Monday, September 1, 2008
Wandering through the San Francisco MOMA bookstore today I happened by accident to pick up a copy of the book Brooklyn Modern and, after wondering what rock I've been sleeping under this spring and summer, promptly bought a copy to bring home and read the wonderful essays by Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge and Jonathan Butler of Brownstoner while enjoying the point of view photographs from talented photographer Yoko Inoue.
Seeing a second renaissance in the "hood" where I did a lot of my growing up fills me with a mixture of emotions. My stepmother Elizabeth and my father (and my Aunt Nancy) raised me and my three younger brothers in Boerum Hill in the seventies while holding down demanding jobs and remodelling their 150 year old brownstone. In those days you couldn't get a cab in Manhattan to cross the Brooklyn Bridge - today a talented actress I just watched in the movie Transsiberian is our neighbor.
These photos do a remarkable job of transmitting the light that pours in the long narrow windows, wide floorboards and high ceilings. On summer evenings neighbors gathered on their stoops or walked their dogs and stopped to talk about the next block party or Boerum Hill House Tour . My parents were among the first wave of young professionals who were perhaps priced out of Manhattan and saw the inherit beauty of these brownstones. They planted trees forty years ago that now provide shade to the neighborhoods off Atlantic Avenue or Smith Street.
Neighbors opened the first shops like Nancy Cogen's Melting Pot where I used to batik t-shirts when I was in college and lease empty lots from the city where small vest-pocket parks were planted and department stores donated benches for residents to sit - there were storybook readings for the smaller kids and I think I knew almost everyone who lived in the next block or two around me - pretty rare considering this was New York City in 1976!
I think I most loved sitting in the backyard after the chain link fence had been pulled down and the concrete replaced by rose bushes and grape arbors where the world's tallest pear tree grew in the back. We would barbecue and sit at the picnic table hearing our neighbors in their yards too. The Williamsburg Bank building was really the only skyscraper in the distance silhouetted by the setting sun. My brothers would catch fireflies in a jar and they'd glow luminous in the twilight - on and off like stars in the gallaxy; it really doesn't get much better than that!