Friday, July 29, 2011

62 Montague Street: From 1887 To The Present... A Place Called Home

(John Lloyd)
Despite moving to New York City back in 1995, it wasn't until I bought my first coop in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., 11 years ago, that I first set foot in the borough of BK. In those first five years in NYC, I worked my way through three nabes—the Upper West Side, Chelsea and Tribeca—before a friend suggested Brooklyn Heights.

"But that's in... um, Brooklyn," I responded. Oh, how times have changed.

In 2000, interest rates were steep (8.5%), but after seeing dozens of overpriced or undersized units, at last I found my utopia: a two-bedroom dump in a beautifully historic building near the end of the Heights' main drag, Montague Street, just steps from the consummate view of Manhattan along the Promenade.

In the decade-plus since, I've renovated the kitchen, the second bedroom & hallway, the bathroom—and in January, had the pleasure of a master bedroom makeover, courtesy of HGTV's Dear Genevieve. The living room... well, one of these days.

While the apartment is hardly light-filled, I can't imagine living anywhere else. The building now has a rooftop deck, the neighbors are a gregarious lot and since working for the U.S. Census last summer, I've come to love a wide swath of big ole BK. It doesn't hurt that a grocery store and liquor shop—essential—are mere blocks away. So it might be shady indoors, but it takes all of 60 seconds to discover paradise on the outside.

And now some history of the building I call home, built even before your mama was born, in 1887. First, my fave, from 1920. Note the beautiful iron canopy. Sadly, it has vanished in the decades since.

The Harbor View Apartments, later named The Arlington, were completed in 1887. The building was designed by Montrose W. Morris, who had built his own residence in Brooklyn and opened it to the public as his office, as a means of advertising his acumen.

Among visitors was developer Louis F. Seitz, who, mightily impressed, commissioned an apartment house on property he owned on BK's Nostrand Avenue. He was so pleased with the resulting Alhambra that he commissioned Morris to design two additional multiple-family residences—a growing trend amid the prominent brownstones in Brooklyn Heights.

In 1885, architectural firm Parfitt Brothers built the Montague, Grosvenor & Berkeley apartment buildings on Montague Street. Two years later, Morris was commissioned to design The Arlington, just steps from the ferry landing at the foot of Montague.Above, looking north from Montague Terrace. You can see the Arlington's cornucopia on the right, one building up. The iron fence is to protect pedestrians from being run down by the trolley that motored down to the ferry landing.Forty years before: Montague Street at the foot of the East River in 1850.1914: At the time, the trolley ran to the end of Montague Street, where a ferry took old-moneyed passengers to Wall Street.Above, bustling ship trade along the Brooklyn Heights waterfront, looking across to Manhattan. The Arlington is on the left, middle. Below, the ferry landing at the tip of Montague Street. Below, the opposite view, looking up toward Montague Street. Note the tug boat on the right.Harlem-born American playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) lived on the 10th floor of 62 Montague in the early 1940s with his first wife Mary Grace Slattery, paying $60 a month, while writing and working at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It's said to be one of four addresses he held in the Heights. In 1946, his play All My Sons earned him a first Tony Award.

In 1949, Miller's career-defining Death of A Salesman won a Pulitzer Prize and another Tony Award, propelling him to fame. He met Marilyn Monroe in 1951, had a brief affair, then left poor Mary to become Monroe's third husband in July 1956. She wasn't having Brooklyn, and the couple moved to Manhattan. They divorced in 1961 and Monroe died 19 months later. Perhaps she'd still be with us had the pair stayed in BK?The Arlington originally contained 20 family apartments and 10 "bachelor"—or studio—units. For its first 20 years, at 10 stories, the building was the tallest residence in the Heights.
In 1965, 62 Montague joined Brooklyn Heights as a National Historic Landmark for its "rare charm and historic significance." The petition read: "Of the 1,284 buildings fronting on streets within the proposed District, 684 were built before the Civil War and 1,078 before the turn of the century. There are 60 Federal, 405 Greek Revival, 47 Gothic Revival and 201 Anglo-ltalianate buildings as well as 216 buildings in eclectic and miscellaneous styles, not to mention 61 early carriage-houses grouped largely along unspoiled mews. In addition, 190 buildings are of generally conforming scale."

To maintain the auspices of its Landmark stature, the building is currently undergoing a massive renovation to restore and repair its facade to original grandeur, which contains astonishing details, including terra cotta cherubs, intricate roping in the concrete and other decorative elements from sidewalk level to tip. The project is enduring the better part of a year.
(Note: This is an updated post that first appeared on The Smoking Nun in June 2010.)