Things to Do in Brooklyn Heights

This post covers things to do in Brooklyn Heights, including information to help you plan your visit, including what to see and where to eat. 

 

 


PLAN YOUR VISIT

Brooklyn Heights is one of the most special neighborhoods in New York City. Its history dates back to the colonial era and it is known as America’s first suburb.

Its charming, quiet tree-lined streets have been the site of a major Revolutionary War battle and the hub of abolitionist activism in the slavery era.

 

George Washington Four Chimneys Brooklyn Heights

 

In the 20th century, it was home to some of the most famous American authors, playwrights, and artists.

Today, many actors and actresses live here. In early 2019, Matt Damon purchased a co-op in the former Standish Arms Hotel. Then couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski also bought a co-op here.

This name may ring a bell to fans of Superman comics as the Standish Arms was the name of the building where Clark Kent lived! (For more tidbits like this, take our self-guided New York superhero tour).

While the history is truly interesting (see the History section below), what will win you over is the beautiful streets and brownstones, the array of stunning architectural styles, and its spectacular views of the Manhattan skyline and New York Harbor. 

 

View of Manhattan from Brooklyn Promendade

 


How to get here

Brooklyn Heights is located along the East River directly across from the east side of Lower Manhattan. It can be reached by multiple subway lines, a commuter ferry and by walking across the Brooklyn Bridge.

You can use this Google link to get exact directions from your point of departure to Brooklyn Borough Hall, a central location in Brooklyn Heights.

 

Where is Brooklyn Heights

 

Or let us take you here. We run a daily guided tour of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO. We also offer a guided tour of just Brooklyn Heights on Saturdays.

We also have a GPS-guided audio tour of the neighborhood. 

By Subway:

  • Borough Hall: 2,3,4,5
  • Clark Street; 2,3
  • Court St: N, R
  • High Street: A, C
  • Jay Street: A,C,F

TIP: Our posts, Navigating the New York City Subway and Which Subway Pass is Right for You may come in handy.

By Ferry:

East River Ferry – Stops in Brooklyn Bridge Park in the DUMBO neighborhood, just north of Brooklyn Heights. It is the same price as the subway ($2.75)

Water Taxi Tours – Both their All-Day Access Pass and 2-Day Access Pass have a stop in DUMBO’s Pier 1 at the Fulton Ferry Landing. This is just a 10-minute walk to Brooklyn Heights.

For information about other ferries and boat tours in NYC, see our post, Which New York Boat Tour or Cruise is Best.

By Bus:

One fun way to get to the Heights, while also seeing other parts of Brooklyn, is by taking a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of Brooklyn, which includes a stop in Brooklyn Heights. 


Nearby Neighborhoods

Many people combine a trip to Brooklyn Heights with a visit to DUMBO, an artsy neighborhood with lots of green space. Check out our guide to DUMBO to see what’s there. 

For information on other areas of NYC, that you might like to visit, see our post on NYC neighborhoods


How much time to spend here

Brooklyn Heights is generally a safe neighborhood in the evenings and has a special atmosphere in the early evening, especially if you catch the sunset from the Brooklyn Bridge or Promenade.

You can see the main sights of Brooklyn Heights in a few hours, and if you add on a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, you should set aside a half-day.

Here is a sample itinerary for a half-day. However, one can easily spend a full day in the area if you have a meal, do some great discount some shopping, and visit the nearby neighborhood DUMBO. 


Sample Half-Day Itinerary

NOTE: If you are traveling with children, we have a sample family-friendly itinerary below.


Special Events

Fourth of July 

One of the prime viewing spots for the Macy’s Fireworks is along the East River in Brooklyn Heights. This is always subject to change based on where Macy’s decided to launch their fireworks.

Check for updates on our Fourth of July Fireworks in NYC.

Movies with a View 

Every August at Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the northern border of Brooklyn Heights, you can see free, outdoor movie screenings.

Our post on things to do in NYC In August has all the details.

Atlantic Antic 

Every September this vibrant street festival takes over Atlantic Heights, the southern border of Brooklyn Heights.

See our post on things to do in September in NYC for information.

Brooklyn Book Festival 

Well-known and up-and-coming authors from around the world come to Brooklyn Heights for this major literary event.

See our post on things to do in September for information.

 


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TOP 10 THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

There is so much to do in Brooklyn Heights, so we came up with what we think are the top 10 things to do.

Note that almost all of these activities can be enjoyed during the day or at night.

For more activities in and around Brooklyn Heights and the entire borough, see our post, Things to Do in Brooklyn, where you will find even more free events, family-friendly activities and things to do at night. 


1) Walk Over The Brooklyn Bridge

The history of Brooklyn Heights and the Brooklyn Bridge are so intertwined, one cannot imagine one without the other.

Brooklyn Heights was where the architect and developers of the Brooklyn Bridge lived and worked.

The Bridge made Brooklyn Heights grow as a neighborhood. The Bridge can be walked over starting in Manhattan to Brooklyn or vice versa.

 

 
To learn more about the best ways to discover the splendor of this iconic bridge, see our post, A Visitor Guide to Walking the Brooklyn Bridge.

We also have tours that include a pay-what-you-wish guided tour of the Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO


2) Stroll the Brooklyn Heights Promenade

This pedestrian promenade runs along the East River just across from Lower Manhattan.

The views are spectacular and you can see the Manhattan skyline, the New York Harbor, the Brooklyn Bridge, and even the Statue of Liberty (though there are better views of the Statue of Liberty).

 

 

Though a popular destination with tourists and locals, the Promenade is never very crowded and is a perfect place to relax on one of the wooden benches that look out at the view.

For other great views of the skyline, see our post, Free Views of NYC.

The Promenade can be visited day or night. The view at night is something special as the whole city is lit up and sparkling.

A night stroll on the Promenade is one of the best things to do in Brooklyn at night for visitors. 

For other free things do during your visit, see our posts:


3) Admire the Architecture

Brooklyn Heights Street

In 1965, Brooklyn Heights became the first NYC neighborhood to be designated a National Historic Landmark.

With more than 600 pre-Civil War structures still standing, you can see homes, row houses, churches, townhomes, and buildings in a wide range of architectural styles dating back as far as 1824. 

Immediately you will spot the residential buildings known as Brooklyn Brownstones.

You will also see a number of Federal style homes dating back to the mid-1800s as well as wood frame houses. 

The Heights has a number of commercial streets where you can see fine examples of large buildings designed in the Italianate Style, Romanesque Revival, Art Deco, Neo-Classical and others. 

13 pineapple St

Brooklyn was known as the City of Churches and many churches speckle the Heights, dating back to the mid 19th Century, thus you will find beautiful examples of Neo-gothic churches.

Architecture is also discussed in our Brooklyn Heights audio walking tour, which can be taken day or night.

For an in-depth discussion, see the History section below. 


4) Visit the Brooklyn Historical Society

Founded in 1863, the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) is a museum, library, and educational center that preserves and encourages the study of Brooklyn’s 400-year long history and it houses the largest collection of Brooklyn historical documents in the United States.

 

 

The building itself is impressive and was designed by architect George B. Post, who also designed the New York Stock Exchange.

It is one of the stops on our Brooklyn Heights audio tour, which points out the special features of this building.

Although ticket prices are posted the museum has a suggested donation policy, which means it is free. See the BHS website for visitor information.

TIP: For a list of other free museums or those with free hours/days, see our post, Free Museums in NYC


5) Discover Three Centuries of American History

Plaque commemorating Four Chimneys house

Brooklyn Heights history is rich, having been the site of major events of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. These three locations are the most important in not just the Heights’ history but the history of the United States.

Perhaps the most significant historical location in Brooklyn Heights is the former site of a house known as  “Four Chimneys”. The house stood at the end of Montague Street (map) overlooking the East River.  

In 1776, “Four Chimneys” was General George Washington’s Brooklyn headquarters in the first weeks of the Revolutionary War.

Here, in late August 1776, Washington made one of the most important decisions of the entire war. Rather than face certain defeat by the approaching British forces, he chose to have his troops make a stealth evacuation during the night of August 29th, 1776.

Had Washington made a different choice, we may not have America today!

You can see hear more of this dramatic historical moment on our Brooklyn Heights Walking Tour and our Brooklyn Heights audio walking tour. You can also read more in the History section below. 


6) NY Transit Museum

This museum is housed in a former subway station and you can see subway cars from different decades, ranging from 1904 up until today. You can even walk in them, grab a seat and take a ride into the past.

This museum is also good for kids as it is highly interactive.

 

 
For more activities that are kid-friendly, see the Brooklyn Heights with kids section in this post, as well as our post on things to do with kids in New York City


7) Take a Literary Walk

“I live in Brooklyn. By choice;” Truman Capote wrote in his novella, A House on the Heights. Capote was just one of many authors who lived in Brooklyn Heights.

Writers in past eras were drawn to the neighborhood especially during the eras when the neighborhood was not so upscale. From the 1920s to 1950s, the Heights was home to some of the most famous writers in American literature.

 

 

Besides Capote, other seminal American Authors lived in Brooklyn Heights, including Norman Mailer and Arthur Miller, both of whom lived in the Heights for many years. For a few months at the start of their careers, they even lived in the same building!

See the section below about these Brooklyn Heights writers. Also, this video from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle has some fun facts about the many authors of Brooklyn Heights. 

The Literary Traveler website has a very good Literary Brooklyn Heights Self-guided tour that includes many Brooklyn Heights writers and poets. 


8) Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir

No need to go to Harlem to hear amazing gospel when you can see the renown Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. This choir is so fabulous that they were invited to sing at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration.

 

 
 

You can learn more about the Tabernacle, which is highlighted in our post, Gospel Music in New York


9) Go Shopping

Montague Street

Since the 1800s, Brooklyn Heights’ main commercial street has been Montague Street.

Along a six-block stretch from Court Street to the Promenade you can find plenty of shops and food establishments, with something for everyone here.

Shopping wise, you will see familiar chains like the Banana Republic as well as specialty shops like a local standout Tango. There are other types of shops as well, but clothes stores are dominant. 

For more in our Shopping section below. 


10) Grab a Bite to Eat

Dining-wise you can find food for every budget and every taste. There are restaurants that are family-friendly, others that are sophisticated, and plenty that are perfect for everyone.

Our list below includes many of the most loved Brooklyn Heights eateries, some of which have been around for over 50 years!

 

 


Honorable Mentions:

Celebrities of Brooklyn Heights

Given its beauty, good schools and proximity to Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights is a favorite neighborhood of many actors and actresses. Here are some possible celebrity sightings you may have in Brooklyn Heights:

Celebrities who live (or lived) in Brooklyn Heights

actor Matt Damon

  • Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Bourne movies)  bought a Brooklyn Heights penthouse in early 2019 at the former Standish Arms Hotel (now co-op apartments). 
  • Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns) and John Krasinski (The Office
  • Paul Giamatti (Showtime’s Billions)
  • Björk, (the Icelandic singer and artist), though moving out as of 2018
  • Keri Russell co-star of The Americans, and Felicity along with her TV and real-life husband (The Americans)
  • Amy Ryan (The Office)

Former Residents:

  • Anne Hathaway (The Devil Wears Prada) born in New York, lived in nearby DUMBO
  • Lena Dunham, actress, writer, producer (Girls)
  • Adam Driver (Girls)
  • Michelle Williams, four-time Academy Award nominee, and actress in Brokeback Mountain. During filming, she began dating the now deceased Heath Ledger

Just south of the Heights

  • Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset)
  • Norah Jones, 9-time Grammy winner and life-long New Yorker
  • Daniel Craig, (James Bond) and his wife actress Rachel Weisz
  • Emily Mortimer (The Newsroom) and husband and actor, Alessandro Nivola

Alumni of St. Ann’s private school located in Brooklyn Heights:

actress Jennifer Connelly

  • Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind)
  • Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke, (both of Girls fame)
  • Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
  • Mike D of the band Beastie Boys (fellow bandmate now-deceased Adam Yauch lived in Brooklyn Heights. The two met there and formed the band). There is a park named in honor of Yauch (see below)

 


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THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS

There are plenty of activities for children and teens and below we have listed what we think are the most fun and also budget-friendly.

We have also included a sample itinerary for a half-day or full-day, depending on whether or not you decide to have a meal.

Be sure to check our posts, Things to Do with Kids in Brooklyn and Things to Do with Kids in NYC, where you can find 100+ things to do! 


Activities and Shops

Everyday Athlete

130 Clinton St. This is a small but focused climbing studio with a 17′ bouldering wall and experienced coaches. They offer drop-in sessions starting at $20.

Brooklyn Cat Cafe

76 Montague St. This ‘cafe’ is a place where your kids can interact with the kittens and cats that are up for adoption. Don’t worry! There is no obligation to adopt!

 

 

They do not prepare food or drinks but do sell packaged drinks, treats, and snacks. Admission is $7 per half hour for walk-ins, $6 per half hour for reservations. Children under 3 years old are free.

UA Court Street Movie Stadium

106 Court St. This movie theater has 12 screens and always has a fine selection of kids movies.

Barnes and Noble Booksellers

106 Court St. This two-story Barnes and Noble has a huge section of kids books for all ages. There are a small reading area and play space on the 2nd floor. There are also special events scheduled so check their calendar.

There is also a Starbucks located inside.

AREA Kids

154 Montague St. Although it is a bit small, the selection of toys is excellent. Unique crafted gifts and the usual suspects (Legos, Pokemon, etc). A little pricey but you can always find something fun for a few bucks.

Pinkyz Place

152 Atlantic Ave. A unique hair salon for children! While your younger child can get a brand new hair-do, they will also be able to enjoy a great play space. 


Playgrounds and Parks

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Located near Brooklyn Heights, the massive Brooklyn Bridge Park offers so many activities from rock climbing, roller skating, and more. There’s a sandy beach with kayaking in the summer. 

 

 

Pierrepont Playground

Located along the Promenade at Pierrepont Street. It is best for children 8 and younger, this playground with nifty jungle gyms and slides.

It can be crowded with nearby school groups, especially after school hours at 3 pm and beyond.

Harry Chapin Playground

Located at Columbia Hts. at Middagh St., this small playground is named after the singer and Brooklyn Heights native.

It is located near the final stop on our Brooklyn Heights audio walking tour and very close to DUMBO if you choose to explore that area.

Adam Yauch Park

Named for Adam Yauch, a founder of the smash hip-hop 1990s band The Beastie Boys, who passed away in 2012, at the age of just 47. Yauch grew up in Brooklyn Heights and played in this playground. It is suitable for kids of all ages.

TIP: NYC parks sometimes have free WiFi. It’s worth giving it a shot if you are in one of these parks or playgrounds. For a list of free WiFi in NYC, see our post, Free Wifi in New York.


Eating with Kids  

All the restaurants in our Restaurant section below are family-friendly, though they are not necessarily for the finicky eater.

Don’t worry, on Montague Street, you can find familiar chains like Five Guys, Chipotle and good pizza at Monty Q’s.

On the eastern border of Brooklyn Heights along Adams Street, there are Panera Bread, Potbelly Sandwich Shop, Rocco’s Tacos and the best burger in NYC at Shake Shack.

See this list and map on Yelp.

Desserts are a highlight of the Heights. These will please kids and grown-ups alike! Here are just a few:

Emack and Bolios Ice Cream – 115 Montague St. Well-known Ice Cream chain in NYC with interesting flavors and the classics

Chocolate Works – 110 Montague St. A candy store with an emphasis on chocolates of all kinds. Seating is available.

Gregory’s Coffee – 16 Court St. Limited seating with free wifi and yummy chocolate brownies and coffee for the adults. Free wi-fi.


Sample Half-Day Itinerary with Kids

  • Start the day at the Transit Museum (#3 in Top 10)  
  • Have lunch on Montague Street at one of the places listed above
  • Using our GPS-Enabled Brooklyn Heights Audio Tour, visit sites you and your children are interested in. We highly recommend these sites for families:
    • The Promenade located at the end of Montague Street (#2 in Top 10)
    • Four Chimneys Monument marking Gen. George Washington’s Brooklyn Headquarters at the start of the Revolutionary War (#5 in Top Ten)
    • Plymouth Church, a historic hub of the anti-slavery movement
  • Stop in one of the local playgrounds (listed above), such as Harry Chapin Playground
  • Get an afternoon snack at the Brooklyn Heights Ice Cream Factory in DUMBO
  • Take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan 

Sample Full-Day Itinerary with kids

  • Follow the half-day itinerary above, but don’t take the ferry back to Manhattan. Stay in Brooklyn for a few hours more
  • Spend time in the very kid-friendly Brooklyn Bridge Park (see our guide to DUMBO for information on the Park as well as the cool neighborhood of DUMBO).
  • Finish the day with dinner at the famous Grimaldi’s Pizza or Juliana’s Pizza- both are delicious!

 


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SHOPPING

The main street in Brooklyn Heights is Montague Street. Here you will find a number of chain clothing stores you may recognize such as Banana Republic and Ann Taylor.

There are also some unique stores, such as Area Kids store, as well as an excellent high-quality thrift store, Housing Works.

A few blocks away from Brooklyn Heights is Fulton Mall, technically part of Downtown Brooklyn.

It is not an indoor mall, but rather a stretch of several blocks jam-packed with chain store outlets for Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, The Gap, Express, American Eagle Outfitters and many more. 

There are also discount stores like TJ Maxx and Nordstroms Rack. At the last block of Fulton Mall, at the intersection of Fulton Street and Flatbush Avenue is a Brooklyn branch of the famous designer discount shop, Century 21.

See here for a full list of shops in Downtown Brooklyn.

TIP: If you are looking for the best deals on the latest, coolest sneakers, definitely shop the sneaker shops at Fulton Mall. Locals know that you cannot beat the prices on those Adidas, Puma, Nike, Converse and more.

 


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RESTAURANTS

On Montague Street, you will find some familiar chain restaurants like Chipotle, Starbucks, and Connecticut Muffin Company. There are also good Chinese, Thai and Sushi restaurants on Montague Street.

Here are our picks for food in the Heights:

Inexpensive ($)

Lassen & Hennigs –  114 Montague St. – Serving a wide variety of sandwiches, salads, and desserts since 1949! A Brooklyn Heights staple. Take your food to the Promenade and enjoy the view.

Montague Street Bagels – 108 Montague St. Great bagels, for breakfast with cream cheese or lunchtime with cold cuts. No seating, but we recommend you take your food to go and sit on the benches at the promenade two blocks away. If you love bagels, see our post about where to find the Best Bagels in New York City

Tutt Cafe – 47 Hicks St. Inexpensive and very good middle eastern food in the heart of the Heights on a quiet leafy street.

Moderate ($$)

Grimaldi’s – 1 Front St. in DUMBO. You may have already heard of the pizza place under the Brooklyn Bridge. This is it. The pizza is as good as they say. The lines can be long, however. For other great pizza in Brooklyn and beyond, see our post The Best Pizza in NYC.

Juliana’s – 19 Old Fulton St. in DUMBO. This is the actual Grimaldi family’s pizzeria, having sold their name to the owners of next store’s Grimaldi’s! Some say it’s better than Grimaldi’s, and the lines may be shorter.

Saketumi Asian Bistro – 118 Montague St. Cover your bases and order Thai, Chinese, Japanese and Sushi dishes. Nice backyard in good weather.

Noodle Pudding –  38 Henry St.  (718) 625-3737. A hidden secret to most New Yorkers, this rustic Italian pasta restaurant is a favorite among locals. Note that they are cash-only, do not have a website and do not take reservations.

Expensive ($$$)

Jack the Horse – 66 Hicks St. Upscale American tavern with great cocktails & wines. Delicious brunch.

Henry’s End – 44 Henry St. A Brooklyn Heights institution, it is well-known in New York City for serving game meats like venison, alligator and occasionally ostrich!  

For other ideas, see Eater’s 13 Best Brooklyn Heights restaurants and Yelp’s list of affordable restaurants.

 


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HISTORY OF BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

sketch from the 1800s of view of Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights shoreline

The area we know today as Brooklyn Heights was originally a Native American settlement of the Lenape tribe. They called the area Ihpetonga translated roughly as “High Sandy Banks”.

This name was fitting as the area was indeed raised higher than the shoreline and touched the land along a shoreline that was, in fact, hilly, unlike Manhattan were the river and land are more level.

In the early 1600s. Dutch explorers colonized the land that is now New York State and named it New Netherlands. In 1625, on the tip of what the Native Americans called Manhattana, the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam was founded.

Some settlers were farmers who left New Amsterdam for the lush land that lay just a short rowboat ride across the river that ran along the colony’s east side. The settlement was named Breuckelen after a small town back in the Netherlands.

After the British took control of New Amsterdam in 1664, many of Brooklyn’s Dutch place names would be anglicized. Breukelen became Brooklyn.

By the time of the American Revolution in 1776, the waterfront was already an early industrialized site. Houses sprung up, including “Four Chimneys House,” which George Washington commandeered as his headquarters during the Battle of Brooklyn.

sketch of Montague Street in the ealy 1800sAfter the war, wealthy families with names like Hicks, Henry, and Middagh, owned the land within today’s Brooklyn Heights borders. This is how the streets we will walk on got their names.

One wealthy landowner Hezekiah Pierrepont, subdivided his land into plots to sell to rich families living across the river in Lower Manhattan.  

This coincided with the launch of Robert Fulton’s East River Ferry service between the City of New York and the Village of Brooklyn.

sketch of the City of Brooklyn

In 1827, the Village was incorporated as the City of Brooklyn and within just 40 years, Brooklyn was the third largest city in America, with New York coming in first and Philadelphia second.

Brooklyn was also a great industrial force and economically strong. Brooklynites did not feel overshadowed by nearby New York and Brooklyn developed a strong identity of its own.

Two factors contributed greatly to Brooklyn’s high self-esteem: One was its newspaper, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, which began publishing in 1841. Toward the end of the 19th-century, the Eagle was the nation’s most widely read afternoon newspaper!

The other factor was that by 1883, they had their own baseball team, the Brooklyn Baseball Club. By 1895 fans had nicknamed the team the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers, referencing the amazing skill shown by Brooklynites at “dodging” the city’s large network of trolleys. The team dropped the Trolley and became simply the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Until the late 1800s, the Heights grew into a wealthy neighborhood with homeowners building huge stately homes in every architectural style: Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Victorian Gothic, Renaissance Revival, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival. It’s one reason a walk in the Heights is endlessly fascinating.

St Anns and the Holy Trinity ChurchAlong with the wealth, came an influx of churches, for some these were houses of religious worship, and for others a place to show off one’s weather. In the small Brooklyn Heights boundaries, they were at least six churches within an area of approximately 20 streets.

The most famous church in the Heights in the era before the Civil War was the Congregationalist Plymouth Church. Dozens of churches were built in nearby neighborhoods such as Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope. So any steeples dotted the Brooklyn skyline that it became known as the City of Churches.

old photograph of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge

In 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, and this made the City of Brooklyn and City of New York even more intertwined financially and socio-economically. It made little sense to have two major cities side by side and the push was made by politicians in both cities to consolidate. New York, already merged with parts of Staten Island and Queens. In 1894, residents of Brooklyn voted by a slight majority in favor of merging with New York. This consolidation went into effect in 1898 and the City of Brooklyn was no more.

With the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and then the subways in 1908, there was an influx of working-class families and individuals. The docks at the waterfront brought in transient sailors, and the Heights changed from a wealthy enclave to a deteriorating neighborhood.  The large townhouses were split up into small apartments or boarding houses. The neighborhood was eventually a slum.

In the 1950s, New York City, under the guidance of City Planning Commissioner Robert Moses, engaged in “slum clearance”. This movement coincided with Moses’s dream of a modernized city interconnected with highways. The cost of this modernization would be the demise of neighborhoods with unique character and in the case of Brooklyn Heights, the destruction of historic homes some dating back to the Revolutionary War. 

a photo of the construction of the Promenade

Despite much protest from the Brooklyn Heights Association and other preservationists, the city approved the construction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. However, a compromise was reached. Rather than running straight through the center of Brooklyn Heights, the expressway would be built further west, closer to the water. The design was a bi-level expressway above which a promenade would be built. Though dozens of historic homes were torn down, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is one of New York City’s crown jewels.

After the damage done to the neighborhood by the construction of the expressway, activists fought hard to force the city to designate Brooklyn Heights a historically landmarked district giving it protection from future destruction. No neighborhood had received such a designation. But Brooklyn Heights, with over 600 structures that predate the Civil War, and more than 1,000 that predate the turn of the century, the city granted Brooklyn Heights the protection it deserved and it became the first Historic District in New York City.

In the early 1970s, a new generation of New Yorkers began moving into the Heights. a street in Brooklyn HeightsYoung starter families settled into this affordable and beautiful neighborhood with good schools and great views. By the 1980s, Brooklyn Heights was on its way to becoming one of the most sought after neighborhoods in New York City. 

A fun fact: Brooklyn Heights was where the Huxtable family – of the Cosby Show – lived from 1984 until 1992 when the show ended. They lived in a brownstone on 10 Stigwood Avenue which in fact, does not exist. The exteriors of their brownstone were filmed in Manhattan in Greenwich Village at 10 St. Luke’s Place.

Today, residents from all over the city head to Brooklyn Heights for recreation along the water, to walk the promenade or stroll the historic streets. The neighborhood is again a ‘suburban’ haven for the wealthy as it was in the 1800s. Visitors to New York City likely have Brooklyn Heights on their itinerary, and if they don’t, they should. We think you’ll be very happy with your choice. 


HISTORICAL LANDMARKS

In addition to “Four Chimneys” above in our Top Ten list, you can also visit these historic places:

Plymouth Church (1849)

exterior of Plymouth Church

This church was a hub of the abolitionist movement in the 1850s and 60s, led by a captivating preacher, Henry Ward Beecher. Plymouth Church became known as the Grand Central Depot of the Underground Railroad because it sheltered runaway slaves from the south. Many important authors, like Mark Twain and Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to hear Beecher’s sermons. Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln came to see Beecher preach. A century later, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech at the church.

Former Headquarters of the Brooklyn Dodgers (1945)

Jackie Robinson plaque in Brooklyn Heights

The corner of Montague Street and Cadman Plaza West is a sacred spot for baseball fans. In the 1940s, in the office building that was here prior to the TD Bank, the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team had its headquarters.

History was made on August 28, 1945, when the Brooklyn Dodgers’ general manager, Branch Rickey, signed Jackie Robinson to the team. Robinson was the first African-American player in major league baseball which was segregated until that time. On the side of the building is a plaque commemorating this important moment in American Civil Rights history.


ARCHITECTURE

Brownstones

Pierrepont Street between Clinton Street and Pierrepont Place is the best street for seeing Brooklyn row houses known as ‘brownstones’, called so because the main material used in the facade of these buildings is a reddish-brown stone that came mostly from New Jersey. These houses were built in the mid to late 19th century as single family homes for wealthy people. Now most of them are divided into separate apartments though there are some of these huge Brooklyn brownstones entirely owned an occupied by a lucky few!

Gothic Revival

St. Ann’s and the Holy Trinity Church (1847) on the corner of Montague and Clinton Streets is a gorgeous example of a Gothic Revival structure. Typical of gothic revival structures, this church has a recessed doorway, a pattern of pointed-arch windows with exterior buttresses, a tall, narrow spire, and stained glass windows.

Federal Style

Federal-style houses were in fashion in the 1820s-30s in early American cities like Boston, Philadelphia and New York and they are the American expression of Neo-Classicalism.

The house at 24 Middagh Street (circa 1824) is said to be the oldest house in Brooklyn Heights. It is a two-and-a-half-story clapboard frame house that rests on a raised basement of brick.

Thus its doorway is off the street-level and reached by a set of stairs, which have iron boot-scrapers to wipe one’s shoes before entering the house.

The doorway itself has Ionic colonnettes and the windows have shutters, a key feature of Federal houses. Look up to the slanted roof and you will see two dormer windows.

On Willow Street, you can see the side and back of the house, including a garden and a rear carriage house, which is now a separate apartment unit.

Romanesque Revival

The finest example of this style is the Herman Behr Mansion (1888) at the corner of Henry and Pierrepont Streets.  This stunning structure was a single family home when it was built for wealthy industrialist Herman Behr. It was designed by Frank Freeman. Today the building is 26 apartments.

Italianate

No. 2 & 3 Pierrepont Place (1857) are fine examples of this style. These joined mansions have brownstone facades, tall and wide stoops leading to a recessed entry with paneled doors and tall first-floor windows.

If you look at the visible side of No. 3 you can see angled bay windows and balconies with wrought-iron railings.

These mansions were occupied by prominent New York families in the mid-1800s. The Low family, including New York Mayor Seth Low (in office 1890–1901), lived at No. 3 Pierrepont while No. 2 belonged to wealthy philanthropist Alfred Treadway White. 


AUTHORS OF BROOKLYN HEIGHTS

Truman Capote

Contrary to popular belief, 70 Willow Street was never Capote’s house.

Prior to his success, he was a struggling writer. Fortunately, he had a friend who, owned this house and he invited Capote to stay for a while in the basement apartment of the house. Capote stayed for ten years!  

During that time, Capote wrote his best-known work, ”Breakfast at Tiffany’s”.

Norman Mailer

One of the most significant authors in American literature in the 20th-century lived at two locations in the Heights.

First, he lived with his parents at 102 Pierrepont Street after he returned from fighting in World War Two. It was here that he began writing his breakthrough novel The Naked and the Dead.

In 1961, he moved to 142 Columbia Heights where he resided until his death in

Arthur Miller

Perhaps best known for his play Death of a Salesman, this author lived in several locations in the Heights.

For a short time, he lived in 102 Pierrepont Street, overlapping with Norman Mailer. He also lived at 62 Montague Street, and eventually at a house on a small cul-de-sac in the south part of Brooklyn Heights called Grace Court.

As a side note, Miller was the third – and last – husband of Marilyn Monroe. They divorced one year before her death.

Walt Whitman

The intersection of Cranberry Street and Fulton Street (now Cadman Plaza West), was the now-demolished Rome Brothers Print Shop where, in 1855, Walt Whitman self-published the first edition of his classic Leaves of Grass, a collection of his long poems.

In his poem Crossing Brooklyn Ferry, he describes the experience of crossing the East River just before sunset. The poem is a reference to the Fulton Ferry Landing in nearby DUMBO.

 


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About the author

Courtney is a lifelong New Yorker fascinated with the city’s history, culture and cuisine. She loves exploring the world, as well as sharing her travel expertise with others.

She joined the Free Tours by Foot team in 2011, first as a guide and then as a writer. She has a law degree, a teaching degree and a worn-out passport. Her motto is “Have backpack, will travel”.