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Prospect Park South

PPS intro

 

Bit late and a little early but Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Hope it was and will be a wonderful time.

To the final NY post before we jump on yet another plane to fly to… Let me get to that. First, let’s wander around a neighbourhood I had no intention of doing – but am very glad I did.

Remember last week I said I wanted to see how the ‘tale of two cities’ was going by exploring a neighbourhood that barely noticed Hurricane Sandy and then one that most definitely did? Well, after doing the UWS as the former, we were all set to do the latter by trekking out to the Rockaways. But then I was told by someone who’d recently been out there that it wouldn’t be easy to actually photograph the aftermath of the storm because so much of it had been cleared, and I was better off going somewhere like Coney Island, where perhaps I’d see more.

So off we went to Coney Island – but found little there too. All the areas that were affected by the hurricane face real long-term problems – you just can’t see them easily.

As much as I’d like to have documented a neighbourhood struggling to regroup, I decided to cut my losses and go to plan B – a tiny neighbourhood called Prospect Park South in Brooklyn.

If you ask the average New Yorker about PPS, they’re likely to say, “Where?”. Admittedly it’s small – around six by two blocks with just 206 homes – but it packs a punch for a micro-neighbourhood. Because most of the houses here are big. In some cases, huge.

Some facts. PPS was designed by developer Dean Alvord at the turn of last century as a piece of “country in the city”, just south of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. But instead of building humble cooker-cutter cottages Alvord dreamed up an eclectic, whimsical and somewhat crazy mix of Colonial, Queen Anne, Italianate, French Renaissance, Japanese, Elizabethan and Jacobean. I can only imagine this was a man who wore interesting suits.

The really amazing thing is that if Alvord could walk the streets of his creation today, he’d barely notice any changes. The community who live here are pro-preservation and in 1978 PPS was designated a historic district. Something Miles the artist-preservationist from last week’s post would’ve no doubt raised a glass to.

Let’s stroll…

 

Part 1: Where did Brooklyn go?

Like I said, first we visited Coney Island, a low lying area of NY and one that was affected quite badly by the storm surge. Not that you’d know it if you just glanced at the place. On a day where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was easy to think that the hurricane had never happened.

 

 

what hurricane?

what hurricane? :: 1

 

 

 

 

Maybe a little dirtier than normal…

 

 

what hurricane? :: 2

what hurricane? :: 2

 

 

 

 

But that was about all you could see – sure there was a Cyclone there, but that was just one of the rides. And even it was still standing after the storm. So we trotted off to Prospect Park South for an entirely different experience.

 

 

we trotted off to Prospect Park South

we trotted off to Prospect Park South

 

 

 

 

It’s so weird. You exit the subway at Church Avenue, which is kind of down at heel. You walk a little and then suddenly you realise you’ve crossed an invisible line, one that separates normal Brooklyn and Prospect Park South…

 

 

Church Avenue, where you 'leave' NY to cross into another world

Church Avenue, where you ‘leave’ NY to cross into another world

 

 

 

 

that's a house?!

that’s a house?!

 

 

 

 

As I said, there are about 200 homes here, in varying states ranging from pristine to those in need of repair. Because as much as the people who live here adore their old homes, they cost an enormous amount to maintain. The one below, for example, is apparently costing its owner over a million just to bring it back to life. These homes are clearly more than a roof over one’s head – they’re love affairs.

 

 

being "loved back" to life

being “loved back” to life

 

 

 

 

I was lucky enough to meet the woman they call the “Queen” of the neighbourhood, Mary Kay Gallagher. Not long after moving into the area almost 50 years ago with her husband and six kids, she became the neighbourhood’s only real estate broker – if you wanted to buy in PPS, you had to make it past Mary Kay. She also played a huge role in getting the landmark designation through in 1979 and is active in the local resident’s group, the PPS Association. At 92 she’s sharp as a tack and still running her real estate business, although now her grand-daughter is her “legs”. How many homes come onto the market each year, I asked her? “Ten would be a good year”. And the price? “Around 1.5″. Cheap by Sydney standards.

 

 

the Queen of Prospect Park South, Mary Kay Gallagher

the Queen of Prospect Park South, Mary Kay Gallagher

 

 

 

 

surveying her kingdom

surveying her kingdom

 

 

 

 

So who lives here, aside from Mary Kay? Things have changed a little from the early 1900s when you had to be of a certain type. Alvord’s comments in the original prospectus were: “In fixing upon a location for a home, it is pleasant to live where wife and children, in going to and fro, are not subjected to the annoyance of contact with the undesirable elements of society”.

But you still have to be wealthy enough to afford both the initial purchase price as well as the hefty ongoing costs. Which might explain why the area has always had a huge number of doctors and still does – like Chris, who despite his flamboyant style of dress, is an MD, living in one of the more moderately sized homes with his wife and daughter.

 

 

Chris the doctor

Chris the doctor

 

 

 

 

Dan, who lives down the road from Chris, with his wife and two boys, isn’t a doctor. But he bought a famous surgeon’s house just over three years ago. He’d spent years searching for the right house in the area – and tried Mark Kay Gallagher’s patience in the process. In the end she rang him and said, “Dan, I’ve showed you loads of houses. I’m going to show you one more and if you don’t like it, never call me again”.

Luckily for both of them, Dan loved the last house she showed him. It wasn’t a mansion – because Dan didn’t want anything too big – and it was a great deal. While it’s not the grandest or prettiest, Dan’s completely in love with both the neighbourhood and his home – “We live in a palace. We have chooks and I grow my own fruit and vegetables out the back. There’s space for the boys to run around and it’s really safe. The Upper West Side where we used to live couldn’t have given us any of this.”

 

 

room to move - Nathan and Calvin :: 1

room to move – Nathan and Calvin :: 1

 

 

 

 

room to move - Nathan and Calvin :: 2

room to move – Nathan and Calvin :: 2

 

 

 

 

happy in their hood

happy in their hood

 

 

 

 

"We live in a palace. A palace with chooks" - Dan

“We live in a palace. A palace with chooks” – Dan

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The Japanese House

My favourite house out of the 200 is the one everyone calls “The Japanese house”. Built in 1902, it looks so out of place in Brooklyn, NY, it isn’t funny. But that’s what’s so cool about it. What was Alvord thinking?

 

 

the Japanese House :: 1

the Japanese House :: 1

 

 

 

 

the Japanese House :: 2

the Japanese House :: 2

 

 

 

 

the Japanese House :: 3

the Japanese House :: 3

 

 

 

 

Given the temple-like exterior you almost expect to walk into a zen-like, sparsely decorated interior. But no. The home of Gloria Fischer and her late husband, Albert, is anything but sparse. They’ve lived here for 40 years and have been collecting things from all over the world for just as long.

 

 

40 years of collecting later :: 1

40 years of collecting later :: 1

 

 

 

 

40 years of collecting later :: 2

40 years of collecting later :: 2

 

 

 

 

I loved Gloria. Like Mary Kay Gallagher, she ain’t a wallflower. But once they work out you’re not a total idiot, it’s just fine. Then they’re only a little bit scary.

 

 

Gloria

Gloria

 

 

 

 

"My house is very much part of me, yes"

“My house is very much part of me, yes”

 

 

 

 

Like me, Gloria loves juxtaposing the unexpected – as must have Alvord. Why else would he have plonked a Japanese house right next door to a Greek one?

 

 

Gloria's Greek neighbour

Gloria’s Greek neighbour

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Showing their age

Unlike the 100+ year old homes that are well maintained, there are a handful of ones in the neighbourhood that have let themselves go a little. The result varies – some look lovely in their old age, others more than a little spooky.

I particularly like the one where an entire side is covered in some sort of vine. It’s right next door to the one that’s being “loved back to life” – whereas with this one nature is busy reclaiming its ground.

 

 

nature reclaims its ground :: 1

nature reclaims its ground :: 1

 

 

 

 

nature reclaims its ground :: 2

nature reclaims its ground :: 2

 

 

 

 

bird on a branch

bird on a branch

 

 

 

 

And I’m intrigued by the spooky house down the road that is apparently used a lot for films – spooky films I’m sure.

 

 

the spooky place

the spooky place

 

 

 

 

Part 4: The sage green house

Now what I haven’t told you is that I’ve been to PPS before, many times in fact. Because this is where the sister of our friend Chris from the UWS lives – Mary K, with her husband, Bill, and their three kids. Had I not come here with Chris many years ago, I would probably never have known about it either.

When plan A fell through this week – to visit an area affected by the hurricane – I immediately thought of PPS. I’ve always loved it and since this was where we were going to spend Christmas eve and morning, it made sense.

Plus we were invited to their annual Caroling Party a few days before Christmas, where around 80 of their friends pile into their home to make merry around the piano.

A perfect opportunity to test out something I’ve never tried before – a flash!

 

 

109 years old and still going strong

109 years old and still going strong

 

 

 

 

Silent Night, not - the Caroling Party

Silent Night, not – the Caroling Party

 

 

 

 

The house isn’t the biggest in PPS but it’s plenty big enough to keep every age group happy: the adults downstairs, the teenagers on the third floor and the kids, on the second floor in the TV room or running up and down wherever they fancied.

 

 

the teenagers room

the teenagers room

 

 

 

 

the kids room :: 1

the kids room :: 1

 

 

 

 

the kids room :: 2

the kids room :: 2

 

 

 

 

the chill-out room

the chill-out room

 

 

 

 

Previously always opposed to using a flash, I decided to make a feature of it and have some fun. Helped along no doubt by the malted red wine Mary K insist I try.

 

 

engaged couple No 1

engaged couple No 1

 

 

 

 

engaged couple No 2

engaged couple No 2

 

 

 

 

1am and still singing

1am and still singing

 

 

 

 

Part 5: Christmas morning

Coco and I joined Chris and Mary K’s family for Christmas eve dinner and then stayed overnight. Christmas morning was no different to any over – the kids are awake at the crack of dawn, dragging bleary eyed adults downstairs to the tree. A flurry of present giving and then everyone kind of flops.

Unless there’s a pesky woman with a camera ushering you out the door for a Christmas morning shot.

 

 

Christmas morning - Ellie and Audrey

Christmas morning – Ellie and Audrey

 

 

 

 

no snow but at least the sun is shining

no snow but at least the sun is shining

 

 

 

 

Coco and I had time for one last look around the lovely old house and then it was time to thank Mary K and everyone, and head back to the UWS.

 

 

looking down from the third floor - PPS, where even the traffic island is beautiful

looking down from the third floor – PPS, where even the traffic island is beautiful

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

People don’t come to Prospect Park South for the interesting street life – there is none. They come because of the houses.

“I, Home Owner, do take thee house… in sickness and in health, till death – or lack of funds to keep you in new clapboard and shingles, dormer windows, stained glass, and the odd Greek column or two – do us part.”

They’re commitments, often life-long ones. And they must be buggers to heat. But what houses they are.

 

 

 

Coco's favourite plaything on Christmas morning - Moo, a rescue kitten from the hurricane

Coco’s favourite plaything on Christmas morning – Moo, a rescue kitten from the hurricane

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

‘Christmas in NY’ is quite something. What with all the shows, the ice-skating, the walks in Central Park and along Fifth Avenue. Not that we’ve done any of that – no time I’m afraid. As it was, just adding a few social events into the mix has meant I’m yet again running late, later than usual even.

But it was a wonderful thing to spend it with our lovely friends – many thanks (again) Chris, Mary K, Bill, Ellie, Audrey and Quentin. 

And although my ‘tale of two cities’ didn’t pan out quite as I would’ve liked, I loved the two neighbourhoods we ended up exploring.

Tomorrow morning Coco and I are on the move once again. After much deliberation – so much – I’ve finally fixed on the next three weeks of this project. New Zealand!

Remember we had to use our existing Round the World tickets back to Sydney before 30 December? So just as exciting as the prospect of seeing NZ for the first time is that we’ll be home in Sydney on Sunday morning! Oh my god. Home. H.O.M.E. I actually can’t believe it!

Our Round the World tickets take us from LA to Sydney and then we’ll catch our breath for two days before catching a short flight to Auckland. So the first post will be the end of next week hopefully.

And after New Zealand? By then we should be up to ‘Suburb’ No 49 with only three more to go. Three! Of course I don’t quite know exactly where they’ll be – but between now and then I’m sure my brain will let me know.

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Sarah Trew

See you next week.

 

  1. ellen says:

    wonderful pics loved ur last nyc post hope you had a wonderful christmas have a nice safe flight back to sydney then on to aukland and HAPPY NEW YEAR maybe u might do three final suburbs we r prety multi cultral here LOL COOGEE I SAY hehehehe

  2. Fistrel says:

    Lovely, Louise! Really enjoyed this post. The somber engaged couples were terrific – as if seeing 10 years into their futures!

  3. Sarah says:

    This Suburb was brought to you by me!!!!! Loved the bird on a branch photo! Merry Christmas to you and Coco.
    Safe traveling home for your hop, skip and jump across the pond!

  4. Joel says:

    I’m with you, I hate using my flash. Usually I get by with holding really still, and hoping the subject doesn’t move either.

    When I visited New York, I stayed in the Upper West Side, and visited Rockaway Beach while I was there – would have been kind of amusing if you’d managed the same. PPS has been quite interesting, though. =)

  5. Peter McConnochie says:

    What a wonderful post and a super Christmas. A real sense of family and friendship in this post!

    Have a great New year!

  6. Di says:

    Thanks Louise, Merry Xmas and Happy New Year to you and Coco.
    How exciting for New Zealand. Enjoy!!
    Loved the light on the Japanese house.
    Di x

  7. suzanne says:

    Home on Sunday, Yipee ! and what a trip it’s been. Thank you for the experience.

  8. Louise says:

    Ellen – HNY to you too!
    Fistrel – Love your reaction to the engaged couples. Now that you say it…
    Sarah – Hope you liked ‘your’ post! Many thanks.
    Joel – What a coincidence that would’ve been. I regret not going down there – but aside from the fact much of the storm damage is now not visible (apart from the area that burnt down) it’s a real hike and apparently you really need a car to get around. So it was probably not that do-able anyway. I really hope they can put their lives back together quickly.
    Peter – Glad you enjoyed it. HNY to you!
    Di – It is exciting. I’m writing this sitting in LA airport, waiting for our plane to Sydney. Despite being tantalised by all the destinations on the board – Istanbul and Tokyo especially – we can’t wait to head south to Sydney and NZ!
    Suzanne – Home but then we’re off again on Tuesday to Auckland – so the trip continues!!

  9. Anthony says:

    “We have chooks and I grow my own fruit and vegetables out the back.” Chooks? Is Dan an Aussie or is that a word of yours Louise?
    Another nice post and thoughts. Who’d have believed a place like PPS could exist right in such a metropolis? Have a good time in NZ, and a great new year. I look forward to the next project…..

    • Louise says:

      Dan isn’t Aussie but that’s what he said! And yeah, isn’t it bizarre to have such a quiet, country-like neighbourhood in NYC – and really, you cross one road, Church Avenue and it’s back to normal.

  10. Red Peony says:

    Louise – you are full of surprises! What a lovely, lovely post. Looks like you and Coco had a chilled out Christmas with some interesting people. A belated Merry Christmas to you both; and very best wishes for 2013.

    Looking forward to your post from NZ. Take care

    • Louise says:

      So glad you enjoyed it – but if only it had snowed!

  11. Sarah says:

    Welcome back! Thanks for the post – not sure about the flash, but yay for trying new things. And yay for new zealand – it is truly beautiful and I’m sure you’ll capture it beautifully. Can’t believe it’s been a year, I remember eagerly awaiting you to start this project!

    • Louise says:

      You can of course use the flash in a far more subtle way – but I wasn’t in the mood for subtle! Off to NZ this morning and looking forward to finally checking out one of our closest neighbours.

  12. Sharon says:

    Happy new year to you and Coco. Looking forward to your final posts.

    • Louise says:

      Many thanks!

  13. Chris K says:

    Louise — so happy you focused on that little gem of a neighborhood that is so dear to our hearts! So few NY’ers know it but are so surprised to find this in Brooklyn. Good luck in NZ — we miss you and Coco

    • Louise says:

      PPS must look even more amazing in the snow – is it… snowing?!

  14. Mary Kay says:

    Louise…your PPS post is now on our neighborhood blog and everyone is seeing my teenage daughters in bathrobes and bed heads hahaha! When they find out you will be hunted to the ends of the earth! Seriously, I loved the post…also such good luck to catch the two grande dames of the neighborhood, Mary Kay and Gloria, at home! These houses are as full of personality and intrigue as the people who live in them! I think a worthy addition to your world tour! Come back to NY soon, we all (including Moo) miss you both!

    • Louise says:

      When they’re wearing such fine bathrobes, surely they wouldn’t be worried! And yes, I feel very lucky to have met those two ladies. Real characters. Give Moo a cuddle from us!

  15. Fer Buenos Aires says:

    Happy New year for you and Coco. NZ is a great beginning! It’s really makes me feel a envy (in the good way, of course). Good luck! ;-)

  16. Toni Mostyn says:

    Another wonderful and exciting post Louise. I really loved the shots of the ‘vine’house. Beautiful. Look forward to New Zealand. Fantastic! Nearly time for you and Coco’s well deserved finish. XxToni

  17. Janine Coveney says:

    wow. fascinating.

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