An Appreciation for the Early Promoters of Brownstone Brooklyn

Say what you will about the gentrification of Brownstone Brooklyn, but there's no question that Everett and Evelyn Ortner's regard for the neighborhood's historical treasures had a significant influence on its evolution over the past 50 years.
June 7, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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With the recent passing of Everett Ortner, Elizabeth A Harris pens an appreciation for the couple's "early and vigorous" promotion of Brooklyn as "a historic site worth preserving and a collection of neighborhoods worth nurturing."

Beginning in the early 1960s, at a time when "Manhattanites still considered it an unacceptable place even to go for dinner," the Ortners embarked on their decades-long effort to preserve and improve western Brooklyn, and especially Park Slope, including "gathering up young couples from Manhattan and persuading them to buy old, shabby brownstones in Brooklyn, even as their neighbors fled for the suburbs." Of course those brownstones, purchased for anywhere between $18,000-$25,000 (about $170,000 in today's dollars) in the mid-1960s now sell for several millions of dollars.

"While their home surely increased in value as the neighborhood flourished," notes Harris, "they never sold it, nor did they have children to whom they might have bequeathed it...But even without a financial incentive, their success was tremendous - perhaps, in some ways, more extravagantly so than they might have wanted."

"'Everybody here seems to have so much money,' said Dr. Susan Stewart, a friend of the Ortners who has lived on their block since 1973. Of Mr. Ortner, she said, 'He preferred it when it was more of a mixture of people.'"

"Sometimes, she said, he would wonder aloud, 'What have we wrought?'"

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Published on Monday, June 4, 2012 in The New York Times
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