Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Fort Greene is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Fort Greene is listed on the New York State Registry and on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a New York City-designated Historic District. It is located in north west Brooklyn, above Prospect Park. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community Board 2.

The neighborhood is named after an American Revolutionary War era fort that was built in 1776 under the supervision of General Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island (McCullough 2005). General Greene aided General George Washington during the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Fort Greene Park, originally called Washington Park and Brooklyn's first, is also derived from General Greene's name and the neighborhood. In 1864, Fort Greene park was redesigned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The park notably includes the Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument and crypt, which honors some 11,500 patriots who died aboard British prison ships during the American War of Independence.

Fort Greene contains many superb examples of mid-19th century Italianate and Eastlake architecture, most of which is well preserved. Fort Greene is known for its many graceful, tree-lined streets and elegant low-rise housing. Fort Greene is also home to the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the tallest building in Brooklyn. The neighborhood is geographically desirable and close to the Atlantic Avenue train station, with access to most major subway lines. It is also home to several important cultural institutions like the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Music School, The Paul Robeson Theater, The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), UrbanGlass (, 651 Arts performing center for African-American presenters, and Lafayette Church. Brooklyn Technical High School is one of New York City's most competitive public schools. The world renowned Pratt Institute, in neighboring Clinton Hill, is one of the leading art schools in the United States.

Fort Greene is roughly bounded by the Brooklyn Navy Yard/Nassau Street to the north, Flatbush Avenue to the west, Vanderbilt Avenue to the east and Atlantic Avenue to the south. Its main arteries are Fulton Street above St. Felix Street and DeKalb Avenue. The neighborhood is served by the New York City Subway at Dekalb Avenue (NYCS Brighton north), DeKalb Avenue (NYCS Fourth Montague), Atlantic Avenue–Pacific Street (NYCS Fourth center); Atlantic Avenue (NYCS Eastern center); Atlantic Avenue (NYCS Brighton); Flatbush Avenue (LIRR); or the NYCS Fulton local train at Lafayette Avenue; and the NYCS Crosstown train at Fulton Street.


Early history

, it slowly deteriorated after.

19th century

In 1801 the United States Government purchased land on Wallabout Bay for the construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, stimulating some growth in the area. Ferry service linking Manhattan and Brooklyn launched in 1814, and Brooklyn's population exploded from 4,000 to nearly 100,000 by 1850. Fort Greene was known as The Hill and was home to a small commuter population, several large farms - the Post Farm, the Spader farm, the Ryerson Farm, and the Jackson farm - and a burial ground. As early as the 1840s the farm owners began selling off their land in smaller plots for development. Country villas, frame row houses, and the occasional brick row house dotted the countryside, and one of them was home to poet Walt Whitman, editor of the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper.

Since the early 19th century, African Americans have made significant contributions to Fort Greene's development. New York State outlawed slavery in 1827 and 20 years later "Coloured School No. 1", Brooklyn’s first school for African-Americans, opened at the current site of the Walt Whitman Houses. Abolitionists formed the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1857, and hosted speakers such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman and also aided in the work of the Underground Railroad. Skilled African-American workers fought for their rights at the Navy Yard during the tumultuous Draft Riots of 1863 against armed bands of hooligans. The principal of P.S. 67 in the same year was African American, and Dr. Phillip A. White became the first black member of Brooklyn’s Board of Education in 1882. By 1870, more than half of the blacks in Brooklyn lived in Fort Greene, most of them north of Fort Greene Park.

In the 1850s Fort Greene's growth spread out from stagecoach lines on Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street that ran to Fulton Ferry, and The Hill became known as the home of prosperous professionals, second only to Brooklyn Heights in prestige. During the 1850s and 1860s, blocks of Italianate brick and brownstone row houses were built on the remaining open land to house the expanding upper and middle class population. The names of the most attractive streets (Portland, Oxford, Cumberland, Carlton, and Adelphi) came from fine London terraces and streets of the early 19th century. By the 1870s construction in the area had virtually ended, and the area still maintains hundreds of Italianate, Second Empire, Greek Revival, Neo-Grec, Romanesque and Renaissance row houses of virtually original appearance.

As Manhattan became more crowded, the poor as well as the well-off made Fort Greene their home, and the unoccupied areas of Myrtle Avenue became a shanty town known as "Young Dublin". In response to the horrible conditions found there, Walt Whitman called for a park to be constructed and stated in a column in the Eagle, " [as] the inhabitants there are not so wealthy nor so well situated as those on the heights...we have a desire that these, and the generations after them, should have such a place of recreation..." The park idea was soon co-opted by longtime residents to protect the last open space in the area from development.

at convert|143|ft|m tall, and housed a bronze urn at its apex. Restoration work is currently under way to restore the monument and will be complete in the fall of 2007.

On April 24, 1888, the Fulton Street Elevated Line began running from Fulton Ferry to Nostrand Avenue, shortening the commute of Fort Greene residents, while also blocking light and adding street noise to residents facing Fulton Street. Elevated lines also ran along Lafayette Avenue and Myrtle Avenue.

20th century

Fort Greene in the early 20th century became a significant cultural destination. After the original Brooklyn Academy of Music in Brooklyn Heights burned down in 1903, the current one was built in Fort Greene, and opened in 1908 with a production of Charles Gounod’s "Faust" featuring Enrico Caruso and Geraldine Farrar (Caruso suffered a throat hemorrhage while singing at BAM in 1920 and died several days later). At the time, BAM was the most complexly designed cultural center in Greater New York since the construction of Madison Square Garden 15 years earlier. Fort Greene also showcased two stunning movie theaters, built in the 1920s: The Paramount Theater has been converted into Long Island University's Brooklyn Campus; and the Brooklyn Fox Theatre on Flatbush Avenue at Fulton Street which was demolished in 1971. Built from 1927-1929, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower, Brooklyn's tallest building, is considered one of the 10 greatest skyscrapers in New York. It is located next to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Brooklyn Technical High School, one of New York's most selective public high schools began construction on Fort Greene Place in 1930.

The poet Marianne Moore lived and worked for many years in an apartment house on Cumberland Street. Her apartment, which is lovingly recalled in Elizabeth Bishop's essay, "Efforts of Affection", has been preserved exactly as it existed during Moore's lifetime—though not in Fort Greene. To see the Moore apartment you need to travel to Center City Philadelphia, to the Rosenbach Museum & Library. After her death, the furnishings and contents of Marianne Moore's apartment were purchased by the Rosenbach brothers, renowned collectors of literary ephemera. These pieces were then painstakingly reassembled in the top floor of their Philadelphia townhouse. Richard Wright wrote "Native Son" while living on Carlton Avenue in Fort Greene.

During World War II, the Brooklyn Navy Yard employed more than 71,000 people. Due to the resulting demand for housing, the New York City Housing Authority built 35 brick buildings between 1941 and 1944 ranging in height from six to fifteen stories collectively called the Fort Greene Houses. Production at the yard declined significantly after the war and many of the workers either moved on or fell on hard times. In 1957-1958 the houses were renovated and divided into the Walt Whitman Houses and the Raymond V. Ingersoll Houses. One year later "Newsweek" profiled the housing project as "one of the starkest examples" of the failures of public housing. The article painted a picture of broken windows, cracked walls, flickering or inoperative lighting, and elevators being used as toilets. Further depressing the area was the decommissioning of the Navy Yard in 1966 and dismantling of the Myrtle Avenue elevated train in 1969 which made the area much less attractive to Manhattan commuters.

From the 1960s through the 1980s, Fort Greene fought hard times that came with city-wide poverty, crime and drugs. While some houses were abandoned, artists, preservationists and Black professionals began to claim and restore the neighborhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Herbert Scott Gibson, a resident of the street called Washington Park, organized the Fort Greene Landmarks Preservation Committee which successfully lobbied for the establishment of Historic District status. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated two districts, the Fort Greene and BAM Historic Districts, in 1978. The Committee is now known as the Fort Greene Association. Spike Lee established his 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks company in Fort Greene in the mid 1980s, further strengthening the resurgence of the neighborhood.

Recent history

The late 1990s and early 2000s saw the influx of many new residents and businesses to Fort Greene. While issues of gentrification are raised, Fort Greene stands to many as one of the best examples of a truly racially and economically diverse neighborhood with what "The New York Times" referred to as a "prevailing sense of racial amity that intrigues sociologists and attracts middle-class residents from other parts of the city."

The controversial Atlantic Yards project to build a stadium for and relocate the New Jersey Nets (which would become the Brooklyn Nets) along with a complex of large commercial and residential high-rises on the border of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights - the “Brooklyn Nets Arena” has garnered opposition from many neighborhood residents including Councilwoman Letitia James and author Jhumpa Lahiri.

Press-worthy trivia

New York Times, 1858, "Homes of the Poor" “The poverty stricken condition of the inhabitants residing in the Fort Green (sic)/Clinton Hill district] of Brooklyn render it almost an unknown land,”. Focusing on a certain section of the east Brooklyn area defined as “between Flushing and Dekalb Avenues, as far east as Classon Avenue and as far west as Ryerson, extending across Fulton Avenue,” the Times item said the real estate boom has resulted in class conflict among a majority of the area’s longtime residents (identified as “renters or squatters”) and its new neighbors—middle to upper income homeowners (identified as out-priced Manhattanites attracted to the spatial wealth of Brooklyn and able to afford the high price of its grand scale Neo-Gothic brownstones.) The paper further explained the conflict as one that had existed for some time, evidenced perhaps by a letter to the editor of a local Brooklyn paper published prior to the Times profile. The author, a new homeowner, wrote “Perchance there are but few places about more desirable for residences, or more pleasant for our evening walks...(but) on every side filthy shanties are permitted to be erected from which issue all sorts of offensive smells...It is indeed a fact that many of the inmates of these hovels keep swine, cattle, etc. in their cellars and not an unusual circumstance to witness these animals enjoying side by side with their owners the cheering rays of the sun; whilst offal and filth of the assorted family is suffered to collect about their premises and endanger the lives of those in their neighborhood by its sickening and deadly effluvia.” (see article "Rich Man/Poor Man" by Carl Hancock Rux, [] )

Notable residents in Fort Greene/Clinton Hill (past and present)


*Councilmember Letitia James
*State Senator Velmanette Montgomery
*Assemblymen Hakeem Jeffries and Joseph Lentol
*U.S. Congressman Edolphus Towns. All of Fort Greene's representatives are Democrats, although Letitia James was elected on the Working Families Party line.


*Poet Walt Whitman, who was influential in the creation of Fort Greene Park in 1843
*Poet Marianne Moore
*Novelist Richard Wright wrote "Native Son" while living at 175 Carlton Ave.
*Novelist John Steinbeck's first apartment when he moved to New York in 1925 was on Fort Greene Place.
*Novelist Jhumpa Lahiri
*Novelist/Poet/Playwright/Recording Artist Carl Hancock Rux
*Music Journalist Touré
*Music Journalist/Novelist Nelson George
*Playwright Michael Weller
*Novelist Colson Whitehead
*Novelist Colin Channer
*Novelist Jennifer Egan
* Harlem Renaissance writer/artist Gwendolyn Bennett
*Novelist Truman Capote (17 Clifton Pl., 1946)


*Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe
*Photographer Gertrude Kasebier
*Artist/Theater Director Robert Wilson


*Kelvin Martin, the original 50 Cent
*El-P (underground hip hop artist and founder of Definitive Jux Records). His critically acclaimed album "I'll Sleep When You're Dead" was recorded at his residence in Fort Greene
*Late rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard
*Rapper Just-Ice
*Rapper Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious BIG (St. James Pl.)
*Betty Carter
*Cecil Taylor
*Branford Marsalis
*Gary Bartz
*Patti Smith
*Rev. Hezekiah Walker(Walt Whitman Houses on Myrtle Ave)
*Lester Bowie
*Steve Coleman
*Bill Stephney of The Bomb Squad
*Vernon Reid of Living Colour
*Citizen Cope
*Lisa Fischer
*Dana Dane
*Bill Lee
*Slide Hampton lived at 245 Carlton Avenue where he rented rooms to Eric Dolphy, Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery, and Wayne Shorter. John Coltrane was also a frequent visitor.
*Carla Cook
*Toshi Reagon
*John Wesley Harding
*Rapper Talib Kweli
*Actor/Rapper Mos Def
*John Flansburgh and John Linnell of the band They Might Be Giants.

Actors and directors

*Spike Lee maintained his movie studio 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks there. Several of his films, including "She's Gotta Have It", and "She Hate Me" were partially shot in Fort Greene.
*Chris Rock
*Academy Award nominated actor Rosie Perez
*Film director and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson
*Isaiah Washington
*Wesley Snipes
*Saul Williams
*Academy award nominated actor Terence Howard
*Roger Guenveur Smith
*Tony award winning actor Denis O'Hare
*Adrian Grenier
*Keri Russell
*Jeffrey Wright

Non arts-related fields

*Dr. Susan McKinney Stewart 1847-1918: the first African American woman to receive a medical degree in New York State and the third in the U.S.

*Nicky Cruz (December 6, 1938 in San Juan, Puerto Rico) Former leader of a notorious New York City gang, The Mau-Maus, he later became a world renowned religious minister.

*Kelvin Martin an infamous robbery expert (stick up kid) and criminal.

ee also

* List of Brooklyn neighborhoods
* Junior's
*Atlantic Terminal Urban Renewal Area
*Atlantic Yards
*Atlantic Terminal Mall

*McCullough, D. "1776", Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-2671-2
*Lockwood, Charles, "Bricks and Brownstone, The New York Townhouse 1783-1928", Abbeville Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8478-2522-1
*Morrone, Francis, "An Architectural Guidebook to Brooklyn", Gibbs Smith, Publisher, 2001. ISBN 1-58685-047-4
*" [|History of Fort Greene] ". Retrieved May 9, 2006.

External links

* [ Fort Greene Association]
* [ Fort Greene Park Conservancy]
* [ Downtown Brooklyn Partnership]
* [ Fort Greene Brooklyn]
* []

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