffins and turtles symbolize longevity and the eagles and lions exude strength and vigilance. Fronting it all are outstanding bronze lamp standards. The bank opened in 1915.
Holy Trinity Church
157 Montague Street on northwest corner of Montague and Clinton streets
The Holy Trinity parish was organized in 1837 and construction on this Gothic Revival complex began in 1844. When it was finished three years later some considered it the finest achievement by noted church architect Minard Lafever, who began his professional life as a carpenter in 1820. His pattern book helped champion the spread of the Gothic Revival style in America. At the time Holy Trinity was the largest church in Brooklyn. The windows, designed by William Jay Bolton and John Bolton, represent the first major installation of stained glass in America. This church was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
TURN RIGHT ON CLINTON STREET.
Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street, southwest corner of Clinton and Pierrepont streets
Henry Pierrepont got the Long Island Historical Society rolling in 1863 and staged a design competition for a new home in 1878. Besting 13 other submissions, the winner was George B. Post, one of the leading cheerleaders for the Renaissance Revival style. His design here was a grab bag of Corinthian influences infused with Victorian flourishes; it was the first building in New York City to exploit ornamental terra cotta extensively. In 1985 the Long Island Historical Society became the Brooklyn Historical Society.
TURN LEFT ON PIERREPONT STREET.
First Unitarian Church
northeast corner of Pierrepont Street and Monroe Place
Minard Lafever was a busy church designer in Brooklyn Heights with half a dozen projects in the immediate vicinity. Most are long gone but this Gothic-influenced brownstone laid in random ashlar survives from 1844.
New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division
northwest corner of Pierrepont Street and Monroe Place
This is a rare municipal commission for one of Brooklyn’s busiest architectural firms of the early twentieth century, John Bay Slee and Robert Bryson. Working in the 1930s when most forward-looking designers were embracing the new International style, Slee and Bryson opted for a stately limestone courthouse along classical lines with Doric columns flanking a fine pedimented bronze entrance.
Herman Behr Mansion
84 Pierrepont Street; southwest corner of Pierrepont and Henry streets
Go-to Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman created one of the city’s best Richardsonian Romanesque Revival houses here in 1890 for industrialist Herman Behr. It features such hallmarks of the style as prominent gables, turrets, rough-cut stone, arched windows and recessed entrance. Behr’s son, Karl Howell Behr, was an accomplished tennis player who would reach the finals of the United States Open, several months after he was plucked from the North Atlantic after the RMS Titanic sank to the bottom. Another son, Max, was an accomplished golfer. The Behr family moved to upstate New York in 1919 and the house was enlarged to become the Palm Hotel in 1919 and was later a brothel operated by Xaviera Hollander of Happy Hooker fame. When it sold in 2008, the price tag was $11 million.
TURN LEFT ON HICKS STREET AND GO THREE BLOCKS TO GRACE COURT.
southwest corner of Hicks Street and Grace Court
America’s leading cheerleader for the Gothic Revival style, Richard Upjohn, executed a superb brownstone church for the Episcopal congregation here in 1847. Executed in red-gray New jersey sandstone with an enormous traceried window set among pinnacles and finials, the church hosted its first service on December 10, 1848. The price tag was $46,737.52.
HEAD BACK NORTH ON HICKS STREET AND TURN LEFT ON MONTAGUE STREET.
75 Montague Street
The Heights Casino was founded in 1904 as a private, community squash, tennis and social club. When this Flemish Revival clubhouse opened in 1905 the New York Times was moved to gush, “No other clubhouse in America is quite like the Casino, for it will combine in the heart of the city many of the attractive features of a country club.” A century later the club is still going strong, thanks to an end to restrictive policies in the 1950s barring Jews, blacks and “new money.”
TURN RIGHT ON PIERREPONT PLACE.
Alexander M. White and Abiel Abbot Low Houses
2 and 3 Pierrepont Place
These twins have been referred to as “the most elegant pair of brownstones remaining in New York.” Built in 1857 on plans drawn by Frederick A. Peterson, these bold Italianates feature strong corner quoining and paired piers with Corinthian capitals below massive entablatures. Abiel Abbot low was one of twelve children in a Salem, Massachusetts family who made his fortune in the China tea and opium trade. Among other ventures, Low invested in railroads and the laying of the first transAtlantic cable and gave freely to Brooklyn causes such as the library and women’s education. Alexander M. White was a fur dealer whose son, Alfred Tredway White, came to be known as “the great heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self” for his long-time crusading for better housing and his forty years as a deacon in the First Unitarian Church of Brooklyn.
Columbia Heights at Middagh Street
The 1/3-mile Promenade that serves up unobstructed views across the East River to lower Manhattan was the inspiration of master builder Robert Moses, who also tried to run the Brooklyn Queens Expressway directly through Brooklyn Heights. Completed in 1941, the Promenade is cantilevered atop the BQE. The best views of the Brooklyn Bridge anywhere are found on the Promenade.
LEAVE THE PROMENADE AND WALK AWAY FROM THE WATER ALONG CLARK STREET.
Leverich Towers Hotel
Willow and Clark streets
The 1928 Leverich Towers Hotel was once Brooklyn’s priciest night’s stay. The Brooklyn Dodgers stayed here during homestands. Moneyman A. Lyle Leverich poured an estimated $4 million into its construction. The architectural firm of Starrett & van Vleck, known for their construction of burly downtown department stores, designed the Venetian Renaissance structure. Leverich took his own life when the hotel was forced into receivership during the Great Depression; it would later reopen as The Towers. The building has been completely renovated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for their world headquarters. Residents spend their time reproducing Bibles and biblical literature.
Hotel St. George
block bounded by Clark Street, Pineapple Street, Hicks Street and Henry Street
The Hotel St. George greeted its first guests in 1885 when it was a modest 30-room hostelry. Over the next half-century another seven buildings, most dramatically the 400-foot high St. George Tower, would be added to the complex that would swallow an entire block as it became New York’s largest hotel with 2,632 rooms. There were plenty of other “ests” as well. The ballroom was said to be the largest in the world, the indoor saltwater pool was the largest in America and maybe the world, the incinerator - capable of burning 26 tons of refuge a day - was the largest private one in the world. And so on. Over the years most of the rooms have been converted to co-op apartments and student housing. The last remaining part of the St. George that still operated as a hotel was gutted by fire in the summer of 1995.
TURN LEFT ON HENRY STREET AND LEFT ON PINEAPPLE STREET TO WILLOW STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN RIGHT ONTO ORANGE STREET.
Robert White House
northeast corner of Orange Street and Willow Street
This Federal-era house dates to 1825. Notice the brick laid in Flemish bond (alternating long bricks called “stretchers” and end pieces called “headers”) and stone lintels over the windows.
Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims
Orange Street between Henry and Hicks streets
Built shortly after the organization of this congregation in 1847, this was the pulpit of fiery abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe. The church itself was a station on the underground railroad. The simple barn-like design features pews arranged in arcs in front of the pulpit that became a prototype for Protestant congregations around the country. The statue of Beecher in the churchyard is by Gutzon Borglum who went on to blast Mount Rushmore out of the Black Hills of South Dakota.
TURN LEFT ON HENRY STREET AND LEFT ON CRANBERRY STREET.
19 Cranberry Street
The four-story corner house at Cranberry and Willow with a mansard roof appeared prominently in the 1987 romantic comedy, Moonstruck. At one point in the movie Cher is seen kicking a can wistfully down Cranberry Street and the house is the focus of a tart exchange between Olympia Dukakis and a romantic interest. When the house sold for $4,000,000 in 2008 the long-time owner noted wryly that the selling price was 100 times what he paid for it fifty years earlier.
TURN RIGHT ON WILLOW STREET.
22 Willow Street
Willow Street is one of the prettiest of Brooklyn Heights’ streets. Henry Ward Beecher lived in this house that sits in the middle of a row of Greek Revival brick townhouses with brownstone basements. The front fences and stoop railings are original.
Eugene Boisselet House
24 Middagh Street, southeast corner of Willow Street
The northern streets of Brooklyn Heights are peppered with Federal-style frame houses that are pushing 200 years and this one, built in 1824, is the best of the bunch. A pair of perfectly proportioned dormers peer out from the steeply pitched roof. The wide door treatment of the clapboard house with leaded glass sidelights and transom is a standout of the form.
TURN LEFT ON MIDDAGH STREET AND RIGHT ON COLUMBIA HEIGHTS TO WATER STREET UNDER THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE.
Fulton Ferry Landing
East River at Brooklyn Bridge
After destroying George Washington’s Continental advance line in the Battle of Long Island in August of 1776 an overconfident Sir William Howe hesitated in moving against the main army huddling in Brooklyn Heights. He settled for entrenchments which became the earthen star fort, Fort Putnam in what is now Fort Greene Park. Fearing an entrapment, Washington sailed away from this spot on the night of August 29. Although surprised at the disappearance of his quarry Howe and his fellow officers were not overly concerned. They were certain this little insurgency was just about over. Instead, Washington had saved a young nation. In 1814, Robert Fulton launched the first commercially successful steamboat from here, initiating rapid transit between Brooklyn and Manhattan and paving the way for Brooklyn Height to become Manhattan’s first suburb.In 1871 John Augustus Roebling, designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, suffered a fatal accident here when his foot was crushed against a wooden piling as one of the estimated 1,200 daily ferryboats was docking. He died of tetanus a few weeks later and his son Washington Augustus Roebling shepherded the bridge to completion.
WALK AWAY FROM THE EAST RIVER ON OLD FULTON STREET.
19 Old Fulton Street
Many swear this is the best pizza in America. Frank Sinatra was one; he was said to have pies delivered to him out on tour. Others are not so sure. You’ll probably have to wait an hour or so outside to find out and pies (Brooklyn-style thin crust) only. No slices.
The Brooklyn Bridge
pedestrian access on the west side of the bridge approach opposite Old Fulton Street and Henry Street
When the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 as the world’s longest suspension bridge some 150,000 strollers parted with a penny apiece to take the 30-minute, 6,016-foot walk across the bridge. The Gothic arches rise 271 feet above the East River - the culmination of 13 years and 20 deaths required to build it. Brooklyn homeboy Walt Whitman declared an outing on the elevated walkway to be “the best, most effective medicine my soul has yet partaken.”
CONTINUE TO CADMAN PLAZA AND THE START OF THE WALKING TOUR. FOR ADDITIONAL TOURING...
WALK DOWN FULTON STREET, SOUTHEAST OF BOROUGH HALL.
Fulton Street that today runs from the East River along the Brooklyn Bridge, across the pedestrian esplanade of Cadman Plaza and around Borough Hall to begin a straight run from Adams Street into the heart of Brooklyn, began life centuries earlier as an Indian path across Long Island. When European settlers arrived it became the Ferry Road. The initial segment from Adams today functions as an outdoor commercial center called the Fulton Mall...
TURN LEFT FROM FULTON STREET ONTO JAY STREET AND CROSS WILLOUGHBY STREET.
Jay Street Firehouse
365-67 Jay Street between Willoughby Street and Myrtle Street
Designed by eminent Brooklyn architect Frank Freeman in 1892, this is one of his best. The multi-textured fire house rises above the middle of the block with rough-faced red sandstone, yellow Roman brick and terra cotta in an exuberant Romanesque style.
370 Jay Street
Peek in at the stylized subway stanchions from 1950.
RETURN TO FULTON STREET AND TURN LEFT; TURN LEFT ON DEKALB AVENUE.
386 Flatbush at the northwest corner of DeKalb Avenue
In 1950, restaurant Founder Harry Rosen and Master Baker Eigel Peterson, created and produced what is now known as the World’s Most Fabulous Cheesecake.
Fort Greene Park
DeKalb Avenue, St. Edwards Street, Myrtle Avenue, and Cumberland Street.
This site of the former British Fort Putnam during the American Revolution became a park in 1815, named for Major General Nathanael Greene. The “Martyrs’ Monument,” designed by legendary architect Stanford White, is dedicated to the Continental soldiers who died on British prison ships in Wallabout Bay. Such ships as the Jersey were virtually floating tombs - filthy, disease-ridden and crowded with Patriot supporters. The deceased were often thrown into shallow graves on the shores of the bay. The remains of many were collected and placed in the crypt marked by the 145-foot granite column, dedicated in 1908.
RETURN TO DEKALB AVENUE AND WALK BACK TO ASHLAND PLACE AND TURN LEFT.
Brooklyn Academy of Music
southeast corner of Ashland Place and Lafayette Avenue
The curtain went up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the first time on January 15, 1861 with a performance of selections from Mozart and Verdi. A week later First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, was in the audience. The first stage, located on Montague Street, burned in 1903 and this Beaux Arts replacement has housed the world-famous Academy since 1908.
Williamsburgh Savings Bank
1 Hanson Place
You will seldom see such a grand skyscraper so clearly from any angle. The 512-foot tower, the second tallest building on Long Island, was erected by the Williamsburgh Savings Bank in 1929 as the Pied Piper for businesses to the Fort Greene area. Not one followed and the Byzantine/Romanesque tower is the highest thing for many blocks in every direction. The four-sided clock on the tower was the largest in the world at the time and has seldom been surpassed since.
WALK BACK UP FLATBUSH AVENUE TO FULTON STREET AND TURN LEFT TO RETURN TO CADMAN PLAZA.