Park Slope and the Story of Brownstone Brooklyn

PODCAST  Park Slope – or simply the park slope, as they used to say – is best known for its spectacular Victorian-era mansions and brownstones, one of the most romantic neighborhoods in all of Brooklyn. It’s also a leading example of the gentrifying forces that are currently changing the make-up of the borough of Brooklyn to this day.

During the 18th century this sloping land was subject to one of the most demoralizing battles of the Revolutionary War, embodied today by the Old Stone House, an anchor of this changing neighborhood. In the 1850s, the railroad baron Edwin Clark Litchfield brought the first real estate development to this area in the form of his fabulous villa on the hill. By the 1890s the blocks were stacked with charming house, mostly for occupancy by wealthy families.

Circumstances during the Great Depression and World War II reconfigured most of these old (and old fashioned) homes into boarding houses and working-class housing. Then a funny thing happens, something of a surprising development in the 1960s: the arrival of the brownstoners, self-proclaimed ‘pioneers’ who refurbished deteriorating homes.

The revitalization of Park Slope has been a mixed blessing as later waves of gentrification and rising prices threaten to push out both older residents and original gentrifiers alike.

PLUS: The terrifying details of one of the worst plane crashes in American history, a disaster that almost took out one of the oldest corners of the neighborhood.

And a special thanks to our guests on this show — Kim Maier from the Old Stone House;  Julie Golia, Director of Public History, Brooklyn Historical Society; and  John Casson and Michael Cairl, both of Park Slope Civic Council.

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Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #181: Park Slope and the Story of Brownstone Brooklyn

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The Vechte Cortelyou House (aka the Old Stone House) depicted as it looked in 1699 (from a hand colored lithograph by the firm of Nathaniel Currier, MCNY)

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A collection of classified ads from the December 1, 1912 issue of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, offering several living options in the park slope area.

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The stark Fourteenth Street Armory, located in the South Slope, depicted here as it looked in 1906 —  “a pretty place” (MCNY)
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Congregation Beth Elohim, pictured here on September 16, 1929, located at Garfield Place and 8th Avenue. (MCNY)

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The horrific place crash of December 16, 1960 — United Airlines Flight 826, bound for Idlewild Airport, colliding with Trans World Airlines Flight 266, heading to LaGuardia Airport. 128 passengers were killed, along with six people on the ground. (Top picture courtesy New York Daily News; the two after are from the New York Fire Deparment. You can find further images here)

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Some images from 1961 by John Morrell from the archives of the Brooklyn Historical Society:

A view along Prospect Park West at and 16th Street and Windsor Place.

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View of east side of 8th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets looking north. n.e. cor. 16th Street (right) & 8th Avenue.

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Prospect Park West looking south toward Prospect Park/branch, U.S. Post Office (at northeast corner of Prospect Park W. & 16th Street).

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By the 1970s so mansions and brownstones close to the park were getting renovated by ‘pioneers’ with the means to restore these homes to their original splendor .

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In 1969, New York Magazine touted the ‘radical’ alternative of moving to Brooklyn in an article by Pete Hamill:

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TOP PHOTOGRAPH by Luci West from Moving Postcard

  • J. Brilliant

    Thanks guys for another great edition! I meant to write after the Ghost Stories of Brooklyn Halloween episode about a mysterious Park Slope event. In the latest edition you visit the Adams (Chicklets) mansion on 8th Avenue. Legend has it that once, while the family was away from home, some servants became trapped in an elevator and died. There has been talk that the mansion is haunted to this day. I’ve never seen any accounts of the tragedy in period newspapers. Have you?

  • David Meltzer

    The Theater that was pictured was where The 3 Stooges got their start in a vaudeville act called Ted Healy and his Stooges.

    • Bowery Boys

      Thanks David!

  • Eljas Rahikainen

    The plane crash pic show nicely that 60`s coppers were better trained than their colleaques in 2011 looking for parts of a plane in Pentagon. These guys found something big though the the plane was of smaller size. Brooklyn´s finest

  • Tony Mantione

    Another well played episode . Thanks guys ..
    Just a quick “correction ” … I’m sure you just misspoke when you said that Prospect park is Brooklyn’s biggest park . You problably wanted to say Brooklyn’s most well known park. .. The distinction of the largest park in Brooklyn goes to Marine Park, with about 798 acres , yes a great deal of that park is salt marshes , grassland and nature reserves. By contrast Prospect Park comes in at about 525 acres . Does not even make NYC’s 10 ten in size ..
    Please keep up the good work .. I enjoy listening to your stories .. especially those about Brooklyn.