The New York Times
DEPENDING on the time of day, DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn can look like a sepia-toned photograph from the 19th century, a chic international playground, or, at its best, the New York City melting pot at a nice, gentle simmer.
And plenty in between: lately, for instance, the TV show “Pan Am” has been filming on this avenue near Fort Greene Park.
The other Tuesday afternoon, a be-scarfed couple, West European expats, were finishing a late lunch at a chic cafe table just as a cacophonous group of schoolchildren were beating a path to the Good Joy Chinese restaurant for ketchup-drenched French fries in little paper takeout boxes.
A well-heeled mother with an infant strapped to her chest popped into Elly’s Market to pick up a few things from shelves that were as neat as a pin. A man in his 60s casually leaned his bicycle against the front window of the Pratt Area Community Council’s storefront and, without locking up the bike, went inside. Just then a GrayLine Tours double-decker cruised slowly west along DeKalb, with tourists on the top deck, popping their heads up like baby chicks under a heat lamp.
“Fort Greene has become a real global destination,” said Anthony Williams, an agent with Corcoran and a self-described Brooklyn boy who’s been living here for the most part of 30 years. “You see all the communities mingling. It’s like our own Greenwich Village.”
The 10-block swath of DeKalb from St. Felix Street to Vanderbilt Avenue is anchored at the western end by Brooklyn Technical High School, the right-angled behemoth with a pointy radio tower on the roof that’s one of the country’s leading public schools. Among its alumni, it counts a NASA astronaut, at least one four-star general and “The Incredible Hulk,” a k a Lou Ferrigno.
Across the street, you can see the current students making good use of Fort Greene Park, 33 rolling acres designated in 1847 as Brooklyn’s first park and redesigned 20 years later by Frederick Law Olmsted. Some groups head out in their numbered jerseys and shinguards to play soccer on the dirt pitch that’s also used by residents for fairly competitive weekend games of football. There are busy public tennis courts here, too.
The park takes up four blocks of the north side of DeKalb, and rises above street level, so that its lawns and walking paths and pin oaks are a few steps up from the uneven sidewalk. The handsome brownstones standing along the south side of DeKalb, from South Elliott Place to Cumberland Street, face the park and have unobstructed views of Olmsted’s landscaping.
At the end of August, the well-kept five-story house at No. 154 was sold for about $2.1 million by Aguayo & Huebener Realty, a boutique agency that opened in 1998 and specializes in Brooklyn.
Roslyn Huebener, who lives just south of DeKalb, said, “I bought here 25 years ago for the beauty and for the close-knit quality of the neighborhood.” Since then, “as word spread, there’s been a steady increase in value in Fort Greene. It’s been unstoppable.”
Many of the stately houses that line part of DeKalb, adding to the quiet grandeur of the tree-shaded side streets, date to the early or mid-1800s. Here and there, just to the north and just to the south of DeKalb, you’ll see pale clapboard houses or a columned front porch on a three-story wooden beauty, and get a whiff of the old South. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated this part of Fort Greene as a historic district in 1978, inhibiting demolition and development and keeping local artisans — chimney builders, iron casters, plaster workers — very busy.
At the southeastern corner of the park on Saturdays, the Fort Greene Greenmarket sprouts up and extends a block north along Washington Place.
Farther east as DeKalb becomes more commercial, storefronts are occupied by small shops like Thirst Wine Merchants (No. 187) and restaurants like Dino (No. 222), while many of the residential buildings on the avenue have been divided into apartments, from top-floor garret to basement warren.
Ten years ago, when Darrell Cooper, a consultant in the legal field for electronic discovery, bought his studio apartment at No. 183, he paid $39,000 cash. “I started looking in Manhattan but pricing was insane,” said Mr. Cooper, 46. “I had friends here. I liked it. It was diverse — and I do mean in race and age — with a lot going on. This spot was reachable and attainable.”
The building has since gone co-op and embarked upon significant capital improvements. Mr. Cooper, who bought two more units, is now the board president of the 181-183 DeKalb Owners Corporation. He may have to decamp to the West Coast for a new job, so he has reluctantly been talking to his broker, Carolyn Romberg of the Corcoran Group. She said he could list the original studio for $225,000. That’s just shy of six times his investment (not counting the rental income).
Meanwhile, the business boom on the avenue is added value, as they like to say in marketing circles. From Cumberland Street to Vanderbilt Avenue, the concentrated array of restaurants would make Danny Meyer lick his chops.
The list includes Madiba, a South African spot that opened in 1999 on the corner of Carlton Avenue; iCi (opened 2004); and the General Greene (2008). Roman’s, a sibling of Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg, came in 2010 and packs them in even on a torrential Tuesday night, and Tillie’s coffeehouse (No. 248) has glowed with late-morning laptops since 1997. At the end of October, finishing touches were being applied to Walter’s (No. 166, also out of Williamsburg), a brasserie.
Atlantic Terminal Mall, a few blocks to the south, is well established, with a Target and a DSW. The nearby Atlantic Yards development is bound to transform the area; the skeleton of the new arena for Jay-Z’s basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets, is already up. But the area also supports the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Pratt Institute and the Brooklyn Flea.
Genevieve Platt, 39, lives on DeKalb and opened her tiny boutique Feliz (No. 185) in 2010. In less than 400 square feet designed by her partner (in business and in life), Gustavo Larizzati, she sells Spanish espadrilles, woven baskets from Senegal, Brooklyn-made soaps and the pillows she fashions out of vintage fabrics.
“The neighborhood is diverse, racially, economically and culturally,” she said. “I want this to feel approachable, for a mom with a baby or a single guy.
“Sometimes I do think it’s a miracle that this is working.”