Archive | November, 2013

Warren Place

25 Nov

Time, my friends! You know what I’m saying? There’s not enough of it…..or else I mean to say, it passes. But what can you do? That’s the entire medium we live our lives in right, time passing – like what water is to the fishies or mayonnaise to an egg-salad sandwich. I mean, nothing would happen without time passing. So I guess we should enjoy it. And I do! Most of the time. It’s just that I have all these things I want to write about and I kind of try to keep a list about them even and stay on top of things but then time keeps passing and I can’t even begin to keep it up. I was going to try to blame it on the Red Sox winning the World Series but damn, even that was a long time ago! Still, there’s some kind of lesson there about time passing too, right? In baseball, I mean: the drama of each anticipatory moment becoming reality a few seconds later, a reality that can never be undone. Actually, that’s kind of what the game is all about. Maybe it’s just cause I’m the last true American (no pressure though) but I pretty much enjoy watching playoff baseball more than anything in life. Well, my sons pretty cool too I guess. And you know, my parents. Oh yeah, and my wife. Hi honey!

But back to those lists. Cobble Hill was on there at some point, though it’s getting on a ways. I remember that I was wearing a t-shirt when I walked through here and thought about it, and it seems the t-shirt days are long behind us. I’m a little embarrassed  to say this (being the last true American and all) but I’ve only just gotten around to finally knowing the difference between Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill and (here’s the embarrassing part especially) Clinton Hill, but now I’ve finally gotten it straightened. But even having it straightened I was unprepared for how arresting the streetscape of Cobble Hill is. I don’t know 19th century Philadelphia too well, but it reminded me of that: narrow streets and close set, squat brick houses. It’s beautiful but it’s not beautiful like Brooklyn Heights or Park Slope I guess, is what I mean to say. I don’t know, maybe someone who knows it better might disagree.

But here’s a pretty damn good example: the Workingmen’s Cottages on Warren Place. I can’t think of an equivalent anywhere in the city.  These 34 “cottages” run along the private Warren Place, gated at both ends. They’re all 3-stories tall and 11 feet wide and included a total of 6 rooms in their original iteration, as well as a rear alley in the back that it seems have now been turned into private patios. As the name implies they were built as affordable housing: one-family homes for low and middle income tenants, and they all included private toilets – quite a treat at the time. The time by the way was 1879, when most “affordable housing” didn’t look like this. Of course most affordable housing doesn’t look like this now. (And yeah, I’ll just go ahead and mention that one of these sold for $1.3 million in June…are you surprised though?)


The houses were built by Alfred Tredway White, who was apparently known as “the great heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self,” (they don’t make nicknames like they used to) and who was responsible for a number of highly lauded affordable housing projects in the late 19th century. White was a Brooklyn native, coming from what you could call good (wealthy) Brooklyn stock; he married one of the granddaughters of former mayor – of both Brooklyn and then New York City – Seth Low, which is pretty good stock too. And it seems he was a pretty good guy – “heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self” and all. He was the superintendent of Brooklyn’s First Unitarian Church’s settlement school for something like 50 years, and through his experience with the homes of his poorer pupils he became involved in building innovative affordable housing. Right next door to his cottages he built the Tower Buildings (1879) and the Home Buildings (1877), also for the working classes. His motto was “philanthropy plus 5%” encapsulating his belief that work for the public good could still return a decent investment. That’s all around a better motto than what you might find in action today isn’t it – which I guess I’d describe as  “tax breaks and as much profit as I can get.” It’s cool though you know? I mean, time passes, it doesn’t always have to be this way.