Boerum Hill

A salute to Boerum Hill’s brownstoners of yesteryear

Eye on Real Estate

November 22, 2017 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Welcome to Boerum Hill, where brownstoners renovated hundreds of 19th-century homes in the 1960s and 1970s. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

This is a salute to the brownstoners of yesteryear in Boerum Hill.

Back in the 1960s, the neighborhood was known as North Gowanus.

Brownstoners, as they were called, moved into 19th-century rowhouses in the area that were threatened with demolition and reclaimed them from decay.

The Boerum Hill Association, which was founded in 1963, encouraged the brownstoners to invest in the area.

A New York Magazine story published in 1970 describes the original members of the association as “virtually the last remnant of the once-fashionable area’s middle-class population.”

Their goals were to improve conditions in North Gowanus — which had become “one of the city’s worst sumps of poverty and human despair,” the New York Magazine story says — and draw other middle-income residents to it.

The late Helen Buckler set up the meeting at which the association was created. At that time, she was a new arrival to the area, having recently purchased a house at 238 Dean St.

She came up with the name “Boerum Hill” for their neighborhood.

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According to a New Yorker story published in 1977, a curator at the Long Island Historical Society (now known as the Brooklyn Historical Society) in Brooklyn Heights recommended she choose a historical name for her neighborhood. Initially, Buckler had thought about christening the neighborhood “Sycamore Hill.”

The curator showed her 18th-century maps of the area’s farms and homesteads.

Buckler found the Boerum family’s name on the maps.

Simon Boerum served in New York’s colonial Assembly and was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He would have been a signer of the Declaration of Independence if he hadn’t died in 1775.

Initially, mortgages were hard to get

So. About the brownstoners in Boerum Hill.

At first, just a few people bought and renovated 19th-century houses in the neighborhood, the New Yorker story recounts.

Initially, bankers at many financial institutions refused to make loans for Boerum Hill house purchases. But eventually some mortgage lenders changed their minds.

And the brownstoners’ numbers in the neighborhood swelled. By the time the New Yorker story was published, they had bought and renovated more than 300 Boerum Hill houses.

The Boerum Hill Association lives on. Thanks to the association’s long-running preservation-advocacy efforts, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission recently calendered a proposal to expand the size of the neighborhood’s historic district.

See related stories, shown below, about the blocks that comprise the proposed Boerum Hill Historic District Extension.



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