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Brooklyn Heights Association to host walking tour series highlighting diverse aspects of the neighborhood’s history

September 29, 2021 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The Brooklyn Heights Association plans to present, on four consecutive Saturdays in October, a series of neighborhood walking tours to explore different narratives of Brooklyn Heights history. 

The tours are being given on the 60th anniversary of Clay Lancaster’s architectural guidebook “Old Brooklyn Heights,” which was published in the fall of 1961. Lancaster and others affiliated with the BHA led several notable tours in 1960-1961 as momentum picked up to landmark Brooklyn Heights as a neighborhood and establish a NYC landmarks law. 

On Nov. 23, 1965, the newly established Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Brooklyn Heights as the city’s first historic district. 

The new series of tours seeks to celebrate those 1960s tours by using the walking format they popularized, while at the same time examining the past through a 21st century lens. 

In recent years, new voices have shown there’s a complex story to Brooklyn Heights that includes many diverse strands: slavery and free Black communities in the early 19th century; abolitionism that was led by more people than just the well-known Rev. Henry Ward Beecher; women’s activism for suffrage and labor causes; a deep connection to Brooklyn’s gay community; waves of real estate development; apartment building starting in the late 19th century; and a variety of 20th century architectural styles. 

Jeremy Lechtzin, BHA vice president, chair of its Landmarks Preservation Committee and curator of the tour series, said, “Walking tours have long celebrated Brooklyn Heights history and themselves helped make preservation history here. We’re excited we can continue that tradition by offering a variety of contemporary views on the neighborhood’s past.” 

The Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the first pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights and a well-known advocate for the abolition of slavery. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

The tours will take place rain or shine on Saturday Oct. 2; Saturday, Oct. 9; Saturday, Oct. 16; and Sunday Oct. 24. For more details, click here

Lancaster himself was known as an authority on American architecture. In addition to his Brooklyn Heights book, he wrote architecture- and art history-related books on Prospect Park, Kentucky, “New York Interiors at the Turn of the Century” and more.

Lucie Levine, leader of Brownstones and Ballot Boxes: Suffrage and Women’s Activism in Brooklyn Heights on Oct 2. is a historian, tour guide and writer, focused on the history of New York City. She founded the historical tour and event company Archive on Parade, and has offered tours, lectures and continuing education courses in collaboration with The New School, CUNY, The Gotham Center for New York City History, NYU Langone, The American Institute of Architects, The Municipal Art Society, The Historic Districts Council, The New York Public Library, the 92nd Street Y and other prestigious institutions. She is also the public programs consultant at Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts and has published widely on New York City history.

Suzanne Spellen, leader of Brooklyn Heights: African American Abolition and Self Determination on Oct. 9, is a writer, architectural historian and tour guide. A board member of the Crown Heights North Association, she worked tirelessly for landmark and National Register designation for the neighborhood. Suzanne is a long-time columnist for the well-known Brooklyn blog Brownstoner, where her early work was written under the pen name “Montrose Morris.” In 2015, she was a recipient of the Historic Districts Council of New York’s “Grassroots Award” for her writing and historic preservation activities. 

Matt Postal, leader of Beyond Brownstone: Overlooked Buildings in Brooklyn Heights on Oct. 16, is an architectural historian based in Brooklyn. Matt teaches graduate classes on the history of New York City and its extraordinary 19th and 20th century architecture; researches and writes designation reports for the Landmarks Preservation Commission; and has led popular and entertaining walking tours through all five boroughs of New York City for more than 30 years. 

Hugh Ryan, leader of A Queer History Walking Tour of Brooklyn Heights on Oct. 24, is a writer and curator. His first book, When Brooklyn Was Queer, won a 2020 New York City Book Award, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice in 2019, and was a finalist for the Randy Shilts and Lambda Literary Awards. His next book, The Women’s House of Detention, is forthcoming in May 2022. He was previously honored with the 2020 Allan Berube Prize from the American Historical Association. In 2019-2021, he worked on the “Hidden Voices: LGBTQ+ Stories in U.S. History” curricular materials for the NYC Department of Education. He curated the exhibition “On the (Queer) Waterfront” at the Brooklyn Historical Society in 2019.

The mission of the BHA is to engage the Brooklyn Heights community in maintaining and improving the quality of life in its neighborhood. The BHA serves as an advocate for thoughtful planning and development, for the maintenance of a livable urban environment, and for a safe and economically vibrant streetscape. For more information, click here.

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