As we covered in 2013 (and in our new book Secret Brooklyn: An Unusual Guide), the Park Slope townhouse located at 640 Second Street was where former President Barack Obama lived on the top floor in the mid-1980s, after graduating Columbia University. Due to a real estate listing, and subsequent recent sale of the townhouse at $4.295 million, we know what the interior looks like. The previous owner used the townhouse as a single-family residence and modernized the home while keeping the original details.
Obama lived here with his then-girlfriend Genevieve Cook, an Australian whom he met at a Christmas party in the East Village in 1983. She was a teacher of second and third graders at the Brooklyn Friends School. Obama would start a new job at the New York Public Interest Group, a non-profit where the future President of the United States would begin to flex his community organizing muscles.
As recounted in the book Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss, Cook rented the apartment on the top floor of the townhouse just steps from Prospect Park, in the spring of 1984. The townhouse, built sometime around 1901 to 1903, is a classic three-story brownstone with bowed windows that was built in 1903, and was owned by a colleague of Cook’s.
In December 1984, Barack quit his first post-college job at the Business International Corporation and moved into the Park Slope townhouse, in what was meant to be a temporary arrangement. However, he stayed until March 1985, when Genevieve moved to another apartment on Warren Street in Brooklyn. He helped her move but got his own place in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan and they broke up by May of 1985.
Maraniss explains, “Their time living together did not go well.” Entries published from Cook’s diary show Obama searching for his identity and purpose in this world. Cook found him “withholding” on the emotional front. But within a few months, Obama would relocate to Chicago, taking a job with the Developing Communities Project, starting on the path that would take him all the way to the White House.
Today, as it did in the 1980s during Obama’s tenure, the brownstone at 640 Second Street blends in with the rest of the street. As reported in the New York Times in 2012, when the apartment was revealed in Maraniss’ book, the current tenants as well as neighbors were hearing of Obama’s occupancy for the first time. On a visit back to Brooklyn as President of the United States, Obama told students at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, “When I was living here, Brooklyn was cool, but not this cool.”
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Next, check out the Top 12 Secrets of Prospect Park.