Photos Shane Lyons
It’s poised to be the next Bedford Avenue. So it’s hard to imagine that Cortelyou Road, one of Ditmas Park’s main drags, once ran through desolate farmlands. Originally owned by the Ditmas family, this sub-section of Flatbush, located just south of Prospect Park, began to take on its strangely suburban aura around the turn of the 20th century, a vibe that has hardly changed despite the shift from residential calm to gentrifiying commotion. With the industrial grit of Coney Island Avenue to its west, the neighborhood feels like an eerie oasis amid run-of-the-mill Brooklyn blight.
The commercial streets that slice Ditmas Park into horizontal strips are lined with the brick-and mortar low-rises that dominate many Brooklyn neighborhoods. But side streets like Rugby Road—whose English-sounding name, like others in the neighborhood, was intended to lure the well-to-do—reveal the neighborhood’s true character: beautifully constructed homes, ranging from Victorian mansions to Swiss-inspired chalets, mostly built between 1899 and 1915. “To attract the wealthy from Wall Street and overcrowded Manhattan, the developers advertised ‘country living in the city,’” Ron Schweiger, Brooklyn’s official historian, explains. “The homes had lawns and the streets were tree-lined, giving the area a ‘park-like’ setting.”
These homes, no two of which were meant to look alike, originally sold for $6,500 to $13,000, says Schweiger. Many of them remain intact today, and have retained their original Victorian details: pitched roofs, bay windows and massive front porches, all of which hint at the privilege of Ditmas’ original settlers—Guggenheims, Gillettes, and the like. These homes are fast becoming an object of desire for new families, young professionals, and hipsters looking for a whole lotta space for relatively little cash—though still a bit more than $13,000. The recent upswing of gentrification has had longtime residents up in arms, as many have been forced out by skyrocketing rents and taxes. It’s unclear if Ditmas Park will go the way of Williamsburg, but it’s certainly a neighborhood that, like many others in the borough, seems to be entering into a state of permanent flux.