Brooklyn Heights

A new look for 70 Willow St., the Brooklyn Heights landmark where Truman Capote lived

Eye on Real Estate: Iconic yellow mansion is red now

January 27, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Truman Capote, shown here in a 1953 photo with actress Gina Lollobrigida, would be surprised if he saw what color 70 Willow St. is now. AP Photo/Jim Pringle
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To hell with your nostalgia, Heights literature lovers!

That’s the message from the folks who are renovating 70 Willow St., the “elegant yellow mansion” where Truman Capote worked on “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.”

The 1830s-vintage Greek Revival-style house’s façade is red now.

The yellow paint that helped make 70 Willow an instantly recognizable Brooklyn Heights Historic District icon has been stripped off most of the orangy-red brick.

Construction netting covers the upper floors of the $12.5 million house. (That’s what “Grand Theft Auto” video-game creator Dan Houser and his wife Krystyna paid for it in 2012.) On the ground floor, where there’s no shroud, the paint-free brick is there in full view of passersby.

City tourism organization NYC & Company needs to change 70 Willow’s listing in its online tour guide, That’s where the phrase “elegant yellow mansion” comes from.

The removal of the yellow paint was one of the proposed alterations that the city Landmarks Preservation Commission approved last year for the famous house. Nevertheless, our nostalgia-steeped brain harbored a tiny hope that the Housers might change their minds about changing the house color.

Was there any chance that stripping the brick bare is a step to prep 70 Willow for a fresh coat of yellow paint? we wondered.

When we were walking up Willow Street the other day, we posed the question to a group of men who were fussing with the scaffolding on the front of the house. They were dressed for white-collar office jobs rather than construction. Construction workers are always courteous to us, wherever we encounter them.

“Yellow like urine?” one of the men disdainfully replied.

No, young man. Yellow like butter. Yellow like sunshine. Yellow like the color that bookish old Brooklynites — and legions of tourists — remember when 70 Willow comes to mind.

The mansion was yellow when a man of impeccable taste, Broadway set designer and American Ballet Theatre co-director Oliver Smith, owned it. It was Smith who let Capote live in 70 Willow’s basement apartment from 1955 to 1965.

As other writers who are mindful of the full history of the beloved house will tell you, it was built by Adrian Van Sinderen, a member of a Dutch family who came to Brooklyn in the late 1700s.

A leader of the Anti-Suffragette Movement, Caroline Haines Putnam, lived at 70 Willow from the 1880s until her death in 1940.

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