I’ve Never Lived in My Dream Home, But I Did Live Next to Whole Blocks of Them

published Mar 31, 2020
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Collage of houses in Prospect Park South neighborhood of Brooklyn

In October 2013, I was thrown into the cesspool that is the New York City rental market, looking around Brooklyn for a unit that met the unreasonable expectations of a broke 22-year-old wanting to live without roommates (moi).

After viewing more than a dozen apartments, my search finally led me to a pocket of Flatbush just south of Prospect Park. I entered a big, nondescript building with dusty floors and ugly tiled walls, then went up a rickety elevator to the 6th (and last) floor and walked into an empty apartment.

It was a basic studio, yet surprisingly spacious, with natural light streaming through a large window at the other end of the room. I slowly gravitated toward it and peered out. With not a skyscraper or high-rise in sight, I could see all the way to the end of Brooklyn, where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge glittered in the distance. I looked down and saw a couple rows of houses directly outside the building. Not brownstones. Houses. Detached houses.

I got my checkbook out and put a deposit down.

When I moved in a few weeks later, I set out to discover the neighborhood I was so drawn to. The corner I lived on was always bustling, both with people and a tangled traffic jam. It was never relaxing or pleasant—it was New York City. But crossing the street to the other side of Church Avenue was like entering a whole different world.

The Prospect Park South Historic District is a trapeze-like collection of blocks, contained by Church Avenue to the north, Ocean Avenue to the east, Beverley Road to the south, and Coney Island Avenue to the west. The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission designated it as a historic district in 1979, but it was developed in the 1890s by a man, Dean Alvord, who wanted to create a peaceful suburban area within the confines of an unforgivingly urban city. He hired architect John J. Petit, whose directive was to build houses in multiple different styles. The resulting homes still stand today, ranging from Colonial Revival and Queen Anne to neo-Tudor and even a Japanese pagoda.

There are around 200 of these houses in the Prospect Park South Historic District, each so unique and beautiful I ached when I looked at them. Wraparound porches. Columns. Tree-lined streets. Lush lawns. I cherished my walk to the grocery store, which took me right through the district, and I’d often diverge on detours or spontaneous walks just to stroll along those quiet streets.

This became a vital part of my weekend routine, particularly after a rough week in the grind of my Manhattan work life. I would come here and pretend I was somewhere else. I’d check in on my favorite houses, like the sprawling mansion on the corner of Albemarle and Marlborough I had once been inside for an estate sale; it now belongs to the actress Michelle Williams. The house on the other side of the street featured the enclosed veranda of my dreams. Another one farther down the street had been in disrepair for years and looked haunted—complete with a “beware of dog” sign—but was recently restored to its former beauty and became part of my rotation as well.

Even during my most trying times in New York, when I felt knocked about by its harsh ways, this small residential enclave was always there for me. I had always been a city girl living the city life in a small city apartment. Here I was again, in a Brooklyn studio that was really nothing special, but within palpable reach of a neighborhood that filled me with joy and aspiration. It exemplified the suburban prototype many people moved away from to come here, but it was one that I often ended up yearning for.

This antidote to city life was my self-care.

In February of this year, I found myself standing once again in that empty apartment. I had gotten a job offer in Houston a few weeks prior, and after more than six years living in my Brooklyn perch, I finally had to say goodbye.

It was a painfully windy day in New York City, as if she was blowing me away from her, giving me her blessing the only way she knew how. I took one last look outside my window at the houses below and the bridge in the distance, smiled through my tears, and closed the door on it forever.