50 Favorite Places #10
There are a number of hidden streets in Brooklyn: streets that run for a block or two in the middle of the normal grid, then disappear; streets that dead-end at sunken subway tracks; alley-like streets where the horses and help of rich folk were once quartered. But there’s no street more hidden than Warren Place.
It’s tucked away between Warren and Baltic streets in the Cobble Hill neighborhood, just west of Henry, past the point at which Hicks ceases to be charming and turns into a service drive for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s not even a street, really, just a block-long stretch of sidewalk and a wide, lushly-planted garden strip.
It looks private, but I’ve grown brazen in my old age, and take an open gate as an invitation. Step inside (or if you’re not so brazen, just crane your neck a bit) and you’ll see a line of identical, attached, wee townhouses – town cottages would be more apt – with ornamental brickwork and sharply-peaked doorway arches. “Am I still in Brooklyn?” you may ask yourself, and the answer is yes, you are.
The truly astonishing thing is that this mews (not the correct word, technically, as “mews” refer to stables, but it’s how the block is typically described) was built as a working-class housing development in 1878-1879. The developer was Alfred Tredway White, a philanthropist lauded as “Brooklyn’s First Citizen” for his good works. His model housing developments grew out of religious conviction (White was an active Unitarian-Universalist) as well as direct exposure to the urban poor through his church’s settlement work. “Well it is to build hospitals for the cure of disease,” White observed, “but better to build homes which will prevent it.”
In the end, he did some of both, creating a children’s sanitarium on Coney Island while building more than a thousand units of low-income housing that provided residents with light, fresh air, green space, and private toilets. (One of his other developments, now called Cobble Hill Towers, stands right next to Warren Place.) White also spurred the creation of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, founded the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities, served as Brooklyn’s commissioner of public works, endowed a chair in social ethics at Harvard, funded the Tuskegee Institute, and served on the first executive committee of the American Red Cross.
White died in an ice-skating accident in 1921, and is buried beneath a modest marker in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.
Today, naturally, the 34 homes on Warren Place are housing for the rich. In December 2017 (the most recent sale I could find), 14 Warren Place sold for north of $2 million.