The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some Perspective From A 55 Year Gentrifier In Brooklyn Heights

I had an interesting exchange with a gentleman who participated in the REAL begining of the Brownstoning movement. Here it is, for your voyeuristic reading pleasure:

In 1957 my wife and I bought a townhouse in Brklyn Heights.  We wanted a real neighborhood with real neighbors who would share in our interests in living with improved schools, nice shopping, clean streets, personal security and the rest of all those good things that make a great neighborhood.  We are still here.  And so are many of our friends and neighbors from 30, 40 and 56 years ago.

Aren't those the real values, the kind of good quality of life values that Prospect Lefferts is seeking.  You don't want to be overrun by huge dormitories for Manhattan workers.  What it boils down to is that you want to preserve and even improve the neighborhood.

You and your blog kibbitzers would find the story of how the Heights beat off the Big Developers including the master himself --- Robert Moses --- and re-created from a pretty run-down area the solid, stable, child-rearing neighborhood we have had for decades.  No more threats from over-development.  And, lots of people who want to put down roots. You can see it all and maybe be inspired by the 13-minute video, "Brooklyn is My Neighborhood"

There is also a printed version of the same story. Bottom line:  It takes more than costly law suits; you need a united neighborhood favoring the same fundamental values.
I wish you and your fellow neighborhood protectors the best.
Let me know if there is anything in our successful history that might usefully be shared with your threatened area. 

BTW: I am 85-years-old and am comfortably retired from a long career in public affairs.
To which I replied:

Thanks for the reality check! I wonder though, and please remind me. Was there a racial element to the Brooklyn Heights changes? In other words, were blacks replaced by whites?

There were transient people of all colors.  The picture then was that the St. George Hotel, which eventually morphed into a huge dorm for college students of all colors, was being used by the City as a dump for welfare and homeless folks.  The once-fancy brownstones had become run-down and neglected multiple dwellings owned by absentee landlords.  Color was just not an issue.  Permanent ownership was the driving force.  And it was good and fair all around. In other words, all anyone needed, other than a few bucks, were the motives and the willingness to take on the hard task of long time ownership.

Remember, at one point in this neighborhood, Jews were not welcome.  Blacks and Latinos, of course not. That all changed and today this is an open and welcoming nabe for anyone who wants to be a Brooklynite. Perhaps you may want to widen your horizon.  Take a look at the video. 

I suppose in all honesty I must admit I was being a bit coy. Longtime readers of the Q will know I have a pretty firm grasp of gentrification and its history in NYC. The story of Brooklyn Heights is great lore, as is the Jane Jacobsing of Greenwich Village that immediately preceded it.

It's interesting to note that the building that sold $20K in the classified ad of the video back in the '50s can now likely fetch $7-10 million. So as beautiful as the Heights is, and it sure is beautiful, to me it's become something of a museum. The people who valiantly fought to keep the neighborhood intact and protected were mostly of the middle class professional variety. The people who buy and move into the Heights now are One Percenters. No one would argue for the destruction of the Heights in favor of middle class or affordable housing - it's become a treasure of the City. But it makes you wonder, in a world that grows ever more populous, what's in store for the future of landmarking? When houses go from 8-12 people renting to just 2, 3 or 4 owning, is that helping or hurting the quest for affordable housing? Just a question, not an argument.


babs said...

My first apartment after college was in Brooklyn Heights. This was in 1981, and I remember the old St. George Hotel well, with its vagrants and homeless types. Now it's a dorm for students - another group of transients, united with former residents in their boisterousness and addiction to tobacco.

But even back then the Heights was way better and safer than any other Brooklyn neighborhood, as well as many in Manhattan - and its location can't be beat.

kingscounty said...

Yeah, if BH is what success looks like, get me outta here.

Alex said...

I don't see the parallels. Additionally, BH is now incredibly expensive and exclusive (as are nearby neighborhoods).

The Robert Moses inspired development that he's referring to might be Moses' attempt to build the Brooklyn Battery Bridge instead of the tunnel, which would have cleared huge portions of not only Brooklyn Heights but much of Manhattan starting as far up as Washington Square, plowing through the West Village and Tribeca. Many forces acted to prevent that from happening (Jane Jacobs, for one). It's an extreme case.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

No, actually he's referring to the plan to get rid of HUGE chunks of the neighborhood for massive apartment complex, part of the grand Cadman Plaza project that would have dug into Boerum Hill too. Interesting to note that that whole area is really not that old. Had Moses succeeded, you would certainly not recognize the neighborhood that it is today.

I give credit to this generation. They did a remarkable job. However, the big difference is that (it sounds like, though I don't trust the depiction) Brooklyn Heights was not a cohesive neighborhood like Lefferts.

Come to think of it, that's probably an inaccurate perspective all together.

Martin: what exactly is this claim that all of Brooklyn Heights were boarding houses and transients? That sounds like some of the bullshit claims developers like to make today. I'll bet YOUR Brownstoning movement displaced tons of families too, some probably long-timers who were not so pleased by the new moneyed house-buyers. I would be happy to be proven wrong, but perhaps hindsight is not so 20-20?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Oh, and the triumphant classical music in the video is really awful. I'd change it. It actually makes the project seem all the more colonial.

That said, I love the Heights. It just never occurs to 99% of us that we could ever afford to live there.

Doesn't that matter?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

By the way, Barbara. I LOVE your profile picture!!

Carla said...

The primary cause of demolition would have in fact been running the BQE right through the middle of the Heights. The promenade was one result of the fight, a public park enjoyable by all. As for the saving iof the neighborhood in the late 50s and early 60s, I can assure you that for at least the first 20 years, the area, while indisputably a prime location, remained relatively humble. Of course there were the handful of "nicer" apartment buildings and a few primo blocks, but mostly owner-occupied multi family homes and the legacy row houses turned apt buildings (which mostly happened "between the wars" - 1920-1940 - and immediately after WW2). In fact my parents bought their house, which had five floor-thru apts, and lived in the basement apartment while renting out the upper floors, which they do to this day. As a kid in the 60s and 70s, I knew people on every block in the neighborhood. Historic district status isn't the cause of subsequent extreme gentrification - there are larger forces at work.

babs said...

Thanks, Mr. FB - that's actually my grandmother.