Inside view: House tours in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and Boerum Hill offer look at old-time Brooklyn homes

Home sweet home: Prospect Lefferts Gardens resident Robert Marvin is throwing open the doors to his beautiful Midwood Street row house for sightseers as part of a series of house tours on June 3.
Photo by Martin Friedman

Homeowners living in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and Boerum Hill will be opening their doors to sightseers this weekend, giving architecture and home décor nerds an inside look at Brooklyn antiquity, according to one organizer.

“You’ll have an opportunity to actually talk to somebody about the choices they made with their space,” said Howard Kolins, president of the Boerum Hill Association. “I’m always very impressed by what people do — and what they don’t do — with their homes.”

The Boerum Hill house tour kicks off Saturday, and features a mix of new and old properties, including a few recently opened townhouses chosen as much to attract native looky-loos as out-of-towners, according to Kolins.

“We’re looking to showcase one or two places where people have seen construction and say ‘Gee, I wonder what’s in there,’ ” the civic guru said.

The Prospect Lefferts Gardens tour, meanwhile, is slated for Sunday, and includes six homes and two apartments, including two freestanding houses located within the ritzy Lefferts Manor Historic District, an eight-block stretch of well-preserved low rises dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, which are governed by a single-family covenant that forbids any of its 600 properties from being sliced up into condos.

But the tour isn’t completely dominated by the prestigious historic area, according to one longtime organizer, who says visitors will get a little taste of everything the neighborhood has to offer.

“We’re concerned that it not just be a tour of Lefferts Manor, the most expensive historic neighborhood — we try to make it a tour of the entire neighborhood,” said Robert Marvin, a member of the Lefferts Manor Association, who has also volunteered to show off his home on Midwood Street this year.

The Prospect Lefferts Garden tour, which celebrated its grand debut in 1969, was conceived as a means of integrating communities during a period of white flight, when many homeowners fled the area on the advice of unscrupulous real estate brokers who warned that middle-class black families resettling the neighborhood would devastate their property values, according to one longtime organizer.

“It started when there was a lot of blockbusting in the neighborhood,” said Marvin. “The original goal [of the tour] was to make the neighborhood attractive to all races.”

Of course, the effort seems somewhat ironic in retrospect, and white flight these days is about the last thing that would bother homeowners in the increasingly bogie slice of Brooklyn, according to Marvin.

“Now, with hyper gentrification, it’s the opposite problem,” he said. “It’s come full circle.”

On the other side of Prospect Park, Boerum Hillers hosted their first house tour in 1974, less as a way to keep whites from fleeing and more as a way to attract middle-class buyers to what was then a crime-ridden corner of Brooklyn, which had only recently changed its name from Northern Gowanus, according to Kolins.

“The neighborhoods, from parts of Brooklyn heights all the way to Park Slope were kind of sketchy,” said Kolins. “Crime was high and the city was poor. Many people wanted to show off their homes and advertise the neighborhood at the same time.”

These days, neither neighborhood requires much of an introduction, and the events continue mostly as fund-raisers for the respective neighborhood associations that organize them, Marvin said.

“We don’t have to publicize the neighborhood so much any more,” he said. “People know we exist.”

And, largely due to the difficulty in organizing the excursions and in finding volunteers to open their homes to the public, house tours in Brooklyn are slowly dying out. The Boerum Hill tour has gone from an annual to a biennial affair, while other events, such as the Brooklyn Heights tour, have ceased altogether or become one-off events, according to Marvin.

“It’s become harder and harder over the years to find people willing to put their houses on tour,” said the homeowner. “It’s really easy to find people who say ‘next year.’”

Tickets for the Boerum Hill tour can be purchased online at www.boerumhillassociation.org. $25, $20 in advance. Tour begins at Belarusian Church, 401 Atlantic Ave. between Bond and Nevins streets. June 2, 1 pm.

Tickets for the Prospect Lefferts Garden Tour can be purchased online at leffortsmanor.org. Tour begins at IX Cafe, 43 Lincoln Road between Ocean & Flatbush avenues. $30, $25 in advance. June 3, 12 pm.

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
Hill country: The owner of this newly opened Pacific Street will invite locals to take a look around as part of the Boerum Hill House Tour on June 2.
Photo by Francis Dzikowski

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