There is no plaque on the large Greek Revival townhouse at 70 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights, but writer Truman Capote lived here from 1955 to 1965 while writing In Cold Blood, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir. While the house is colloquially known today as the “Truman Capote House”, in reality the writer rented a basement apartment here from Oliver Smith, who designed the Broadway sets for West Side Story, Guys and Dolls, and On the Town.
In his Brooklyn Heights essay, Capote describes how he talked his way into a room: “We sat on the porch consulting Martinis — I urged him to have one more, another. It got to be quite late, he began to see my point; yes, twenty-eight rooms were rather a lot; and yes it seemed only fair that I should have some of them.” When Jacqueline Kennedy visited Capote here, he allowed her to believe that he owned the house, rather than Smith. “I live in Brooklyn. By Choice” is the opening line of Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir.
In Brooklyn Heights: A Personal Memoir., there are several photographs of Capote in this home by the photographer David Attie, who contributed images to several of Capote’s stories in print magazines, including the first appearance of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in Esquire magazine. There is one showing the young Capote, leaning with legs crossed along the back porch with his hands in his coat pocket. Another shows him looking up at the photographer, with the apartment’s spiral staircase forming the backdrop.
Apart from Capote’s rental, 70 Willow Street has always been a single-family house. It sold in 2012 for $12.5 million and was restored to its 1839 look when it was originally built by a Dutch descendant, Adrian Van Sinderen. It was, and remains, one of the largest and oldest houses in Brooklyn Heights.
One of the most active past residents of “The Truman Capote House” was a Mrs. William A. Putnam, an important socialite and wife of a millionaire banker who hosted many events, clubs, and parties in the house that were regularly reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Most notably, it was here that Mrs. Putnam’s anti-suffragist group met starting in 1894. They felt that voting would be a “burdensome duty,”and that it would be deprive women of “special privileges. Mrs. Putnam continued advocating against the right for women to vote for more than twenty years.
Mrs. Putnam was also supporting good works, however, hosting the Women’s Missionary Society of the First Presbyterian Church, the first meetings of the L’Alliance Francaise, a French class held in Brooklyn Heights starting in 1898, The Twentieth Century Club (inviting scientists and other esteemed thinkers), an art league, and a literary series.
In the renovation of the Truman Capote House, now owned by a video game mogul who created Grand Theft Auto, the back porch where Capote stood was significantly changed and redesigned, albeit with approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The house, which was yellow for many decades, has been returned to its natural red brick color, and a pool is planned for the backyard. Wonder what Capote would think?
Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of Brooklyn Heights.