Monday, May 26, 2014

PROSPECT PARK - setting the tone

When I arrived in New York, all I knew about Brooklyn was what I'd read about in the novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Prospect Park
That novel takes place in Williamsburg, a neighborhood in the north part of the borough near Queens, and of course. I intended to scout the neighborhood described in that novel, and eventually I did.  But before living in Brooklyn, I had no idea how multi-textured nor how historic it was. That awareness began with my first visit to Prospect Park.

I lived directly across the street from the park, 300 acres of idyllic landscape, meadows, trees, and waterways designed by Frederick Olmstead and Calvert Vaux who also designed Central Park.  [Olmstead was also on the board of the Yellowstone Park Committee when it was being designated a national park.]

When I first moved to Brooklyn, before I had a bike, I took long walks -- by that I mean 5-10 miles at a stretch.  It was only when I got planta fasciitis that I got the bike and started riding everywhere.  At any rate, there is a drive encompasses Prospect Park.  On my second day in Brooklyn,  I walked around it.  My dad's farm was 300 acres and that walk was the first time I had a handle on the size of his land.

About a quarter mile along East Drive, I noticed a sign and walked over to read it. 

At this point the Old Porte Road or Valley Grove Road
intersected the line of hills separating Flatbush [Village] from
Brooklyn and Gowanus, in the Battle of Long Island,
August 27, 1776...

Suddenly, all that American history I'd studied in high school was made real as I fully comprehended that I was standing on ground where a battle in the Revolutionary War had taken place.  This battle was the first to take place after the Declaration of Independence was declared and the largest of the Revolutionary War.  Around me was hundreds of years of history of the beginning of my country. Where had the revolutionary soldiers camped?  Where had they crouched to aim? Where had they died and been buried?

Doing some immediate research that day on the Internet, I learned that the Hessian (German mercenary) troops and British troops had approach Battle Pass from where they'd landed at Gravesend Bay to the south.  They traveled through Flatbush Village and crossed over the land where the house I was living in now stood.  For all I knew, British troops had camped in what was now the yard.

I stood at the window of my living quarters thinking, the Revolutionary War happened right here, where I am, where I am looking.

There was history everywhere in Brooklyn, and I was determined to find it.

You can read more about the history of Prospect Park here: 

Sunday, May 18, 2014


I visited New York City many times over the years, but until I moved there I had never set foot in Brooklyn.  When I did, I was amazed -- by the architecture, the neighborhoods, the history, blend of cultures, and the sea.  There were dark aspects and rough places, of course, but all in all I loved it.

My four years in Brooklyn, I lived in a limestone house built in 1905. We call them townhouses in Texas, but in the Northeast they are called row houses or brownstone houses(if made of brown stone, duh).  There are many styles of them built in different eras of New York, and many are being torn down to build modern condominiums and coops in glass and steel.

There were 12 row houses on that part of Ocean Avenue that ran along the east side of Prospect Park (more about that 300-acre park later). The houses were flanked by 6-story, pre-war apartment buildings with the most amazing brick work.  
Two of the houses were federal style and built of red brick.  The other ten houses were limestone and had slight architectural variations from each other.  Each house had a stone terrace in front with stairs leading to a tiny garden.  In the back. there were a much larger gardens that butted up against the subway ditch.  The trains went by every 5-30 minutes depending on the time of day, and that became background noise within weeks.

The interior of the house was amazing. The rooms were enormous with 12-foot ceilings and deep-set, sash windows six feet tall.  Every room in the house, except the bathrooms, had a fireplace, none of them working (although mine leaked gas).  There were elaborate mouldings around the ceilings and light fixtures.  The floors were one-foot oak parquet with borders designed with walnut insets.  The hallways had oak plank flooring, as did the stairs.  The banisters were rich, dark walnut with carved finials.

My living quarters were on the second floor (3rd if you count the basement where the owner lived).  I had a bay window at the front of the house facing the park and a wall of 70-foot trees.  The kitchen was down the hall at the back, a converted bedroom with a bay window overlooking the back garden.

I had driven to New York alone with Agnes, my cat (who died this year at age 20).  The car was jammed with boxes and sundry items.  Aggie found a place in the pile and I didn't see her for the whole trip.  She didn't eat, to my knowledge, or even drink water while we were traveling.  But as soon as I took her into the house in Brooklyn, she felt at home.  She didn't like to go outside - I think the general din of traffic and train noise bothered her -- but she wandered the house making friends with the landlord and other tenant, playing with mice and bugs. She was very content there until I found Dinky on the sidewalk a couple of years later.

Neither Agnes nor I ever got tired of that house.  It was a Brooklyn entity in itself.

Note 1: The house on Ocean Avenue has been turned into Parkside Bed and Breakfast and you can see more exterior and interior photos of it here:

Note 2:  To learn about the different styles of New York's row houses, visit this site: