Brooklyn Heights holds the honor of being home to the first historic district designated by New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission, in 1965. Spanning from Old Fulton Street south to Atlantic Avenue and from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the west to as far east as Clinton Street in parts, the Brooklyn Heights Historic District encompasses most of the neighborhood. Among its more than 600 buildings are hundreds that predate the Civil War.
A walking tour of the district is a wonderful way to spend a sunny weekend day. Below are a few sites you definitely want to visit during your stroll.
Eagle Warehouse & Storage Company building
28 Old Fulton Street (between Elizabeth Place and Hicks Street)
The main entrance of the former Eagle Warehouse. Image: Sagarjethani/Wikimedia
Converted to 84 co-op apartments in 1980, this imposing red-brick building takes its name from the Brooklyn “Eagle,” a newspaper whose offices were on this site before the current structure was built in 1894. The poet Walt Whitman was among the editors of the “Eagle,” but he never worked in this particular building; his editorship ran from 1846 to 1848. Just one block from the Brooklyn Bridge, the current building was constructed as a warehouse for furniture and other household items. While “warehouse” conjures up images of characterless cubes, the Eagle Warehouse boasts cornices, a massive clock face in the window of what is now the penthouse apartment, and most prominent, a huge arched entryway with the building’s name in large bronze letters.
(between Poplar and Cranberry Streets)
24 Middagh Street, one of the oldest homes in the city. Image: Ingfbruno/Wikimedia
Middagh Street is not the only thoroughfare in the neighborhood dotted with Greek Revival and Federalist-style homes dating back to the first half of the 19th century, but it is among the most picturesque. What’s more, 24 Middagh Street (at Willow Street), built in 1829, is one of the oldest homes not just in Brooklyn but in all of New York City.
57 Orange Street (between Henry and Hicks Streets)
A statue of Henry Ward Beecher in front of Plymouth Church. Image: Kateypup/Wikimedia
Completed in 1850, the Plymouth Church is often cited as a prime example of “urban tabernacle” architecture, without the center aisle found in most other churches. It also features, in its garden, a statue of the church’s first pastor, Henry Ward Beecher, and a bas-relief of Abraham Lincoln. Both were sculpted by Gutzon Borglum, best remembered today for carving Mount Rushmore. Borglum belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, which is particularly ironic given that Beecher was a renowned abolitionist (and the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) and that the church was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Sometimes called the Grand Central Depot of the Underground Railroad, the church hid slaves in its basement, accessible via a stairway tucked behind the pulpit.
Herman Behr Mansion
180 Henry Street (at Pierrepont Street)
The Herman Behr Mansion. Image: Elisa.rolle/Wikimedia
Frank Freeman, the architect responsible for the Eagle Warehouse, designed this Romanesque Revival home in 1888 for industrialist Herman Behr. The exterior is a fantastical mélange of red brick and rusticated stone, bays and balconies, embellished with sandstone dragons and stained-glass windows. Herman later gave the mansion to his son Karl, a tennis player who competed at Wimbledon (and who survived the sinking of the “Titanic”). Karl sold the home in 1919 to a hotelier. As the Hotel Palm, the mansion gained an insalubrious reputation over the decades, eventually becoming a brothel. In 1961 it was sold again, becoming the antithesis of a bordello: a home for Franciscan monks. The building was sold again in 2008 and converted into condo apartments.
Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street (at Clinton Street)
Inside the Brooklyn Historical Society. Image: LABabble/Flickr
One block east of the Herman Behr Mansion is another of the neighborhood’s most striking buildings, the Brooklyn Historical Society. Designed by George B. Post, the architect responsible for the New York Stock Exchange Building, the Queen Anne-style structure was completed in 1881. Gracing the red-brick façade are terracotta busts of Beethoven, Columbus, Benjamin Franklin, Gutenberg, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare. No less impressive is the interior, with stained-glass windows, gleaming carved wood, and bronze hardware designed by Post. Perhaps most noteworthy is the gallery-style top floor, suspended from the roof via iron trusses. The majestic design is not the only reason to visit the Brooklyn Historical Society. Its library is home to more than 33,000 books, 50,000 photographs, and 8,000 artifacts about the history of the borough, and it hosts special exhibits as well. For instance, now through autumn it is celebrating the 150th anniversary of Prospect Park with a dedicated exhibition, and through winter 2019 another exhibition, “The Business of Brooklyn,” commemorates the centennial of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.
St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church
157 Montague Street (at Clinton Street)
Inside St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church. Image: poohlaga/Lauren Gardner/Flickr via Wikimedia
On the same block of Clinton Street as the Brooklyn Historical Society, this Episcopal church, originally known as the Church of the Holy Trinity, held its first services in 1847. Among the most eye-catching features of this Gothic Revival building are the elaborate 63-foot-high fan-vaulted ceiling and the figural stained-glass windows by William Jay Bolton, the first person in the country to design and manufacture such windows. Dissension among congregation members and the diocese led to the parish being dissolved in 1957. The church sat unused for 12 years, until Brooklyn’s oldest Episcopal congregation, St. Ann’s, sold its building to the Packer Collegiate Institute and relocated here.
Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral
113 Remsen Street (at Henry Street)
The front doors of Our Lady of Lebanon came from the S.S. “Normandie.” Image: Fordmadoxfraud/Wikimedia
When its first services were held here, in 1846, the building belonged to the Church of the Pilgrims. In 1934 its congregation merged with that of Plymouth Church, with services held at the latter; nine years later the Maronite Church bought this building and converted it to Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral. Numerous enhancements have been made to Romanesque Revival building since then. For instance, the front doors, adorned with bronze medallions, had been the dining-hall doors of the S.S. “Normandie”; the interior includes marble pilasters from the New York mansion of Charles M. Schwab; French artist Jean Crotti designed stained-glass windows installed in the 1950s; and the sanctuary’s marble and onyx flooring came from the French and Lebanese pavilions of the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Packer Collegiate Institute
170 Joralemon Street (between Clinton and Court Streets)
The Packer Collegiate Institute. Image: Beyond My Ken/Wikimedia
Packer Collegiate Institute was founded in 1845 as the Brooklyn Female Academy. A fire destroyed the original building in 1853; Harriet Putnam Packer offered to pay for a new structure so long as it was named after her late husband. Packer went co-ed in 1972, but it is still headquartered in the Gothic Revival building designed by Minard Lafever, the architect responsible for the nearby Church of the Holy Trinity, the building includes a 700-seat chapel with Tiffany windows. The campus also encompasses the original St. Ann’s Church, which the school acquired in 1969. Now home to Packer’s middle school, the church was designed by James Renwick Jr., whose other notable structures include the Smithsonian Institute Building in Washington DC and Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. As for the school itself, notable alumni include suffragist Lucy Burns, author Lois Lowry, and local news anchor Rosanna Scotto.