Chapter 4.1: Invasion and Succession



List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
    Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
    Negro Pioneers and White Flight
    Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
    Symbolic History and Self
    Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
    The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
    Indians, Geology and Transportation
    Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
    Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

    Irish and Italian Catholics
    Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
    Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
    Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
    The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
    Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
    Attidues of Heirs
    Apartment Houses: The Big Change
    The Life of a Tenant and a Building
    Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
    Achievement and Residentia Movement
    The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
    The Community Paradigm
    Implications and Applications



Urbanization and ethnic succession are problems that most city communities cannot avoid. The effects of these processes on different neighborhoods are not necessarily the same. For example, the Lefferts Manor was relatively well protected from the otherwise overwhelming high density residential construction in Central Brooklyn. Historical decisions and political influence had insured its future as a special community, and it continued to attract people who thought of themselves as special as well. The ripple effect of the Manor's desirability also had a positive effect on the rest of the Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens area. The Manor and other "urbanized suburbs" continue to function as "dormitory communities" within the political boundaries of the city.1

In a way the Lefferts Manor has been provided with the "best of all possible" urban worlds (to paraphrase Professor Pangloss) by the recreational and cultural institutions that were part of Olmsted and Vaux's 1866 urban plan. Illustration 2 outlines these amenities in relation to the Manor. Prospect Park, a block away from the Lefferts Manor, provides many acres of meadows, woods and urban gardens. Supplementing these attractions in the park are band concerts, "Opera in the Park," boating, a zoo, ice skating and horseback riding. Also near to the Manor is the extensive Brooklyn Botanical Garden. The Garden opened in 1910 and today offers many horticultural delights including exotic greenhouses, world famous Japanese gardens, a magnificent cherry orchard, and quiet, contemplative rose gardens. The Brooklyn Museum and Art Institute opened its doors to the public in 1890 and continues to be a world renowned art center with excellent collections of ancient as well as modern art. The museum also features concerts, lectures, films, an art school, and special exhibits brought to the museum from all over the world. The Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library completes the area's cultural complex. It was also opened in 1890, but the original structure was gradually replaced by a large modernistic building between 1912 and 1940. The Library is situated on Grand Army Plaza, which was the center of Olmsted and Vaux's plan of radiating boulevards. The Plaza includes a bronze sculptured fountain and a large memorial arch -- the Soldiers and Sailors Monument -- which was erected as a memorial to the Civil War dead in 1871.

The residential boulevard, Eastern Parkway, begins at the Grand Army Plaza. At the southern end of Prospect Park is the Parade Grounds which serves today as a baseball, football and tennis center. A second residential parkway, Ocean Parkway, leads out from the Parade Grounds to Brighton Beach, and like Eastern Parkway, has traditionally been an attraction for Brooklyn's upper middle class. In sum, the Lefferts Manor has been able to maintain its high symbolic value and to continue to attract people seeking respectable urban homes while the city as a whole began losing these people to suburban migration.

There are other important historical factors which have positively influenced the shape, composition and reputation of the Manor. The once nationally famous baseball stadium, and Brooklyn institution, Ebbets Field, opened only a few blocks away from the Manor in 1912. Although it might seem at first that this kind of facility would adversely affect neighboring residential areas, Ebbets Field had the opposite effect. While the stadium did attract large numbers of fans who created occasional headaches for local homeowners, it also insured that more noxious industrial and commercial uses of the territory would be prevented for a time. The building of the popular sports center near the Manor in addition fostered a spin-off of other entertain-ment and recreational establishments in the community. Of greatest importance, during the tenure of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, numerous nightclubs and restaurants flourished on the avenues near the Manor and bolstered the commercial vitality of the streets. Manorites were within walking distance of seeing the team that was the "Pride of Brooklyn," and also dining at the highly touted restaurants and supper clubs. Well-to-do patrons and even theater-goers from Manhattan would travel to Flatbush in cabs and limousines for the night life there. Flatbush Avenue, near the Manor in the 1920, 30s, 40s and part of the 50s, was an "in" place.

The quality of design and construction of Manor homes continue to have significant impact on the symbolic and economic value of the Lefferts Manor. Manor homes were built between 1890 and 1920 by prominent urban architects which resulted in a delightful mix of attached, semi-attached and detached homes, suburban-style mansions, rows of brick townhouses, imposing brownstones and limestone structures. Victorian wood-frame houses, bedecked with turrets, gables and wide porches; Tudor style row houses; Queen Anne Revival brownstones; neo-classical and Revival Georgetown brick and sculp-tured limestone add to the Manor's eclectic urban panorama. The "look" of the Lefferts Manor is not the monotonous vision of row upon row of identical houses such as that found on many city streets.

What the Lefferts Manor was not is here described by Edith Wharton in her autobiography, A Little Girl's New York:

In those days the little "brownstone houses" (I never knew the technical name of the geo-logical horror) marched up Fifth Avenue in an almost unbroken procession from Washington Square to the Central Park all with Dutch "stoops" (the five or six steps leading to the front door), and all not more than three stories high, marched Parkward in an orderly procession, like a young ladies boarding school taking its daily exercise. The facades varied in width from twenty to thirty feet, and here and there, but-rarely, the line was broken by a brick home with brownstone trimmings; but otherwise they were all so much alike that one could understand how easily it would be for a dinner guest to go to the wrong house -- as once befell a timid young girl of eighteen, to whom a vulgar nouveau riche hostess revealed her mistake, urging her out carriageless into the snow. (1969: 60)

Edith Wharton goes on, in her urban polemic, to correlate the architecture of homes to the kinds of people within them by saying that: "The lives behind the brownstone fronts were, with few exceptions, as monotonous as their architecture." Uniform, mass-produced neighborhoods were not for the urban elite. Wharton's common-sense grasp of the interaction between physical structures and the people who use them is remarkable. It is interesting to note in this vein that similar reflections have been made by social scientists about the personalities and social lives of people who live in uniform suburban communities. The "ordinary" middle-class person of the 1970s is similar to the 1920 counterpart -- a status seeker who cannot afford the "real thing" and must settle for an imitation of symbols of prestige, hence the quarter acre "estate."2

The interiors of Manor homes were also executed in such a way as to avoid duplication, even in those homes with similar exterior form. Each house was to be a "personal" dwelling that would reflect the character of the owner. This personification was shown in resales of homes; the new owner would invariably destroy some perfectly adequate interior feature in order to add their own individual mark to the structure. The construction techniques and building materials employed in building homes in the Manor insured that their original values would be lasting. Sturdy brick and stone walls, heavy, closely set cross-beams, ceilings with sculptured plaster detailing, stained and leaded glass windows, parquet floors of oak laid over hardwood sub-flooring, oak and mahogany wood paneling, matching built-in cabinets, beamed dining room ceilings, spacious rooms and libraries, marble tiled bathrooms, porcelain and marble sinks, solid brass plumbing -- all these things went into the construction of a Manor home. one need only look closely at the materials used in building modern homes, or to observe workmen putting up, or rather slapping together, today's housing to realize how exceptional are the Lefferts Manor houses. They cannot be replaced today, but the people who live within them can be replaced. Ultimately the viability of the Manor rests not on the physical structure of the community, but on the people who come to live within it.

Clarence Day's Father could easily have been a Manorite. In this excerpt from Life with Father, we see a literary version of the social-psychology of neighborhood transition.- In the 1870s every "respectable" citizen of Manhattan owned his own home. The general requirements were a solid three- or four--story house, without a mortgage and located within a few blocks of Fifth Avenue -- between Fifty-Ninth Street and Washington Square. It should be noted that these were the very homes despised by Edith Wharton in her biography. Clarence Day's father looked around carefully and bought a house at 420 Madison Avenue:

This was a sunny house, just below Forty-Ninth Street. It was fairly near Central Park, and it was in a new and eligible district for good private residences. Brokers said that "the permanent residential quality of the whole section" was guaranteed by the fine public edifices which have been built in the neighborhood...

For the first ten or fifteen years that we lived at 420, the neighborhood got better and better, Father's judgement as to its permanence seemed to be justified. It had become thickly planted with-residences in which many friends of our family were making their homes. We had grown fond of 420 by that time. Birth and death and endless household events had taken place inside its walls, and it had become part of ourselves.

Then business began invading upper Fifth Avenue and spreading to Madison. A butcher bought a house near us and turned it into a market. We felt he was an impudent person and bought nothing from him for months, until in an emergency Mother sent me there for a rack of lamb chops. We then discovered that this butcher was not only an upstart, he was expensive and he was catering to the fashionable Fifth Avenue families and didn't care a rap about ours.

More and more of the old houses around us were made into stores. After 1900 some of the best people left, and soon the whole district began steadily sliding down hill. (1969: 74-78)

It is of great importance to notice in this piece the strong attachment of the Day family to their residence, and the personal loss that was felt as their neighborhood began to change. Again, as in so many other cases of urban decline in residential areas, the encroachment of commercial activity is the major culprit. This situation points out the importance of the Lefferts Manor restrictive covenant in maintaining the symbolic stability of the community.

<< To Ch. 3.4 | To Ch. 4.2 >>

Notes to Chapter 4.1

1. Suburbs have often been referred to as dormitory communities, reflecting the separation between home and work place. One often forgets that cities have many neighborhoods which are exclusively residential, and that people leave them during the day to go to work.

2. See especially Gans (1967) for a criticism of the myth of suburbia and its people.

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