overview

From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade was one of the city’s most popular and well-known gay male cruising areas.

It became contested ground during the 1960s as complaints led to a police crackdown and curfew.

Header Photo
Credit: Amanda Davis/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2019.

History

The Promenade, a pedestrian walk that cantilevers out from Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, is known for its views of New York Harbor and the Manhattan skyline. Opened in stages between 1948 and 1951, it had become a documented location for gay male cruising by 1952.

In the early 1960s as the Promenade’s reputation grew, gay men from other parts of the city flocked to Brooklyn Heights. In the words of Armand Whitehead, who moved to Brooklyn Heights in 1963, “It was absolutely wild. People did everything there.” In September 1962, the police responded to complaints from straight residents and the Brooklyn Heights Association with a crackdown, which included stationing plainclothes officers on the Promenade. In 1966, the Parks Department imposed a curfew from midnight to 6 AM at the request of the police, who told the Brooklyn Heights Press that they were responding to the many neighborhood residents who “objected to the ‘goings on’ there late at night.”

Eventually the police became more accepting, and according to Whitehead, “if they knew you from the neighborhood, [they] kind of just let it be.” In 1981, the New York Native reported on a still-active cruising scene, with its focus on the south end at Remsen Circle, “where those who cruise in cars can idle or park,” while at the north end, the playground in Squibb Park became at night “the biggest outdoor backroom in the world.” By the late 1980s-early 1990s, as the LGBT community had begun settling in other neighborhoods of Brooklyn, notably Park Slope and Fort Green/Clinton Hill, the Promenade fell out of favor as a cruising grounds. Currently, plans to reconstruct a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) are threatening the preservation of this public amenity.

Currently, plans to reconstruct a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE) are threatening the preservation of this public amenity.

This entry, written by project consultant Gale Harris, was made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Building Information

  • Architect or Builder: Andrews and Clarke, consulting engineers; Clark and Rampuano, landscape architects
  • Year Built: 1946-51

Sources

  1. Fred Wasserman, “Brooklyn Lesbian and Gay History Exhibition Project Notes, “[Compiled for the Brooklyn Historical Society, 1993-1994]. [source of Whitehead quotes, 30]

  2. Henrik Krogius, The Brooklyn Heights Promenade (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011).

  3. Hugh Ryan, When Brooklyn Was Queer (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019).

  4. “’Operation Decoy’ Is in Effect on Promenade and Near St. George,” Brooklyn Heights Press and Cobble Hill News, September 20, 1962, 1.

  5. “Promenade Closed,” Brooklyn Heights Press and Cobble Hill News, July 21, 1966, 1.

  6. Robert Furman, Brooklyn Heights (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2015).

  7. Stephen Greco, “The View from the Edge,” New York Native, May 18-31, 1981, 16, 21.

Curated Themes

8 Sites

Brooklyn Heights

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

70 Willow Street
Oliver Smith Residence / Truman Capote Residence
Residences
141 Montague Street
Brooklyn Heights Press Offices
Stores & Businesses
62 Montague Street
Willard Maas & Marie Menken Residence
Residences