Dyker Heights is a residential neighborhood in the southwest corner of the Borough of Brooklyn in New York City, USA. It is sandwiched among Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, and Gravesend Bay. According to the Post Office, Dyker Heights is bounded to the west by Interstate 278, to the north by Bay Ridge Avenue, to the east by Fourteenth Avenue, and to the south by Fort Hamilton. The Dyker Beach Golf Course extends to the Belt Parkway.
Dyker Heights originated as a speculative luxury housing development in
October 1895 when Walter Loveridge Johnson developed a portion of
woodland into a suburban community. During the height of his
development, the boundaries were primarily between Tenth Avenue and
Thirteenth Avenue and from 79th Street to 86th Street. The finest homes
of the development were situated along the top of the 110-foot (34 m)
hill, at about Eleventh Avenue and 82nd Street. Dyker Heights is
patrolled by the 68th Precinct of the NYPD.The neighborhood of Dyker Heights lies within the boundaries of the original Dutch town of New Utrecht
settled in 1657. The area that is now as Dyker Heights was not
developed in the 17th or 18th centuries because the land was too sloped
for farming. It remained common woodland until the mid-19th century. The
trees of this forest were used by the townsfolk as a source of firewood
and construction material. When the agricultural industry of New
Utrecht changed from the farming of grains to the cultivation of market
garden produce, the trees were cleared and the area became a large
market garden with tomatoes, cabbages, and potatoes, among other
produce.The first house built at the top of the hill (what is now
Eleventh Avenue and Eighty-Second Street, at about 110 feet (34 m) above
sea level) was built in the late 1820s by Brigadier General René Edward De Russy
of the United States Army. De Russy was a military engineer who built
many forts in the United States – from the Canadian border and the
eastern seaboard to the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific coast – including
Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn.
Since this is the tallest natural point in southwest Brooklyn, De Russy
built his homestead here – it afforded a clear view of the harbor and
its defenses, especially Fort Hamilton which was complete by November
1831. De Russy died in 1865 and his wife, Helen, sold the property in
1888 to Jane Elisabeth Loveridge and Frederick Henry Johnson.According to the Brooklyn Eagle,
Frederick Johnson did "much toward developing the locality in which he
resided. He was the author of the original New Utrecht Improvement Bill,
and an ardent advocate of the annexation of the Town to this City."
The Town of New Utrecht was annexed to the City of Brooklyn on July 1,
1894. On January 1, 1898, the City of Brooklyn was annexed to the City of New York.
Involved with real estate, Johnson was probably very aware of the real
estate pressures on and potential of the real estate in New Utrecht.
With this in mind, he most likely purchased the De Russy Estate with the
intention of building an upscale residential neighborhood similar to
Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea, built by James D. Lynch from 1880-1890 in the Bath Beach section of New Utrecht.
At that time, The Real Estate Record claimed Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea was
"the most perfectly developed suburb ever laid out around New York."
The restrictions placed upon the property made Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea
"a model settlement, where some of the most refined, intelligent and
cultured of New York and Brooklyn's citizens have built their homes."
Frederick Johnson's death on August 15, 1893 at the age of 52, his
second son, Walter Loveridge Johnson, took over the real estate business
and by October 1895 Walter started Dyker Heights on his parents'
property. Walter L. Johnson named his development "Dyker Heights" after
the Dyker Meadow and Beach, which his development overlooks. The meadow
and beach received their name from either the Van Dykes (an original New
Utrecht family) who built the dykes to drain the meadow, or for the
dykes that the Van Dykes built.
Walter L. Johnson was able to develop this portion of New Utrecht
woodland into a residential community by making necessary improvements
to it. In 1890, the only roads present were Kings Highway,
Eighty-Sixth Street, Denyse's Lane, and a small unnamed road near Tenth
Avenue – none of which were paved and only Eighty-Sixth Street was a
thoroughfare specifically planned as such. The remaining land was
unimproved. Johnson continued Brooklyn's street grid south with macadam
pavement, graded the properties, installed gas, water, telephone, and
electricity lines, and planted sugar maple trees – seven on the avenues
and twenty along the streets. This opened over two hundred more building
sites between Tenth and Thirteenth avenues as well as between
Seventy-Ninth Street and Eighty-Sixth Street.
In 1895, Johnson, very
much aware of the successful Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea, built three homes.
His home was on the southwest corner of Eleventh Avenue and
Eighty-Second Street (across the Avenue from the home of his mother),
Albert Edward Parfitt's home was on Eighty-Second Street next to
Johnson's, and the last, closest to Tenth Avenue, was the home of Arthur
S. Tuttle who was Assistant Engineer of The Water Supply of The City
Works Department of The City of Brooklyn. Parfitt was the architect of
these three homes. Johnson's house burned down before 1900, Parfitt's
was demolished by a developer in 1928 and replaced with seven,
run-of-the-mill, fully detached, single-family homes, and Tuttle's house
was remodeled over 10 years ago and clad in bright-white and sky-blue
"The Handsomest Suburb in Greater New York"
Throughout the infancy of the development, Walter L. Johnson was able
to use the print press to his advantage. He advertised his suburban
homes heavily and stated that the high ground, magnificent ocean view,
and careful restrictions made Dyker Heights the handsomest suburb in Greater New York.
Based on the newspaper accounts, he was right. In 1896 Johnson built
and sold thirty homes in Dyker Heights. By January 1897, the Brooklyn Eagle
reported on his achievements. "Mr. Johnson has met with great success
in the development of Dyker Heights and had probably done more business
and made more sales during the past year than all the rest of the
surrounding settlements combined."
In April 1898 sales were still very strong. "Dyker Heights still holds
its lead among the suburban sections in building operations, over forty
houses having been erected there during the past year... and there are
fully twenty more houses about to be built." One of its many advantages was the location, which according to the Brooklyn Eagle, "is one of the finest in Greater New York, commanding an extensive view of water from Sandy Hook to the New Jersey Palisades, with Staten Island and the shores of New Jersey directly in front."
Still more praise in February 1899, "Dyker Heights has been one of the
most successful and the most rapid in growth of any of the suburban
settlements, over one hundred dwellings, costing from $5,000 to $25,000
each, having been erected there within the last two years."
"An ideal spot for a home"
In September 1899, the Wall Street Journal even reported on the advantages of the development, recommending it to "the busy man of Wall Street" because of "its magnificent transportation facilities... it can be reached via the Thirty-Ninth Street Brooklyn Ferry and Eighty-Sixth Street Nassau Line in 45 minutes."
In addition the article claimed that "the 45 minutes' trip between
Dyker Heights and Wall Street by water and rail is as invigorating as
the Dyker Heights climate is healthy-living. The rare opportunities
afforded by Dyker Heights to the wealthy and to those in moderate
circumstances are due largely to the energy, enterprise and good taste
of its founder, Mr. Walter L. Johnson." A month later, the Wall Street Journal
published "An Ideal Spot for a Home." From that article, one can
clearly see why Dyker Heights was so successful. Its location and
luxurious homes were first rate, "[Dyker Heights] is without a rival as
to location, situated as it is at an elevation of  feet above the
sea level, and is directly opposite the new Dyker Meadow Park... which
will be the only seaside park in Greater New York."
The article also explained the exclusiveness of the property, which can
be seen in "its massive stone piers with heavy wrought-iron lamps and
scrolls" that adorn the entrances. In December 1899 the Brooklyn Eagle
reported that, "work has recently been commenced upon thirty high class
Houses, the demand for which runs a dead heat with the supply."
"One of the most magnificent"
Johnson set very high standards for the community: the Wall Street
Journal explained "the property is carefully restricted against all
nuisances and no building can be erected upon a plot of less than 60
feet (18 m) in width by 100 feet (30 m) in depth, and each building must
cost at least $4,000 and stand well back from the street." These regulations, which were similar to those of Bensonhurst-by-the-Sea,
were active until 1915. However, the most desirable feature of the area
was still the "uninterrupted view of the lower bay from The Narrows to Sandy Hook and Atlantic Ocean,
[which] is one of the most magnificent in the country, and nowhere else
in the consolidated city is there anything to compare it with. From
here can be seen a marine panorama hard to beat." Dyker Heights was so desirous that important members of society flocked to it. The Brooklyn Eagle reported in December 1899 that this "drain" on the more established social neighborhoods such as Brooklyn Heights and those in Manhattan,
"almost threatens to lower the social tone of the neighborhoods where
this universal exodus is effecting a gradual change in the character of
One of the many focal points of the neighborhood was the Dyker Heights Club, which started in October 1896.
By spring of 1898 the Club had a $30,000 club house designed by Albert
Edward Parfitt on an $8,500 lot, measuring 200 × 200, located on the
northeast corner of Thirteenth Avenue and Eighty-Sixth Street. Johnson
moved his real estate office into the club house and hired a full-time
architect, Constantine Schubert, who was also a Dyker Heights homeowner.
This grand, neo-classical building was sadly demolished in 1929 by the
Archbishop John Hughes Knights of Columbus Club, when they acquired the property for $60,000.
Early in the history of Dyker Heights, Walter L. Johnson continually
purchased consecutive tracts of land until the boundaries of Dyker
Heights stretched from Seventy-Ninth Street in the north, roughly
Eighty-Sixth Street in the south, Tenth Avenue to the west, and about
300 feet (90 m) east of Thirteenth Avenue to the east. However, the
boundaries of the Neighborhood of Dyker Heights are now defined by the
Dyker Heights Post Office on the northwest corner of 13th and 84th
Streets; along its northeast edge runs Bay Ridge Avenue; Sixteenth
Avenue is its southeast boundary; Fort Hamilton makes its southwest border; and Interstate 278 is the northwest limit.
In December 1899, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote a very detailed description of the homes in Dyker Heights:
typical Dyker Heights residences have five rooms each on the first and
second floors and four rooms on the third. Upon entrance, the inmate or
visitor is ushered into a hall twelve feet wide which runs back to the
butler’s pantry. To the right of this hall is the parlor
and library and to the left the reception and dining rooms. The rear
space is taken up by the kitchen, butler’s pantry and washrooms with
tiled floors. Birdseye maple is used in the finishing of the parlor and quartered oak in that of the library, one with mantles of the same wood in fancy tile finish. A large fireplace with ornamental andirons
completes the mural decoration. The ceilings are ten feet high on the
first floor, while nine feet is the elevation of the second and eight
feet that of the third floor. Usually the dining room is fifteen feet
square and finished off in quartered sycamore. Like the hall, the reception room
is done off in quartered oak, but is circular in form and has a
diameter of ten feet. In the kitchen is a glazed fireplace, while below
stairs, speaking from a first floor level, are the cellar and laundry, with a depth of eight feet, and an asphalt double concrete floor."
"Of the five rooms on the second floor, one is a sitting room
and the remainder sleeping apartments, all of which are finished in
quartered oak and sycamore. A large bathroom with tiled floors takes up
the remaining space of the second story. Rising to the third floor we
find plain cypress as the invariable finish of the apartments, which comprise two servants’ rooms, a card or sitting room and a billiard parlorwainscoted
on the sides and provided with seats for the players and onlookers. It
may be noted further that the reception room and dining room are also
wainscoted six feet high."
Of the approximately 150 homes initially built by Walter L. Johnson, about half remain; while the others have been razed and replaced by large Mediterranean villas, condos,
as well as semi and fully attached homes. Very few of the newer homes
fit into the historic context of Dyker Heights, and many of the original
surviving homes have been extensively renovated and remodeled.
The Saitta House
is a two-and-a-half-story, one-family Queen Anne dwelling completed ca.
1899 by architect John J. Petit and builder P.J. la Note for Beatrice
and Simone Saitta (pronounced: sigh-eat-a). The home is located on the
north side of 84th Street between Twelfth Avenue to the east and
Eleventh Avenue to the west. The home reportedly cost $14,000 to build
and the 8,000 sq ft (700 m2) of land cost $2,700.
The Saitta House is significant in the area of architecture as a
remarkably intact, high-style example of Queen Anne residential
architecture and for its association with the development and planning
of Dyker Heights, a turn-of-the-20th-century suburban development in Brooklyn.
No other house in Dyker Heights retains so much of its original
architectural and structural components – both interior and exterior –
as the Saitta House. The house was architect-designed for an affluent
Dyker Heights family, and built ca. 1899 by craftsmen who came from
Italy and lived on the premises during construction. Architect John J.
Petit’s work can be found elsewhere in Brooklyn especially in the Prospect Park South Historic District (National Register
listed). The Saitta House represents the original ideals, way of life,
and quality architectural design of the original Dyker Heights
development. It was listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places in 2007. In June 2007, many local newspapers reported this news.
The original inhabitants of Dyker Heights were mainly of Anglican background; in fact they established Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church,
which still functions today. The residents were either local government
officials or wealthy professionals. For instance, I. M. De Varona was
Engineer of the Water Bureau, Clarence Barrow was Ex-Fire Commissioner,
William C. Bryant was current Fire Commissioner, George W. Dickinson was
a cotton-goods merchant, W. Bennett Wardell was a retired Judge,
Richard Perry Chittenden was Assistant of the Corporation Counsel,
Freeland Willcox was Secretary of the Cheeseborough Vaseline Company,
and Eugene Boucher was longshoreman and insurance broker.Italian-American
homeowners in Dyker Heights were originally small in number and
included Dr. Lorenzo Ullo, Counselor to the General Company of Italian
Navigation, and Simone Saitta, a Manhattan wholesale fruit dealer. However, Walter L. Johnson did not care much for Italians, especially poor Italians. The Brooklyn Eagle
explained a problem Johnson had with a particular Italian family in
Dyker Heights ". . . [The property] which at the time was owned by
Walter L. Johnson, was occupied by an Italian family, to whom Mr.
Johnson paid $600 to vacate it in order that the neighborhood of Dyker
Heights, which is very carefully restricted, might have no objectionable
features about it."
By 1940 Dyker Heights was inhabited by a majority of people of Italian
descent many of whom helped establish the Roman Catholic Shrine Church of Saint Bernadette (ca. 1935) on 13th Avenue between 82nd and 83rd streets.
Heights is now most famous for its Christmas lights and decorations
erected each year by its residents. It’s been called "Con Ed's warmest
heartthrob," the "undisputed capital of Christmas pageantry," and the “king of the Christmas lights."
Christmas lights are now the core of the Dyker Heights identity as not
just one home, or one block, but rather the entire community
Although in which December the lights began is unclear, newspaper
reports and tours of the area suggest it started sometime in the 1980s.
In 1985 one Lou Singer began running tours (Singer's Brooklyn) through
the most elaborately light parts of Bensonhurst, Canarsie, Bay Ridge, and Dyker Heights where one could find "designer lighting."
Since those initial 1980 reports, the lights of Dyker Heights have
become increasing more popular with New Yorkers as countless newspaper
articles, news programs, documentaries, and remotes were created. Early
on, the two most noted homes were on 84th Street, between 11th and 12th
avenues, directly across from one another. The home of Lucy Spata with
her Santa theme at 1152 84th St and that of Alfred Polizzotto with his
Nutcracker motif at 1145 84th St.
Spata’s home is covered in lights, illuminated soldiers and
choirboys, and other Christmas figures. The inside is decorated with 50
motorized dolls, miniature villages and many gifts. Outside Santa,
played by her nephew, greets children and others who pass by.
The white mansion, owned by Alfred Polizzotto, is adorned with a pair
of 29-foot (8.8 m) high wooden soldiers which stand guard and wave
their arms. The front lawn has rearing horses and a quartet of dancers.
In 1988, Polizzotto was diagnosed with lymphoma, which was successfully
treated the following year. To celebrate his triumph, Polizzotto mounted
the display the following year and ever since. In 2001, Mr. Polizzotto
died and his family has continued the tradition in his honor.
In 1996, the Casos, who moved to Dyker Heights in 1995 (they have
since relocated) had Midwood artist Carl Oliveri design Charles Dickens'
"A Christmas Carol," which included 29 life-size figures on their front
lawn at 1062 84th St.
In 2000, Conan O'Brien filmed a remote for Late Night with Conan O'Brien in Dyker Heights. A PBS
televised documentary "Dyker Lights" was produced in 2001 as an insight
into the neighborhood with stories involving the Christmas celebration
Dyker Heights has been referred to as an "an epicenter of
professionally hung Christmas lights," and as such most holiday
decorations in the area are not erected by homeowners, but by local
decorating companies, including B&R Christmas Decorators, Mechanical
Displays, DiMeglio Christmas Decorators, Creative Christmas Decorators
and others. The cost of hiring professional decorators can vary greatly,
from $1,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the scale of the display,
and many companies also offer additional services, including the option
to take down and store decorations.
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