3. Hobbit Doors of Dennett Place

Near the industrial edge of the Gowanus Canal is a tiny lane called Dennet Place. Until recent years, the entire street was like an ethnic micro-enclave, inhabited by a tight-knit community of Italian Americans. The most obvious curiosity is the existence of tiny doors about four feet tall, affectionately referred to as “hobbit doors,” beneath the concrete staircases that lead to the main floors of the houses.

Each door is slightly different and they don’t just vary by color. Some doors have brass knockers, others just a street number. Some have a mail slot, while others have small window or two. The majority of them have an accompanying tiny window, varying in size and shape.

Neighborhood change has altered the demographic of Dennet Place, but even relative newcomers are proud of their unique street. New York City tax photographs may provide the first clue as to the origin of the hobbit doors, as some homes show wooden staircases in lieu of the concrete.

Local resident and film director Ben Wolf surmises that residents might originally have walked under the wooden staircase, down a few steps to a door that led directly into the  house. Today, the miniature doors lead to exactly that – once you enter (crouching, of course) and go down a few small steps, you can stand at full height. Make a quick left turn at the landing, down another couple of steps and there is another door that leads directly into the basement unit of the house.

The houses on Dennet Place were built for workers constructing the Catholic church St. Mary Star of the Sea on the same block between 1853 and 1855. Fans of mob history might know that this is the church where Al Capone was married.

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