Institute of Classical Architecture & Art

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Private Brooklyn

December 4-7, 2014

Arranged by Classical Excursions and the Private Brooklyn Committee
Led by Architectural Historian Francis Morrone

Before 1898, when it merged with New York City, Brooklyn was an independent city, the fourth most populous in the country. If Brooklyn were today an independent city, it would still be the fourth largest city in the country–only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have more people than Brooklyn. It should come as no surprise that Brooklyn has retained its own unique civic identity. And today, Brooklyn flourishes as never before.

The original city centered on Brooklyn Heights and Downtown Brooklyn, and was settled by New Englanders who did not care for the Gomorrah across the river. They were high-minded, cultured, committed to the abolition of slavery–like the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the most famous man in America in the mid-19th century.

A great industrial and shipping complex developed along the East River waterfront, and in time many staple goods emerged from the factories, from Pfizer’s and Squibb’s pharmaceuticals to Domino sugar. The docks were among the world’s busiest.

The makers of industrial and mercantile fortunes found homes in fashionable neighborhoods such as Park Slope and Clinton Hill, which were among the most affluent communities in the United States. Elegant town houses and mansions stood within a richly appointed public realm of majestic churches, banks, parks, and plazas.

Prospect Park is widely said to be Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s masterpiece. McKim, Mead & White’s Brooklyn Museum became one of the world’s great art museums, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music one of the world’s great performing arts venues. While many great New York architects, including McKim, Mead & White, left their mark on Brooklyn, the many indigenous architects?including Frank Freeman, Montrose W. Morris, William B. Tubby, and Frank Helmle–gave Brooklyn a style all its own.

Brooklyn soon eclipsed Manhattan in population, and became the residential haven of middle-class and working-class New Yorkers. Brooklyn was home to a great prospering Jewish middle-class, the sons and daughters of which–like Barbra Streisand and Woody Allen–would do much to stamp the American culture of the second half of the 20th century. Soon, however, Brooklyn’s stock plummeted, as many older neighborhoods declined. The Dodgers decamped for southern California.

By the end of the 20th century, however, many of the declining neighborhoods had turned around. The antiquated housing stock drew new well-heeled devotees and “gentrification” became the hallmark of the era in Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, and Williamsburg. Today, “Brooklyn” connotes the hip, the fashionable–artisanal food culture, meticulously restored row houses, movie stars. In Paris, the trend is for “Brooklyn-style” restaurants.

Our “Private Brooklyn” tour focuses on four neighborhoods: Brooklyn Heights, Clinton Hill, Park Slope, and Prospect Park South. The goal is to show the best of both old and new residential architecture and design in Brooklyn, and along the way show why and how Brooklyn–sometimes maddeningly hard to know–became the global trendsetter that it is today.

In Brooklyn Heights we will visit the dazzling penthouse apartment, with unmatched panoramic views of New York Harbor combined with an outstanding art and furniture collection, in the new and much talked-about Brooklyn Bridge Park, of one of the most powerful real estate brokers in New York. We will see a spectacular Greek Revival town house on Columbia Heights, with unsurpassed views from its back windows of lower Manhattan and the East River.

Clinton Hill was, after Brooklyn Heights, the neighborhood of Brooklyn’s elite, especially its richest family, the Pratts. Charles Pratt was a founding partner of the Standard Oil Trust, and on wide, spacious Clinton Avenue he built his own home as well as mansions for several of his sons, all of whom were involved in the family business and philanthropies, of which the best known is Brooklyn’s distinguished design school Pratt Institute.

We will see the Babb, Cook & Willard-designed mansion of Frederic Bayley Pratt, longtime president of Pratt Institute. The house is now the home of current Pratt Institute president Dr. Thomas F. Schutte and his wife, Tess. We will go next door to the former mansion of George Dupont Pratt, also by Babb, Cook & Willard, now part of St. Joseph’s College. A unique feature of Clinton Hill is Waverly Avenue, one of the best-preserved streets of 19th-century carriage houses remaining in the country. Now converted to residences, we will visit one of these. We will also see the Clinton Hill homes of a well-known Food Network host and of the classical painter John Kelley.

Park Slope, developed in the late 19th century, and succeeded the Heights and the Hill as Brooklyn’s most exclusive neighborhood. More recently, when New York Magazine asked the famed statistician Nate Silver to devise a metric for ranking the livability of New York neighborhoods, Park Slope came out number one. Our visit will include a reception at “Villa Berkeley,” the spectacularly restored néo-Grec town house of Clem Labine and Deirdre Lawrence. Clem bought the house–a fixer-upper–in the 1960s. His renovation efforts led him to found the magazine Old House Journal and, later, Period Homes and Traditional Building.

We will have dinner at the fabulous Montauk Club. Once, everyone who was anyone in Brooklyn had to be a member of the Montauk Club. It wasn’t optional. The gorgeous Venetian Gothic clubhouse, by Francis H. Kimball, has been lovingly preserved, and features some of the finest terra-cotta decoration in the country.

En route to the nearby Brooklyn Museum, we will pause to look at Grand Army Plaza, one of the country’s finest public spaces from the City Beautiful era, with its Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, said by architectural historian Henry Hope Reed to be the finest triumphal arch of modern times, after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. At the Brooklyn Museum we will enjoy a tour by Briana Miller (both an Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Fellow and a Brooklyn Museum docent) of the museum’s architectural highlights. We will enjoy dinner at the museum’s highly acclaimed restaurant, Saul.

“Private Brooklyn” will also take us to the former Town of Flatbush, south of Prospect Park and Park Slope, where, in the early 20th-century planned community of Prospect Park South, we will visit the “Japanese House,” an improbable and beguiling confection by the great Brooklyn architects Petit & Green.

Accompanying the group on its journeys through Brooklyn will be the architectural historian Francis Morrone, widely regarded as the foremost authority on the history and architecture of Brooklyn.

“Private Brooklyn” has been designed to show off one of the great urban success stories of recent times, a borough that is a city in its own right, and to help you understand the buzz, and why today so many people from around the world choose to move, not to New York City, but to Brooklyn.

Comfortable three-night accommodations have been arranged at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge, 333 Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. The itinerary will begin Thursday evening, December 4, with an opening dinner and lecture by Francis Morrone, and will end Sunday at 12:00 pm, December 7. For inquiries, contact Tom Hayes at Classical Excursions, or (413) 243-4155.

Due to the private nature of many of the tour sites, they are subject to change while others will be added.

Please note a fully tax-deductible donation of $500 per person is required to participate in this Travel Program. Click here to make your donation online now.