Beautiful Brooklyn Heights

It might surprise you to learn that the first neighborhood to be protected under the 1965 Landmarks Preservation Law in New York City was not in Manhattan – it was Brooklyn Heights. I have had the pleasure of being in the area several times in the past few months, and regardless of the time of day, I find it to be an extraordinarily beautiful and gracious neighborhood. Since I love to take an unplanned walk in the city (a dérive, see my initial post about it here), one of my daughters and I took off on a beautiful warm early spring day to enjoy a walk in Brooklyn Heights.

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Surrounded by Dumbo (see my love letter to this neighborhood here) , Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Downtown Brooklyn, getting to Brooklyn Heights is quite easy via public transportation. You can take the 2-3-4-5-N-R-W to Court Street-Borough Hall in downtown Brooklyn, the A-C-F-N-R-W to Jay Street-MetroTech, or the 2-3 to Clark Street.  Before setting off on our walk, we had wood fired pizza at Dellarocco’s, which I highly recommend (214 Hick’s Street, off Montague Street). On the way there we walked past block after block of beautiful townhouses.

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I always find myself drawn to the water, and was unable to stay away from the gorgeous Brooklyn Heights Promenade. One of the more recent additions to Brooklyn Heights, the promenade was completed in the 1950’s.

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Rows of of lovely townhouses and apartment buildings face the promenade and gaze toward lower Manhattan.

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The promenade ends at the Brooklyn Bridge (for instructions of how to walk across the bridge from Brooklyn, see this post). John A. Roebling, the 19th Century engineer and designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, lived in Brooklyn Heights.

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The views from the Brooklyn Heights can be incredible. Here is a view toward the Statue of Liberty at sunset.

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Benches line the promenade for relaxing while strollers, both pedestrians and those containing children, move along the pathway.

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The view of lower Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights is extraordinary.

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The Brooklyn Heights Promenade eventually merges into Brooklyn Bridge Park.  Jane’s Carousel, dating from 1922, invites all to stop and take a ride on a hand painted wooden horse, to the sound of authentic calliope music.

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Brooklyn Heights has attracted writers and artists since its inception, and walking around the neighborhood it is easy to see why. Benjamin Britten to W.H. Auden, Walt Whitman to W.E.B. DuBois, Arthur Miller to Lena Dunham – all have found inspiration in the quiet beauty of Brooklyn Heights. Truman Capote, another resident, wrote Brooklyn Heights:  A Personal Memoir, in which he famously states, “I live in Brooklyn. By choice.” More and more people have made this choice over the past two decades. which has made this one of the most expensive neighborhoods in New York City.  The average price for a two bedroom apartment is $1,712,000 (compared to $1,149,000 for Brooklyn on the whole), and for a three bedroom it is just under $4,000,000. Townhouses can go for considerably more than that, but most people who live here consider the neighborhood well worth the cost. Brooklyn Heights has come a long way from Capote’s 1950’s description of street gangs and alley cats, but the allure of the area endures.

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Dumbo

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If you have ever been to Paris, you will know the experience of feeling that every street frames a picture-perfect view. It’s not difficult to take a good photograph in Paris – the city displays itself in such a way that every shot turns out to be achingly gorgeous. I love New York City, and particularly enjoy walking around the city in an unplanned way (a dérive), and wonderful photo opportunities are easy to come by (particularly in Central Park, in my opinion). It wasn’t until a recent walk around Dumbo in Brooklyn, however, that I had the same experience I had in Paris – an area so photogenic that it was hard to put my camera (phone) down.

An acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, the neighborhood is a relatively small swath of real estate largely between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges along the East River waterfront, and also continuing a bit east from the Manhattan Bridge. Originally a manufacturing area called Fulton Landing after the ferry stop that was the only way to get there from Manhattan until the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, by the 1970’s industry had largely moved out and the area had its new (endearingly silly) name. In the constant cycle of reinvention that exists in New York City, the area is now a hub for the arts, and for the tech industry – holding 500 tech businesses within a ten block radius. In 2007, the New York City Landmarks Commission made Dumbo a historic district, and since then the value of residential real estate in the area has soared.

To get to the area from Manhattan, there is still ferry service, but it is also easily accessible via subway. I took the 4 subway down the east side and transferred at the spectacular new Fulton station to the A train. One stop toward Brooklyn and I emerged ready to experience a walk around Dumbo. It is helpful to remember that the ground slopes down toward the river in this neighborhood, and with the Brooklyn Bridge on one side and the Manhattan Bridge on the other, it would be difficult to lose your sense of direction here.

Heading down Washington Street, I was quickly struck by the charming nature of this area. The streets are largely cobblestoned as in Tribeca, the repurposed industrial buildings (now residential) are warm rather than imposing, the ground level shops are interesting rather being cookie-cutter national chains, and the geometric shapes formed by the angles of the bridges to either side frame every view perfectly.

I am always drawn to waterfront if it is nearby, so I continued to slope down toward the East River. To my surprise, there were small rocky/sandy sections along the river that looked more like a beach than a riverbank! Of course, the views of the bridges to each side here were even more spectacular. Jutting out into the water toward the Brooklyn Bridge, I saw the famous Jane’s Carousel, built in 1922 and helpfully covered so that it can operate year round (tickets are only $2). Looking back toward Dumbo, I could see the ongoing construction that is continuing to transform the waterfront. St. Ann’s Warehouse is converting an old tobacco warehouse to house its theater offerings (“Where theater meets rock and roll” – well, you had me at “theater” but I like where this catchphrase is going!). Because the shell of the building is landmarked, they will build an entirely modern facility like a nesting doll within the shell but not touching the walls of it.

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Walking along Water Street, one block away from the waterfront, I enjoyed looking at some of the colorful graffiti along some of the buildings under construction, but did wonder how much longer any of that will be around this rapidly transforming area. Passing Jacques Torres’ famous chocolate shop, I decided not to go in – this time. Continuing past the Galapagos Art Space while looping back to Washington Street and preparing to walk back to Manhattan along the pedestrian path on the Brooklyn Bridge (highly recommended; see my photo tour of the experience here), I realized how many experiences were left for me to experience when I come back – pizza at Grimaldi’s, a ride on Jane’s Carousel, decadent hot chocolate at Jacques Torres – and decided that my next trip to Dumbo will be sooner rather than later.

There are no real estate bargains to be had in Dumbo these days, but if you have the money and the desire to live in a beautiful center for the arts that happens to be tucked away from the bustle of the city – but with killer views of it – in my opinion, it is well worth the cost.

A photo tour of a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge

Whether you are fortunate enough to live and work in New York City, as I do, or are an occasional visitor, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is a magical experience – and free as well as good exercise as added benefits! The following is a series of photographs I took on a clear morning in late December (temperature was 38 degrees F, not bad in the least if you dress correctly), walking from the Brooklyn side to Manhattan. First of all, unless you plan to walk across both ways (which is not a bad idea if you have the time), the walk toward Manhattan is the more dramatic one. I also recommend this direction for the morning or evening hours – in the morning, the light is behind you and highlights what you are photographing, and in the evening of course the city lights are at their best. If you walk this direction on a sunny afternoon, the sun will be in your eyes as well as backlighting the buildings, ruining your photos.

I will be showing how to get on the Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian walkway from Dumbo – many suggest getting on it deeper into Brooklyn, but first of all, to be near the Brooklyn Bridge and not talk a walk around Dumbo is a tragic loss of opportunity (my next blog post is about my walk around this incredibly charming area), and secondly, all you get from the traditional route is a gradual incline up to the bridge with no significant views. You need to be good with stairs to take this route, however. After your walk around Dumbo, head away from the river on Washington Street, and soon signs will helpfully point out where you take a set of stairs up to meet the pedestrian lane.

It’s not a long walk, but allow plenty of time to stop and appreciate the views, and how they change as you walk over the East River. Keep looking to your left to catch views of the Statue of Liberty and later the downtown skyline featuring One World Trade, and to your right to see the Empire State Building and the rest of the midtown skyline (I particularly enjoyed seeing the Empire State, Chrysler, and 432 Park together, suggesting a skyline willing to encompass both the old and the new).

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