Crown Heights is a neighborhood in the central portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The main thoroughfare through this neighborhood is Eastern Parkway, a tree-lined boulevard designed by Frederick Law Olmsted extending two miles (3 km) east-west.
Originally, the area was known as Crow Hill. It was a succession of hills running east and west from Utica Avenue to Classon Avenue, and south to Empire Boulevard and New York Avenue. The name was changed when Crown Street was cut through in 1916.
Crown Heights today is bounded by Washington Avenue (to the west), Atlantic Avenue (to the north), Howard Avenue (to the east) and Empire Boulevard (to the south). It is about two miles (3 km) long and two miles (3 km) deep. These neighborhoods border Crown Heights: Prospect Heights (to the west); Flatbush (to the south); Brownsville (to the southeast); and Bedford-Stuyvesant (to the north).
This neighborhood extends through much of Brooklyn Community Board 8 and 9. It is under the jurisdiction of two precincts of the New York City Police Department. The 77th precinct is part of Brooklyn North, which covers Crown Heights, Prospect Heights and Weeksville. The 71st precinct is part of Brooklyn South and covers the southern end of Crown Heights
Although no known evidence remains in the Crown Heights vicinity, prior to the European colonization of the Americas large portions of what is now called Long Island including present-day Brooklyn were occupied by the Lenape, (later renamed Delaware Indians by the European colonizers). The Lenape lived in communities of bark- or grass-covered wigwams, and in their larger settlements—typically located on high ground adjacent to fresh water, and occupied in the fall, winter, and spring—they fished, harvested shellfish, trapped animals, gathered wild fruits and vegetables, and cultivated corn, tobacco, beans, and other crops.
The first recorded contact between the indigenous people of the New York City region and Europeans was with the explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 when he anchored at the approximate location where the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge touches down in Brooklyn today. There he was visited by a canoe party of Lenape. The next contact was in 1609 when the explorerer Henry Hudson arrived in what is now New York Harbor aboard a Dutch East India Company ship the Halve Maen (Half Moon) commissioned by the Dutch Republic.
European habitation in the New York City area began in earnest with the founding of a Dutch fur trading settlement, later called "Nieuw Amsterdam" (New Amsterdam), on the southern tip of Manhattan in 1614.
By 1630, Dutch and English colonists started moving into the western end of Long Island. In 1637, Joris Jansen de Rapalje purchased about 335 acres (1.36 km2) around Wallabout Bay and over the following two years, Director Kieft of the Dutch West India Company purchased title to nearly all the land in what is now Kings County and Queens County from the indigenous inhabitants.
Finally, the areas around present-day Crown Heights saw its first European settlements starting in about 1661/1662 when several men each received, from Governor Pieter Stuyvesant and the Directors of the Dutch West India Company what was described as “a parcel of free (unoccupied) woodland there” on the condition that they situate their houses “within one of the other concentration, which would suit them best, but not to make a hamlet.”
Crown Heights had begun as a posh residential neighborhood, a "bedroom" for Manhattan's growing bourgeois class. The area benefited by having its rapid transit in a subway configuration (the IRT line underneath Eastern Parkway), in contrast to many other Brooklyn neighborhoods that had elevated lines. Conversion to a commuter town also included tearing down the 19th century Kings County Penitentiary at Carroll Street and Nostrand Avenue.
Beginning in the early 1900s, many upper-class residences, including characteristic brownstone buildings, were erected along Eastern Parkway. Away from the parkway were a mixture of lower middle-class residences. This development peaked in the 1920s. Before World War II Crown Heights was among New York City's premier neighborhoods, with tree-lined streets, an array of cultural institutions and parks, and numerous fraternal, social and community organizations.
Population changes began in the 1920s with newcomers from Jamaica and the West Indies, as well as African Americans from the South.
During the '40s, '50s and '60s, many middle class Jews lived in Crown Heights. In 1950, the neighborhood was 89 percent white, with a small but growing black population. Some 50- 60 percent of the white population, about 75,000 people, were Jewish. By 1957, there were about 25,000 blacks in Crown Heights, about one fourth of the population. There were thirty-four large synagogues in the neighborhood, including the Bobov, Chovevei Torah, and 770 Eastern Parkway, home of the worldwide Lubavitch movement. There were also three prominent Yeshiva.