A couple of years ago, my husband coined the phrase “old-new-Brooklyn” to describe our demographic relationship to the borough. Nowadays, you almost need a qualifier like that because Brooklyn’s so-called Renaissance has been more than two decades in the making – long before Lena Dunham and “Girls” decamped in Greenpoint.
We moved from Manhattan to Park Slope in 1999. The area was just starting to solidify its reputation as a haven for young families. We snagged a rent-stabilized apartment in the South Slope, which, at the time, featured an intriguing mix of squat houses with vinyl siding, brick homes and low-level apartment buildings – a smorgasbord of architectural styles as diverse as those who inhabit the spaces.
Vinyl siding, brick homes and low-level apartment buildings – a smorgasbord of architectural styles as diverse as those who inhabit the spaces.
As the years progressed, old buildings came down and new ones went up, but our block still maintained its eclectic, almost haphazard appearance. The first wave of development saw an influx of small-density apartment buildings – mostly three- and four-story brick apartments. Styles ranged from utilitarian and functional to classic and charming. It was striking how even the smallest details – the addition of decorative flowerbeds in windowsills – transformed otherwise basic, functional buildings into quaint, welcoming newcomers.
Not long after the brick buildings went up, the more unusual-looking buildings moved in. One block east of my building, an angular-shaped apartment complex with large balconies, painted in a peculiar shade of orange, reminded me of the sprawling apartment houses I saw growing up in Los Angeles, where multi-family housing is considered a necessity afforded the architectural heft of the average mini-mall. Next door to my apartment, a four-story building constructed from a mix of glass, concrete and brick is a modern and somewhat attractive addition to the block.
…a peculiar shade of orange reminded me of the sprawling apartment houses I saw growing up in Los Angeles, where multi-family housing is considered a necessity afforded the architectural heft of the average mini-mall.
Most recently, the construction ‘du jour’ involves gut renovation on the vinyl row houses – long considered the lowest rung on the two-family-home totem pole. Almost overnight, these once dilapidated structures have seemingly been reborn as sophisticated houses awash in earthy shades of dark gray and taupe. I have a special affinity for the homes that have decorative molding affixed to the roof, an architectural nod to the neighboring turn-of-the century apartment buildings.
Of course, watching all this development makes me feel antsy for some change myself. That said, I’m “old-new-Brooklyn” enough to know that rent-stabilized apartments don’t grow on trees.
Photos by Bonnie Clark