Situated in northwestern Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights is bounded to the West and North by Columbia Heights and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, to the East by Court Street and Cadman Plaza West, and by Atlantic Avenue to the South. The neighborhood is one of New York’s best kept secrets, as its beauty and hometown atmosphere are a striking complement to the bustling metropolis right next door. Historians have called it New York’s first suburb, and many visitors cannot do without a walk down the Promenade to take in breathtaking sunset views of New York Harbor. The varied architecture of this neighborhood includes beautiful wood homes built long ago by sailing captains, brownstone mansions, and carriage houses.
Named for its proximity to Prospect Park, Park Slope lies at the northeastern part of Brooklyn, bounded to the North by 4th and Flatbush Avenues, to the East by Flatbush Avenue and Prospect Park West, to the South by Prospect Park West and 15th Street, and to the West by 4th Avenue. It is a primarily residential area, made up of renovated row houses and apartment buildings. Many professionals love the area for its close proximity to Manhattan and economic housing options. Park Slope continues to be one of New York's most desired neighborhoods, for not only is it a diverse community of varied residents and cultures, but also Park Slope is a continuation of the elegance and grace of a bygone era.
Today’s Brooklyn Heights was originally called Ihpetonga by Canarsee Indians who inhabited the bluffs above the East River. The area progressed as farmland that was serviced by ferries by 1642, the most famous of which was run from the foot of what is now Fulton Street to Peck Slip in Manhattan. While the village of Brooklyn thrived around the ferry landing and along Fulton Street, it wasn’t until well into the nineteenth century that the land really became settled, starting with some factories cropping up along the wharves.
Once Robert Fulton’s steam ferry began running a dependable schedule crossing the East River in 1814, speculative development began. When Brooklyn was incorporated as a village in 1816, streets were laid out and graded across the land. Merchants began recognizing the area as a retreat from lower Manhattan, and farmland was eventually divided into twenty-five by one-hundred-foot-lots. With the 1820s came a building boom, beginning at the northern end of the district. Two-and-a-half-story frame and brick structures in the Federal style became the standard, belonging to tradesmen, seamen, and waterfront workers.
By the 1830s and 40s, Greek revival buildings made of more substantial brick and brownstone were being built further south. As houses of wealthy merchants became larger, more experimentation occurred in revival styles, including Italianate, Second Empire, Victorian Gothic, Romanesque, neo-Grec, and Classical. The area enjoyed a period of unmatched elegance throughout the nineteenth century. With the opening of the Interborough Rapid Transit system (IRT) in 1908, Brooklyn Heights was no longer secluded, making it far easier to live there and work elsewhere in the city. Many mansions became divided into apartments and boarding houses, and artists flocked to the neighborhood. But by the Depression era, the middle class had disappeared, and boarding houses had deteriorated into slums.
Through the 1940s and 50s, the entire northwest portion of the neighborhood was cleared for the construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Exquisite rows of brownstones were demolished to make room for institutional dorms and apartment buildings. In reaction, local residents formed the Brooklyn Heights Association to plan an Esplanade of park space along the East River. In 1965, a local group of residents called the Community Conservation and Improvement Council succeeded in having the neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as the first Historic District in New York City. Later gentrification in the 1970s and 80s led to the transformation of boarding houses into middle-class residences and condominiums.
In the 1850s, what is now Park Slope was a plot of land owned by lawyer and railroad developer Edwin C. Litchfield. His villa and its adjacent area were purchased in the 1860s by the City of New York to form Prospect Park. The Park Slope neighborhood got its name as a result of the park, which was officially designed by Central Park architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the early 1880s. Recognizing its distance from Brooklyn’s busy 19th century ferry terminals, the pivotal event in Park Slope’s development into a thriving neighborhood was really the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, allowing residents to commute easily to Manhattan. Mansions and modest row houses were built to accommodate professionals and entrepreneurs, as well as local factory workers. At this time, the area’s Ansonia Clock factory was the largest clock factory in the world. As development moved further south and into parts of suburban Long Island following the First and Second World Wars, Park Slope became more of a working class neighborhood, largely populated by the Irish.
Since the Park Slope Landmark District was designated in 1974, Park Slope has enjoyed a resurgence in desirability and popularity amongst professionals and those who are drawn to the neighborhood’s convenience and historic beauty.