Park Slope: Brooklyn’s Gilded Age

Park Slope: Brooklyn’s Gilded Age

ParkSlope1If one neighborhood were chosen to exemplify Brooklyn’s and New York City’s pleasing urban qualities, Park Slope would top of the list. (After all, it was named the city’s most livable neighborhood.) Situated on the flank of magnificent Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (the same team who created Central Park), Park has been home to Brooklyn’s gentry since the 1870s.

The legacy is a series of leafy blocks filled with brownstone row houses and mansions, plus and array of churches, temples, and civic buildings like the Montauk Club, which resembles a Venetian palace. (Remember, Brooklyn was dubbed the “borough of homes and churches.”) Subtract the vehicles Park Slope easily serves to film as it has for filming of period TV shows and movies like The Age of Innocence or Boardwalk Empire.

ParkSlope2Park Slope’s history of civic activism reflected in the movement for a historic district, the annual house tours originally established to lure new residents, and the lively (if sometimes mocked) Park Slope Food Co-op, the largest cooperative grocery in the country. Even the push for a bicycle lane provoked lawsuits and international attention.


ParkSlope3Today, Park Slope even serves as a node of power in New York, as it’s home to Mayor Bill de Blasio and senior Senator Charles Schumer. It’s long been the spawning ground of or home to writers and actors like Pete Hamill, Paul Auster and John Tuturro. And it borders Brooklyn’s cultural center, including Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Our tour begins near the museum and garden, in fact, allowing you to visit one or both before the tour.

ParkSlope4The tour proceeds past the Central Library of the Brooklyn Public Library to Grand Army Plaza, a magnificent memorial to the U.S. Civil War, then to Park Slope’s northern flank, Flatbush Avenue, a spine of Brooklyn. We’ll zigzag through the North Slope, touching on the two blocks with the most spectacular architecture, as well as Prospect Park West, the grand boulevard flanking Prospect Park.


We’ll dip into the park and learn about its origins and design, as well as the post-1970s fundraising and activism that revived and repaired a dangerous, moribund park. After that, we’ll proceed south, visiting both major shopping streets: the established Seventh Avenue, and the more recently revived Fifth Avenue. The latter has a greater variety of indie shops, and places we can stop for coffee or a snack.

ParkSlope5On the neighborhood’s western flank, we’ll see the very mixed consequences of a rezoning: bland new taller buildings on the boulevard of Fourth Avenue, only some of which come with below-market housing. Nearby, we’ll visit the Old Stone House, a key location for the Battle of Brooklyn, the first fight for American independence from the British.

We’ll proceed into the South Slope, once a working-class bastion and home to a former clock factory and wood-frame houses, now experiencing the real estate boom that has suffused Brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods in general and Park Slope in particular. By then, Park Slope’s charms–scale, greenery, accessibility, neighborhood spirit, and amenities should have come into focus.

Norman OderNorman Oder A career-long journalist, Norman holds a political science degree from Yale University and a master of studies in law from Yale Law School, but he credits architectural historian Vincent Scully for inspiring him to explore and examine cities. Born in Brooklyn and a returnee to the borough in 1991, Norman began in 2000 to lead energetic, electic tours around numerous Brooklyn neighborhoods, expanding his repertoire each year (and even dipping into Queens and Manhattan). He continues to work as a journalist, focusing on Brooklyn, notably the borough's decade-long development controversy, about which he writes the comprehensive, critical Atlantic Yards Report blog.
Sean GriffinSean Griffin Sean Griffin is a doctoral candidate in History at the City University of New York Graduate Center. His research interests lie in 19th century history, and include slavery and antislavery, labor, African-American, and urban history. He has previously worked in history education at the New-York Historical Society and the American Social History Project, and is a contributor to the NYC Landmarks 50 preservation project. His current project looks at the relationship between the labor movement, land reform, and antislavery politics in the decades before the Civil War.


Insight Cities arranges this tour only for private groups with advance notice, at present. Thanks for emailing us at [email protected].
Starting Location:
Entrance of the Brooklyn Museum (right inside the doors to the right)
200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn
NY 11238, United States


Groups of over 10 should contact us at [email protected] in order to get a special rate for their party.

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