Perfect Setting


Location Clinton Hill (Brooklyn)

Price $3,000 (in 1977, co-op, $512.50 maintenance)

Square feet 1,000 (five-room apartment in 1890 building)

Occupant Kenneth Schliemann (retired, visual merchandising vice president, Lord & Taylor)

[It is a soft, sunny afternoon. The red geraniums are in their flower boxes. The neighborhood is all ready to go for spring. Wide streets on Clinton, deep lawns, Ionic columns. First, Kenneth Schliemann gives a tour, which was going to be brief but—”If you’ll just allow me a small digression.” He is wearing a deep blue shirt and a snappy khaki jacket, and indicates points of interest with his cane.] Clinton and Washington were the two grand avenues. Waverly and Vanderbilt had the carriage houses. I’ve lived here forever. The district was landmarked over 20 years ago. That building over there used to be a house of ill repute. Who went in? I don’t know. I didn’t stand around at night. They have another branch in Park Slope. Here’s a copper beech tree. If you go on garden tours in England, they say, “Oh and the copper beech was planted by Sir Lancelot So-and-So in 1723 . . .” [We discuss the weather.] This is the strangest season as long as I’ve been in New York. I usually stay with a friend in Uruguay in the winter. You open his double French doors, the air blows back and forth. Paradise. Here’s the Carolyn Ladd Pratt House. One day, two of the bronze railings between the caryatids were gone. This Masonic Hall, there were marvelous globes by the entrance. One day, they were missing. Here’s where Giuliani went to high school. These windows are Tiffany . . .

[Two hours later. We go inside.] A birdcage elevator! This half of the building was built for the bachelor sons of some of the wealthy families who lived along Clinton Avenue. It’s very ingeniously designed, two formal rooms and two rooms with pocket doors that open into the living room. [An identical apartment just sold for $390,000.] I always wanted a country house. That’s why I collected. Then I realized that it was never going to happen. Why? Oh, money, I became ill, had to cut back on my activities. Fortunately, the woman who had been my secretary for 20 years, Iola, bought a house in western New Jersey, and a lot of my things went there.

The bedroom is all pink with white icing on the ceiling. I came from Minnesota, the southwest, in Morgan, less than 800 people. My father was an organizer for Land O’Lakes. It was originally a co-op movement. Farmers would get together and start their own creamery. The family came from Germany in the 1800s. There was an Indian Revolt in 1862. [He says his great-grandfather was shot by Indians.] “The Indians are attacking. You’ve got to flee.” I came to New York in 1957, lived with a friend on Avenue C. He was writing stories for True Confessions, working as a church secretary part-time. Three of us shared a one-room apartment. It took me a long time to get a job because I was CO, a conscientious objector. Then I did: W&J Sloan, the premier furniture store in New York. I was assigned to two floors of traditional. You had to arrange the furniture and lamp it. Then Lord & Taylor, 1960. Arthur worked there. He’d gone to Yale. He did the sets for one of Grace Kelly’s last movies. At lunch we did the crossword puzzles. One day, Shelly, he was a composer, said he wanted something more. I said, Shelly, I would be happy just to go on like this. When my roommate, Richard, went to the Brussels World’s Fair, I moved to the McBurney Y, then to 72nd and York. Sidney Highsmith wanted someone to take care of his dog, Libby. Libby reacted well to me. Then back to Chelsea in 1964 . . .

Oh no, we spent so much time talking outside and now what are we going to do about all the Javanese puppets and the Eskimo artifacts and the stuffed turkey and . . . I haven’t even opened the cupboards.