Taking to The Hill

You sure this is Biggie Smalls’ crib, man?

– Notorious B.I.G., Warning

There were no red dots on our heads as my friend Dave and I made our way around Clinton Hill on Friday. For reference, here’s an annotated map of the area (numbers are in brackets in the descriptions below).

I took a 20-minute walk from Park Slope to meet Dave at our first stop: the childhood home of Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, Notorious B.I.G., etc.) at 226 St. James Place [1]. He lived in Apartment 3L, the apartment on the left with the A/C unit in the middle window.

We walked up Washington Avenue, passing the beaux-arts building that used to be the Mohawk Hotel [2]. It was converted into apartments in the 1980s. Compare this style with that of the bland, more-recent co-ops just around the corner.

Next up was the 1845 house I wrote of in my introductory post, at 200 Lafayette Av (at Vanderbilt Av) [3]. It looks like it hasn’t been touched up since it was built. Does the picture on the left look familiar?

One block west on Lafayette (on the northeast corner of Clermont Av) is the Brooklyn Masonic Temple [4]. It’s on a loaded block: the K-8 Queen of All Saints School (left picture below) is next to it, and Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School – the alma mater of Biggie (until he dropped out) and Rudy Giuliani, among others – is across Lafayette. There’s a large playground at the high school that houses Brooklyn Flea starting in April. The main page of the Brooklyn Flea website has a good picture of the Masonic Temple and Queen of All Saints.

Farther north on Clermont is the former Armory [5], which is now – you guessed it – an apartment-complex. I thought it was cool how they used the original overhangs in the remodeling, even though the rest of the building looks like it belongs in Arizona.

My friend Tom works at Pratt Institute; he kindly offered to give us a tour of the campus [6].

As you might expect for an arts college, Pratt’s grounds are a medley of different art installations. I was particularly moved by Raphael Zollinger’s “Welcome”, right, which use these naked prisoners as “symbols of the abuse humans visit on one another”. (The original installation had a neon sign that said “Welcome”.)

We also checked out the interiors of some of the buildings. As you might recall, Pratt used to be an engineering school, so it makes sense that its original engine room (left) is so exposed. On the right is part of the library; the translucent floors were made by Tiffany in 1896.

We’d been walking around for a few hours, so it was time for lunch. We went to Mike’s Coffee Shop [7], which is across from the gate at the southwest corner of the campus. Mike’s is a Greek diner that’s been open in various forms for over fifty years (it used to be known as Paul’s Luncheonette). It’s got the feel of your classic American diner, with knick-knacks on the walls, regulars crowding the bar-stools, and friendly service. The food – I got the chicken and waffles – was delicious, and much better than it needed to be, since it’s right next to a college.

Our post-lunch destination was a walk down Clinton Avenue to see the Pratt mansions [8]. They are all in good shape, and are impressive. It’s easy to imagine how imposing they would have been when they were first built.

Charles Pratt's mansion at 232 Clinton Av.

Clockwise from top left, with the original owner listed first:
(1) Frederick B. Pratt (229 Clinton Av); now Caroline Ladd Pratt House, the residence of Pratt Institute’s president
(2) Charles Pratt (232); now Founder’s Hall of St. Joseph’s, a faculty house
(3) Charles Millard Pratt (241); now the residence of Brooklyn’s Catholic Bishop
(4) George Pratt (245); purchased in 1918 by St. Joseph’s, it’s now known as Burns Hall, and serves multiple functions

Our last stop was on the way out of the neighborhood: the former A. Schrader’s Son Inc. tire-gauge factory [9], now commercial. It is much smaller than it originally was; at one point it stretched from Clermont to Clinton (Vanderbilt would be where the short part is in the older picture below).

1923 picture from “Clinton Hill and Wallabout” by Brian Merlis (Israelowitz Publishing, 2011)

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