By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The building has acquired a rich set of urban legends over the years. Some said it was a Catholic home for unwed mothers in the 1950s. "That's apocryphal," said William Younger, who has lived on Lincoln Place for 24 years and is the author of Old Brooklyn in Early Photographs, 1865-1929.
Others whispered it was once a speakeasy, with distilleries and wild parties in the basement. "That's completely apocryphal," retorted Younger, who pointed out that prohibition ended in 1933the same year the original owner died in his home.
Here's what really happened: The mansion was originally built for multimillionaire Frank Lusk Babbott in 1887, four years after the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. Babbott was a successful jute merchant, which probably means he made millions selling twine. When he retired from the jute mill, he became a patron of the arts, picking up works by James Whistler and Winslow Homer. Babbott was an upstanding Brooklyn citizen and served as a trustee of the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences. His wife, Lydia, also had money to burn. She was the daughter of Charles Pratt, a Standard Oil Company magnate. The Babbott home was further enlarged as the house filled with his four children and his art collection, which was, as The New York Times knowingly observed in his 1933 obituary, "notable for quality rather than quantity."
In 1945, the mansion was sold and turned into a Presbyterian retirement home. The building had been empty for a few years when Frank Lee bought it and turned it into a hotel in 1959. In the early years, the hotel hosted grand wedding receptions for local familiesback when the neighborhood was working-class and African American and Puerto Ricanand ladies with elaborately feathered hats milled around the lobby. Over time, the hotel became known as a discreet meeting place for amorous couples. Every 10 years or so, locals tried to oust the Lincoln Plaza from the neighborhood, but none of the efforts succeeded. Last year, the property (which includes a garden lot next door) was sold for well over $2.5 million to the Foster Family Trust, which is administered by a family in the neighborhood. The hotel's tiny rooms are gone, gutted to make room for spacious upscale condos or apartments, which will surely be outfitted with granite countertops and brushed-steel appliances.
So the building has returned to its genteel roots, but not without witnessing the neighborhood's many transformations. Babbott hung his Whistler lithographs, elderly Presbyterians hung their heads, the hotel hung lusty posters of sunsets, and one spring night, one man hung his lover up in the shower in room 26. And a few years from now, the building's new residents will hang their flat-screen television sets and watch Sex and the City reruns. The building remains the same, but the neighborhood has surely lost a conversation piecenot to mention a form of live local entertainment. And I have forever lost my crush.
Wendy Bryan never stayed at the Lincoln Plaza Hotel. Honest.