Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Fort Greene is one of the tres cool gentrifying neighborhoods in Brooklyn. As trendy as the other neighborhoods around Brooklyn Heights, it’s gotten really expensive to live there.  But Fort Greene has something extra to offer for the money.  Pratt Institute, one of the best art schools in the country, is in Fort Greene and the students leave their mark.  If you want to see art in a park, on the walls of buildings, on the sidewalk, sticking out of trash cans, visit Fort Greene. 

Pratt Institute Sculpture Garden
The first time I was in Fort Greene it was on a walk from Prospect Park to Chinatown in Manhattan and I didn’t spend any time looking around because I was already feeling the cement against my feet.  I was in Fort Green the second time was because I was hired as an extra in a Spike Lee film.  I sat reading in an attic-like room in a row house all afternoon and never got called to the set.  The last time I was in Fort Greene I had a fabulous walk around, visiting a fabulous organic grocery on Myrtle Avenue, exploring the sculpture gardens of Pratt Institute, looking at the refurbished brownstones, the graffiti, the Christmas decorations.
Fort Greene's version of the guard dog

Of course there is history.  Pratt Institute was originally a vocational school that offered classes in sewing and stenography (https://www.pratt.edu/the-institute/history/) (the school website doesn’t make clear that it was originally intended as a technical institute for training industrial workers).  It’s now a major art and architectural college.

Charles Pratt, one of Rockerfeller's partners, funded the school.  Pratt was owner of Astral Oil Works, a refinery in Brooklyn mainly producing kerosene for lamps.  One of their ads claimed: “burns in any lamp without danger of exploding.”  That is certainly a plus, BUT in 1880 the whole plant exploded.  Astral Oil changed their ads to read: “The holy lamps of Tibet are primed with Astral oil.” Tibet being so far away and all, no one would hear about explosions over there.

Pratt was one of the oil men who opposed John D. Rockefeller’s Southern Improvement Company scheme when Rockefeller colluded with railroads to get a 33% rebate on ALL shipments of oil.  That allowed Rockefeller to cut his oil prices and put the competition out of business.  What a guy!  Eventually, Rockefeller convinced Pratt to partner with him.  No comment.

Pratt built a home on Clinton Avenue in Fort Greene which is just a few blocks from Pratt Institute.  His son built a house next door.  Both are still standing and are used by institutions.  The Pratts also built homes in Glen Cove on Long Island and so many of them lived out there that they have their own private Pratt cemetery behind gates.  Had I only known.

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