by Kevin Walsh

The pale yellow Greek Revival house at #70 Willow Street near Orange Street in the heart of Brooklyn Heights would be distinctive even if one of the world’s most famed authors never lived in it. The squarish house is one of Brooklyn Heights’ older buildings, built in 1839 by a descendant of the Dutch families of colonial Breuckelen, Adrian Van Sinderen.

The building, which boasts over a dozen fireplaces, was occupied in the 1890s by fiery anti-women’s suffrage activists, sisters Caroline and Lillian Putnam, who organized protests against the burgeoning activities to grant women the popular vote, which wouldn’t be realized until 1920. After Caroline Putnam died in 1940, the house was acquired by the Red Cross, which used the building for classrooms teaching arts and crafts for kids, Braille to the blind, and home ec for women whose husbands were returning from WWII.

In 1953 the house was purchased by Broadway stage designer Oliver Smith, who won a total of 25 Tony Awards. He lived here until his death in 1994. Smith rented the basement apartment to his friend Capote from 1955 to 1965; he wrote parts of the wildly different works “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” here. When his friend Jacqueline Kennedy paid him a visit, Capote let her think he owned the house.

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1 comment

chris September 30, 2014 - 6:28 pm

i always wondered about buildings that had those little windows at the top.I guess that means
that some tenants are living in attics


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