Clinton Hill Historic District
Clinton Hill Historic District is a national historic district in Brooklyn located between Fort Greene to the west, Bedford-Stuyvesant to the east – according to the map from its original designation as a national historic district in 1981. It consists of 1,063 largely residential buildings built between 1830 and 1930 in a wide range or architectural styles. Buildings include freestanding mansions, row houses, and apartment buildings, as well as a handful of churches, schools, and storefronts.
The Clinton Hill neighborhood began as a suburban retreat on the outskirts of the city of Brooklyn. Initially developed as a quiet middle-class residential neighborhood in the 1830s, it was almost completely built up by the 1880s. However, the community enjoyed another period of growth and appeal at the turn of the 20th century when Brooklyn’s wealthiest citizens came into the area and replaced many of the older houses with stylish new mansions.
The once quiet residential neighborhood became known as Brooklyn’s “Gold Coast.” The community remained popular with the affluent until the 1920s, when the wealthy abandoned the area for Manhattan and Clinton Hill again became a middle-class haven. Buildings from all of these periods survive in the Clinton Hill Historic District and give the area an uncommon diversity of architectural styles. Buildings in Clinton Hill range from small frame houses to monumental mansions. There are unified blocks of brownstone and brick row houses, asymmetrically massed rows of late 19th century houses, as well as institutional buildings that are a direct reflection of the area’s wealth and social standing. The neighborhood’s grandest avenue is anchored by several freestanding homes of a scale rarely seen in New York City. The most noteworthy were designed for the oil baron Charles Pratt by William Bunker Tubby, the architect of Amfitheatrof’s house. Pratt’s family home, at No. 232, is now part of St. Joseph’s College; he also commissioned three other houses, Nos. 229, 241 and 245, as wedding gifts for his sons. No. 241, the most imposing of all, now houses the Roman Catholic bishop of Brooklyn. Other distinctive houses are sprinkled south along the avenue toward Gates Avenue. Clinton Hill’s mix of architecture is unique from other neighborhoods in Brooklyn or Manhattan.
The oldest buildings were made in Greek Revival style which gave way to Gothic revival architecture in the early 1800s. In the 1840’s, Italian Renaissance architecture began to emerge as the preeminent popular style, and Clinton Hill’s brownstones, as well as those in neighborhing Fort Greene (which did not have it’s own unique neighborhood distinction until the early 1900s.) This style remained popular in Clinton Hill until the early 1870’s, when a variant of the style, French Second Empire, emerged, which featured peaked shingled mansard roof, typically decorated with ornate cast iron railings and featuring high peaked dormer windows.
In the late 1870’s a more angular and geometric architectural style began to infuse it’s way in to Clinton Hill’s buildings - the Neo-Grec is characterized by extensive use of angular forms and detailed carvings which were more possible in the later 1800’s due to the introductions of new technology and machinery that was capable of carving stone which made these carvings less expensive and labor intensive than hand carving options in the pre-mechanization age.
Prior to the 1870’s, most of the homes in Clinton Hill and indeed all of New York were erected and designed by builders (Lambert & Mason, as well as Benjamin Liniken were particulary active in Clinton Hill) however by the last 1870’s, most homes were designed by professional architects, particularly in the Neo-Greco style. The most active architect in this style, throughout New York City, was Amzi Hill, who also was responsible for many other Neo-Grec landmark buildings in Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Fort Greene. By the late 1880’s, most of the land in Clinton Hill had been built up, but architecture in the area still continued to change as some of the oldest Greek Revival and Italianate buildings were bought by new wealthy residents, who often demolished and rebuilt them in newer styles popular in the 1880’s and 90s, namely Romanesque Revival and Queen Ann styles, which represent many of the lighter colored stone houses, which are mostly large free standing highly ornate victorian-esque mansions, that dot the area.
In the late 1890’s a more uniform building style began to return, based in a more classical and less ornate form typical of the renaissance styles made in the early 1800’s, which is widely seen across most boroughs of Brooklyn. These buildings are considered neo-renaissance or Beaux-Arts in style, and are characterized by a more uniform limestone façade, often build in row form to create a more unified cityscape.
Despite this move towards more uniform neighborhood architecture in most neighborhoods of Brooklyn, a handful of stately brick and frame houses also joined the mix in Clinton Hill, mostly build in the late 1890’s and early 20th century in colonial revival or victorian style. Because of this massive array of architectural styles, housed in such a small urban area, Clinton Hill's historic district serve as a rich architectural timeline of great Brooklyn architecture in constantly changing neighborhood. (Architectural overview paraphrased from the original filing for Historical Site status under NYC mayor Ed Koch in 1981.)
Clinton Hill is dotted with cozy cafes, restaurants, shops, and boutique music and art venues, some tucked away on tree-lined blocks, however an abundance of the neighborhoods various restaurants, stores, and eateries line Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street.
SoCo, 509 Myrtle Ave.
This southern fusion restaurant is a big hit in the neighborhood, serving up a mix of Cajun/Creole, barbecue and soul food. 718-783-1936.
Urban Vintage, 294 Grand Ave.
One of the quaint coffee and tea spots in Clinton Hill, Urban Vintage is loved for its cozy character with lots of natural light. They also sell jewelry, housewares and other novelties. 718-783-6045.
Mac Shack, 901 Fulton St.
This tiny eatery’s specialty is its variety of gourmet mac and cheese, including the BK classic mac and the Mac Daffy, with smoked duck. 718-230-0727.
Speedy Romeo, 376 Classon Ave.
Co-owned by a former protégé of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and a onetime casting director for “The Sopranos,” this rollicking cafe and bar in a former auto-parts store on the Bedford-Stuyvesant border specializes in umami-rich farmers market fare, much of it wood-fired. During tomato season, order the sublime Speedy Romeo pie, which comes topped with lemony heirloom slices and generous dollops of housemade ricotta.
Locanda Vini e Olii, 129 Gates Ave.
Housed in a converted 117-year-old apothecary (the pharmacy area in back serves as the kitchen), this local institution crafts authentic Tuscan cuisine in one of the city’s most romantic settings.
Peck’s Gourmet Provisions, 455A Myrtle Ave.
This friendly storefront on formerly down-and-out Myrtle Avenue sells gourmet foodstuffs, decadent baked goods and damn fine cups of coffee. (347) 689-4969.
Clinton Hill Pickles, 431 DeKalb Avenue
Technically across the street from Clinton Hill in Bedford-Stuyvesant, this sliver of a shop, run by the former owners of the late, lamented Guss’ Pickles on the Lower East Side, offers everything from kimchi to preserved cauliflower to a steady stream of hungry Pratt students.
The Fulton Grand, 1011 Fulton St.
The Fulton Grand is known for its craft beer and whiskey selection as well as the seasonal beer specialties and Belgian and German brands, among others. 718-399-2240.
The Emerson Bar, 561 Myrtle Ave.
Frequented by residents and Pratt students alike, this funky literary-themed bar makes for an entertaining night with a live DJ, board games and pool. They also offer 12 beers on tap and outdoor seating in the back. 347-763-1310.
Hanson Dry, 925 Fulton St.
Another beloved neighborhood bar, Hanson Dry is known for their reasonably priced drinks and friendly atmosphere. Drinks include The Dublin Dare, mixed with Jameson Black Barrel and honey syrup and their classic Bee’s Knees, mixed with Damrak gin, honey and lemon juice. 347-422-0852.
Eddie Hibbert: architectural salvage, 224 Greene Ave.
Hibbert, a former FDNY firefighter, has peddled antique doors, fireplaces, furniture and ephemera rescued from the neighborhood’s decaying brownstones out of an unmarked garage for more than three decades.
Leisure Life NYC, 559 Myrtle Ave.
For the dapper gentleman with a taste for unique style, Leisure Life NYC will most likely supply what’s needed. The choices of vintage shirts, jackets, hats, jewelry and home accessories ensure a well put together outfit and living space. 347-725-3167.
Green in BKLYN, 432 Myrtle Ave.
Green in BKLYN caters to those living or wanting to adapt an eco-friendly lifestyle. Recycled paper and biodegradable products, as well as hypoallergenic and organic products are some of what’s offered. 718-855-4383. Closed Mondays.
BLDG 92: Brooklyn Navy Yard Center, 63 Flushing Ave.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard spans a few neighborhoods including Clinton Hill. BLDG 92, located just outside of Clinton Hill in Fort Greene, is the yard’s new museum. Filled with a rich historical record of New York City’s well-known ship yard, which played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, BLDG 92’s “Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present and Future” exhibit is a must-see. Admission is free. 718-907-5992.
Pratt Sculpture Park, between Dekalb and Hall streets.
The entire Brooklyn campus of The Pratt Institute is a sculpture park — the largest in New York City, according to the school. A range of sculptures from artists like Robert Indiana and Dorothy Frankel grace the 25-acre campus grounds. 718-636-3600.
FREECANDY, 905 Atlantic Ave., Second Fl.
This gallery/performance space got its start from a Kickstarter campaign created by former Pratt student, Todd Triplett. The aim is to showcase underexposed artists to underexposed audiences.