Boerum Hill is a small neighborhood in the northwestern portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn that occupies 36 blocks bounded by State Street to the north, 4th Avenue to the east, Smith Street to the west, and Warren Street to the south. Commercial strips line Smith Street and Atlantic Avenue. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community District 2, served by Brooklyn Community Board 2. The Brooklyn High School of the Arts is located in the neighborhood on Dean Street and 3rd Avenue. The neighborhood is served by the NYPD's 84th Precinct.
Boerum Hill is named for the colonial farm of the Boerum family, which occupied most of the area during early European-American settlement. Most of the housing consists of three-story row houses built between 1840 and 1870. In the early twentieth century, many of the buildings were run as boarding houses. Nearby was the union hall for ironworkers, attracted to the city to work on bridges and skyscrapers. The population today is middle and upper-middle class. Despite the name, this area, formerly "North Gowanus" and built on landfill in the former Gowanus Swamp, is of lower elevation than most nearby land.
In the 1950s, all the neighborhoods south of Atlantic Avenue and west of Hoyt Street were called South Brooklyn. The area derived its name from being south of the original town of Brooklyn (now Brooklyn Heights) settled by the Dutch.
The north end of Smith Street was the center of New York City's Mohawk community, who came mostly from Akwesasne and Kahnawake, Mohawk reserves in Quebec, Canada. (Akewesasne straddles the boundary of New York and Canada.) Many of the Mohawk men were ironworkers. The women worked at a variety of jobs and created the community for their families. For 50 years, the Mohawk families called their neighborhood "Little Caughnawaga," after the homeland of Kahnawake.
The Brooklyn House of Detention for Men is located at Boerum Place (Adams Street and Atlantic Avenue). Constructed in 1957, it was closed in 2003 and used only as a holding area, because of the need for renovations of the outdated facility, a city effort to revitalize retail and other uses in the area, and community concerns. In 2008 the city re-opened the facility amid controversy over future uses, to allow the beginning of work to upgrade it. The city plans expansion and renovation of the facility to allow the demolition of outdated facilities at Riker's Island.
The neighborhood also includes NYCHA-run housing, the Gowanus Houses, constructed in 1949, and Wyckoff Gardens, completed in 1966. Gowanus Houses includes 14 buildings, of 4-, 6-, 9-, 13 and 14-stories high. Wyckoff Gardens has three tall, multi-story buildings. During the early twentieth century, some of the Boerum Hill area was developed into light-industrial spaces. With increasing gentrification, a variety of retail stores and restaurants have opened in the area along the commercial streets.
The neighborhood has been featured in several contemporary creative works. It is the setting of Spike Lee's movie, Clockers (1995), which was filmed in the Gowanus Houses. It is also featured in two of Jonathan Lethem's books: Motherless Brooklyn (1999), a crime mystery set on Bergen Street between Smith and Hoyt streets, and The Fortress of Solitude (2002), set primarily on one block in Boerum Hill (Dean Street between Nevins and Bond streets). In the latter novel, Lethem suggests that the neighborhood was renamed from North Gowanus in the wake of gentrification beginning in the early 1970s, the period for his lead characters' childhoods.
It is unclear whether this is accurate; a 2003 profile of the community The Village Voice confirms it, but a 2005 article in the "Close Up On" column disputes the renaming story.
Boerum Hill Historic District is a national historic district in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, New York, New York. It consists of 238 contributing residential rowhouses and a few commercial buildings built between 1845 and 1890. Most are three bay, three story brick buildings with projecting stoops in a Greek Revival or Italianate style.