There’s hardly a single Brooklynite unfamiliar with the 1994 iconic Spike Lee film, “Crooklyn,” a story that chronicles a Brooklyn family and their daughter Troy (played by Zelda Harris), a beguiling 11-year-old girl who came of age during one unforgettable summer in 1973.
Much of the movie’s charm hinged on its relatable characters and the setting: inside of a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. But what’s often missed on most fans of the movie is that, when the cameras were not rolling, a family actually lived in that brownstone. Even more remote is the notion that the home is still occupied today.
Elizabeth Mandarano is the current owner of the “Crooklyn Brownstone,” located at 7 Arlington Place, between Macon and Halsey streets. Mandarano, a lawyer and mother of a 6-year-old, purchased the home nearly three years ago. And on September 26, 2015, the five-story brownstone will officially open to the public as Arlington Place Bed and Breakfast.
Mandarano is a fourth-generation Brooklynite. And although she’s seen (and loves) the movie, she said it had little at all to do with her decision to buy. In fact, when she first viewed the townhouse, it was in such disrepair, it was nearly uninhabitable. But in it, she saw sketches of beauty and a history that spoke to her and drove her to do—she admits today— something she would probably never do again: restore it.
“I had no interest in doing a restoration,” said Mandarano. “I was looking for an investment property in Bed-Stuy. I had a deal on Halsey that fell through. I saw the listing for this and came to the open house. I walked into the dining room, looked around and didn’t even look at the other floors before making my decision.”
Built in 1887 in the Renaissance Revival style, 7 Arlington Place, at the time of its most recent sale, still maintained much of its rich woodwork, tiles, hardware and stained glass– even its original wallpaper, a Lincrusta, made in the late 1800s in England. Many features of the home revealed remarkable Queen Anne details beneath a century of paint.
So after purchasing 7 Alrington Place, Mandarano immediately went to work hiring expert architects and contractors who specialized in brownstone restoration. They began stripping down and restoring the bones of the home, an endeavor that would last two and a half years.
As they stripped away, wonderful little “surprises” surfaced almost daily, such as an original calligraphy inscription on the fireplace that had long ago been buried in several layers of paint; and the metal plates on the doorknobs: Who knew that once stripped, an intricate engraving would announce itself (in silver and bronze)?
And as more and more of the building’s history was uncovered, Mandarano knew she had to share it with others.
The house’s original architect, George P. Chappell, was more nuanced than most of his contemporaries of that time, said Mandarano. He used a leaf-and-floral motif in his design details, evidenced everywhere, from the immaculate woodwork, to the intricate hardware.
“I wanted to take its Victorian history and infuse it with a modern aesthetic,” she said. “[My interior design] has the details and coloring of Victorianism. But if you look at the messages, they’re very modern.”
For example, she purchased a nouveau Lincrusta for the hallways and then adorned it with portraits of men and women painted in the Dutch Flemish master style. But if you looked closer, you find all of the subjects display modern touches. In one painting, a Victorian woman is wearing a “boyfriend t-shirt” and holding a can of diet soda.
The wallpaper in the parlor also borrows the Victorian aesthetic. But upon closer examination, you see the stencils of an urban scene, a skateboarder, a guy on a cycle, a man with a mohawk…
For overnight stays, Arlington Place Bed and Breakfast offers up three, guest bedrooms. There are two, working fireplace on the parlor and garden floors. And she’s added a staircase to the roof, which leads to a garden where fresh vegetables and herbs are grown. The parlor, garden and basement floors are shared areas for guests to lounge in the rec room, eat at the community table, explore the small library of books, or, during the summer time, pick from the 100-year-old pear tree planted when the brownstone was first constructed.
In a few places, you may notice a subtle shout-out to the elements of the film “Crooklyn.” For example, in one of the house’s six bathrooms (the one in the movie scene where Troy is stuffing her bra), she salvaged the tile on the wall and painted it in a faint peach hue, because in that scene in the film, “there were a lot of orange elements.”
“So many people have come to me and said, ‘I loved the movie,’” said Mandarano. “Someone from Switzerland even traveled here to see it… The movie brings an interest to the property and to Bed-Stuy. Turning it into a bed and breakfast draws in tourism and revenue for the neighborhood.
“By offering a bed and breakfast in Bed-Stuy, we get people to know the neighborhood and the beauty of these brownstones; we get people to spend money in the neighborhood.”
And she is quick to point out, 7 Arlington Place is not an Airbnb location.
“We are a classic owner-occupied bed and breakfast. We stay on site. We take care of the people, facilitate and organize for our guests. We provide information for local restaurants and entertainment.”
Alrington Place Bed and Breakfast is officially open for tours and events, by appointment only. Overnight stays do not start until September 26, at which time guests can book via their website. Rooms run for between $195 – $250/night. Guests can rent the entire space for events or parties for $425/hr or for a flat fee of $3,000/day on weekends.
The B&B’s Facebook page launched only a week ago and already has garnered close to 300 “likes.”
“There were many challenges facing this [undertaking],” said Mandarano– even calling the project “traumatizing,” in reference to the painstaking work, cost and time.
“When doing a restoration, it’s hard to try and budget, because you might get horned in by undervaluing the work. But the brownstones in Bed-Stuy, they’re just… spectacular!
“So to have the opportunity to restore it to its original beauty, I felt a deep obligation to get it right… And I think I got it right.”