Stroll down Bergen Street from Boerum Hill to Brownsville | Part One
Eye on Real Estate: You can walk from Boerum Hill to Brownsville on Bergen Street. What a fine stroll.
There are pre-Civil War brick rowhouses, an industrial area that residents want to rezone, clusters of Romanesque Revival homes and elegant churches.
You can walk this route in a single day if you aren’t an obsessive-photo taker. But I am, so I split the stroll into two successive days — and two separate stories. This is Part One.
Bergen Street begins at Court Street. If you don’t live close enough to walk here, take the 2, 3, 4, 5 or R subway to august, landmarked Brooklyn Borough Hall and stroll several blocks.
Court Street is full of interesting shops — and movie theaters, which is a great thing, since there aren’t as many of them in Brooklyn as old-school filmgoers would like. Be sure to come back another time and plan to stay a while.
On the first block of the walk, you’ll see an eye-catching cluster of wood-frame rowhouses from 26 to 36 Bergen St. They are painted pastel colors, like Easter eggs.
On the other side of the street, old brick houses alternate with new low-rise multi-family buildings.
Near the intersection of Smith Street, there are upscale stores such as eyeglasses seller Warby Parker (55 Bergen St.) on the ground floors of the residential buildings.
When I got to Smith Street, I was tempted to make a detour and spend the whole day there, photographing the restaurants and bars and shops.
Instead, I stopped at Van Leeuwen Ice Cream (81 Bergen St.) which is open at breakfast time, bless their hearts. Yeah, it was early in the day. But a signboard out front mentioned seasonal flavors, like pumpkin cheesecake ice cream.
If caffeine is your preferred fuel for a walk, Single Origin (85 Bergen St.) will make you a cup of coffee.
The Humphrey Bogart angle
Since we’re focusing on Bergen Street, surely you’ll want to know where its name comes from.
The Bergens were one of Brooklyn’s prominent families in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The clan descended from a ship’s carpenter from Bergen, Norway, named Hans Hansen Bergen, who came to Dutch-controlled New Amsterdam (present-day lower Manhattan) in the 1630s, Leonard Benardo and Jennifer Weiss’s book “Brooklyn By Name” says.
Bergen married Sara Rapalje and they moved to an estate near the present-day Brooklyn Navy Yard, a posting on the Bowery Boys Podcast’s blog says. Rapalje was the first female child born to European parents in New Netherland (a Dutch colony stretching from Albany to Delaware).
Rapalje remarried after Bergen died. Her second husband was named Teunis Gysbertsen Bogaert. Beloved actor Humphrey Bogart was one of their descendants, a posting on New Netherland Research Center’s website says.
Pre-Civil War rowhouses
Several blocks of Bergen Street are located within the Boerum Hill Historic District, which was designated in 1973, or the Boerum Hill Historic District Extension, which was designated in 2018 thanks to the Boerum Hill Association’s persistent advocacy.
The earliest rowhouses in these landmarked areas were constructed in the late 1840s and early 1850s. Many others were built in the 1860s and 1870s.
On Bergen Street, the landmarked sections of Boerum Hill start soon after you cross Smith Street and end at the intersection of Nevins Street.
One of my favorite spots on this part of the walk is the seven-house brick row from 106 to 118 Bergen St. A developer named Joseph C. Billin constructed the Italianate-style houses in 1867, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report about the Boerum Hill Historic District Extension says.
The house in the middle of the row, 110 Bergen St., is painted a soft creamy color that makes the red-hued brick homes on either side look especially pretty.
The beauty and tranquility of these blocks will soothe your brain a bit, which is helpful given all the vexations that come with living in America these days.
Halloween decorations and potted plants
Another eye-catching block starts at the corner of Hoyt Street, where a slim residential building at 133 Bergen St. was constructed around 1872.
Next to it, there’s a row of brick houses with Italianate features from 135 to 163 Bergen St.
A builder named John Monas constructed the homes between 1871 and 1873, the Boerum Hill Historic District’s designation report says.
Lots of people have Halloween decorations on their stoops, which is fun to see. Though it’s October, lush foliage on the trees is mostly summer-time green. Flowers are still growing in some of the front gardens.
Keep your eyes peeled for the potted plants with enormous leaves on the balconettes, stoop and front patio of 226 Bergen St. They’re fabulous.
By the way, this house is part of a long row of Italianate-style brick homes constructed for Helen Martense in 1855, the Boerum Hill Historic District Extension’s designation report says.
In the mid-19th century, the Martense family was one of the big landowners in what is now called Boerum Hill, along with the Hoyt, Nevins and Gerritsen families, the book “Brooklyn by Name” says.
The House of Pain
As you continue your Bergen Street stroll, you’ll pass the Veterinary Wellness Center of Boerum Hill, which is at 96 Third Ave. There are entrances on different sides of the building for cats and dogs. The vet’s website explains there are separate hospitals for felines and canines to help reduce the stress that pet patients experience during their treatment.
When you get to busy Fourth Avenue, be sure to stop in the median strip for a look at Brooklyn’s best-known landmark, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank.
The 512-foot tower topped with a four-sided clock looms large though it’s several blocks away at 1 Hanson Place.
The neo-Romanesque building was constructed between 1927 and 1929. Architecture firm Halsey, McCormack & Helmer designed it.
These days, it’s a residential condo building — but you might remember it was called the House of Pain for many years, because lots of dentists were tenants when it was an office building.
After you cross Fourth Avenue, you’re in Park Slope for a couple blocks. The brownstones are beautiful on the block between Fourth and Fifth avenues.
At the intersections of both these avenues, you get an eyeful of the some of the high-rise apartment buildings at Atlantic Yards.
That’s what community leaders, elected officials and everybody else I’ve ever met calls the 22-acre mega-development despite its name change to Pacific Park several years ago.
On the Bergen Street block between Fifth Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, you’ll find a row of shops with old-fashioned storefronts. Gorilla Coffee is one of the tenants (472 Bergen St.) if you’re still in need of caffeine.
Mansard roofs in Prospect Heights
It will take you a couple minutes to cross mammoth Flatbush Avenue — which, by the way, has lots of interesting restaurants and shops and deserves a return visit.
Once you’re on the far side of the avenue, you’re in Prospect Heights. One of the first things you’ll see is the NYPD’s 78th Precinct Stationhouse, with its handsome, dignified exterior. It’s on a Bergen Street corner at 65 Sixth Ave.
A couple blocks of Bergen Street are located within the Prospect Heights Historic District. Most of the rowhouses and apartment buildings in this landmarked area were constructed in the second half of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century.
Two of my favorite Bergen Street houses are in the historic district. Both of them have mansard roofs. They face each other on opposite corners of Carlton Avenue.
The neo-Grec house at 560 Carlton Ave., which has a brick facade on Bergen Street and a brownstone façade on the avenue, was designed by architect Charles Werner and constructed around 1882, the Prospect Heights Historic District’s designation report says. Mary Skelly was the original owner.
The mansard roof at 575 Carlton Ave. was probably added some time since the late 1980s to what was originally an Italianate brownstone constructed between 1869 and 1880, the report notes. The side of the house that faces the avenue is resurfaced in black and the window surrounds are orange.
Brownstones, bibimbap and a bakery
A brownstone row on Bergen Street’s landmarked block between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues has deep front lawns.
The landmarked district’s boundary on Bergen Street is Vanderbilt Avenue.
A four-story building that wraps around this corner and uses 638 Bergen St. as its address is especially eye-catching. It was constructed around 1891. It has a three-story, barrel-shaped window bay above its front door.
Daniel O’Connell designed the combination Romanesque Revival-Renaissance Revival property and was its first owner, the Prospect Heights Historic District’s designation report says.
The brick and brownstone building looks like it could use a little TLC, but not to worry. Minor façade work and a gut rehab of the second, third and fourth floors are planned, city Buildings Department filings indicate.
Cater-cornered to 638 Bergen St., there’s a trio of Italianate brick residential buildings with storefronts, namely 597-599-601 Vanderbilt Ave., that property owner John Doherty constructed around 1879.
Chef Liz Kwon’s nouvelle Korean restaurant, which is called White Tiger, is located on the ground floor of 601 Vanderbilt Ave.
Non-landmarked Prospect Heights extends for another couple blocks on Bergen Street. The neighborhood’s boundary is Washington Avenue.
In a cluster of buildings at the corner of Washington Avenue, you’ll find a good spot for dessert at 740 Bergen St. It’s called the Bakery on Bergen. The shop got a makeover on an episode of the Bravo TV series “Get a Room with Carson & Thom.”
This is as far as I’m walking today. Next week, I’ll tell you about the rest of my Bergen Street stroll.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you.
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