Brooklyn Heights buildings with stories to tell
Eye On Real Estate: Gleaned from Robert Furman's 'Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America's First Suburb'
Every picture tells a story. So does every building, when you’re talking about Brooklyn Heights.
Robert Furman’s “Brooklyn Heights: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of America’s First Suburb,” tells the stories of scores of fascinating buildings both demolished and extant in the landmarked neighborhood, from the time when Native American inhabitants called it “Ihpetonga” to the present.
Instead of focusing on buildings such as Henry Ward Beecher’s Plymouth Church that have big stories to tell about the neighborhood’s past, we’ve picked out eight great buildings from his book that tell us interesting tidbits about Brooklyn Heights history.
Also, we scoured city Finance Department records — because real estate-obsessed readers will want to know who owns these buildings now.
* 24 Middagh St.: This stunning Federal-style clapboard home on the corner of Middagh and Willow streets might be the oldest surviving house in the neighborhood, Furman writes. Back in the 1930s, then-City Councilmember Genevieve Beavers Earle said the house had been built in the 1790s. Probably part of the house was moved to its current location from Brooklyn Ferry, Furman writes, citing preservationist par excellence Otis Pratt Pearsall.
The house is sometimes referred to as “the queen of Brooklyn Heights.” It has belonged since 1958 to various members of the Weisman family, Finance Department records indicate.
* 37 Willow St.: One of the first apartment houses constructed in New York City is right in Brooklyn Heights, Furman notes, on the corner of Willow and Cranberry streets.
The low-rise building with Queen Anne-style touches is called the Willows. It was designed by architect A. F. Norris and constructed in 1886.
In 1981, husband and wife Vito and Carolyn DeSimone bought the property for $230,000 in an estate sale, Finance Department records show.
* 19 Cranberry St.: Cher and her fictional family lived in this brick mansion on the corner of Willow Street in “Moonstruck,” the 1987 film that won her an Oscar for best actress.
The 1830s-vintage house, which later had a mansard roof added, is a magnet for film buffs.
Edwards (yes, this name is spelled with an “S”) and Josephine Rullman, who owned the house at the time of the film shoot, sold 19 Cranberry St. for $3.85 million in 2008 to James Lansill and Jane Gorrell, Finance Department records indicate.
* 80 Cranberry St.: Don’t be confused by the early 20th-Century Art Deco charms of the Cranlyn, the apartment building that occupies the corner of Cranberry and Henry streets.
This is the most historical site in Brooklyn Heights, Furman writes. It was formerly the location of the Brooklyn Armory, which was the headquarters of the New York State Militia’s Fourteenth Regiment, which fought in most of the big battles of the Civil War.
Before that, it was the location of the Apprentices’ Library, established as an educational center and “to keep young men out of grogshops,” Furman writes.
The Cranlyn, which was designed by prolific apartment-house architect H.I. Feldman, has an interesting pedigree in its own right, Finance Department records reveal. It belonged for many years to powerhouse real estate investor Sol Goldman, and is now owned by an LLC with his son Allan Goldman as its president.
Sol Goldman, who died in 1987, co-owned the Chrysler Building for 20 years. He assembled a portfolio of more than 600 properties. In 2013, The Real Deal estimated the value of his children’s Manhattan real estate holdings at about $6 billion.
* 142 Columbia Heights: This brownstone overlooking the Promenade is a must-see on tours of Literary Brooklyn Heights. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer, who died in 2007, lived in the top-floor apartment for many years.
After the death of his sixth wife Norris Church, Mailer’s children put the apartment up for sale in 2011 for a $2.5 million asking price. However, as the New York Times and several other publications reported, a would-be buyer who signed a contract to purchase it for $2.08 million later pulled out of the deal. The apartment was taken off the market.
To this day, the apartment remains unsold, Finance Department records indicate.
The apartments in the brownstone are co-ops. Two units belong to James Roberts and Lisa Starr, Finance Department records indicate. Last summer, the Buildings Department issued permits for construction to combine these two units and construct a staircase between them.
One unit belongs to Derick Betts Jr. and Suzanne Betts.
* 39 Pierrepont St.: Well-behaved women seldom make history.
Lucy Burns, who led the campaign for the passage of the Constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, lived at this Pierrepont Street house, Furman writes.
Burns — who graduated from Brooklyn Heights’ Packer Collegiate Institute as well as Vassar College and studied at Yale — picketed the White House after World War I was declared. While in jail, she was beaten and force-fed during hunger strikes.
Today, the stunning mustard-colored townhouse where she lived is divided into two condo units. One belongs to Lauren Pickett and the other to Scott McDonald, Finance Department records indicate.
* 82 Pierrepont St.: Herman Behr House was the home of a tennis pro who survived the sinking of the Titanic — plus plenty of other colorful things.
The Romanesque Revival-style building looks ever so genteel. But it was a brothel at one point, Furman writes. That was after it was turned into the Palm Hotel in 1919, and before it belonged to the St. Francis Monastery of the City of Brooklyn, which was from 1961 to 1976.
The property is currently being used as an apartment building.
The owner is Ari Sklar, who purchased it through an LLC for $10.89 million in 2008, Finance Department records show. The seller was Dorado Holding Corp., with Carl Zerbo as president.
* 84 Remsen St.: Lots of literature lovers can tell you where Arthur Miller lived in Brooklyn Heights. But do they know where the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright met Hollywood goddess Marilyn Monroe?
According to Furman, it was at 84 Remsen St., in the home of Norman Rosten, the late playwright, novelist and Poet Laureate of Brooklyn. Rosten and Miller had been friends since their days as students at the University of Michigan.
As everybody knows, Miller and Monroe did not live happily after. They married in 1956 and divorced five years later.
The Remsen Street brownstone where Rosten once lived now belongs to philanthropists Joseph and Diane Steinberg, Finance Department records indicate.
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