By Henrik Krogius
A Daily News was hard to find on Saturday. Local newsstands had sold out their issues by afternoon, unusually leaving stacks of the New York Post next to empty spaces. The reason: a bold front-page banner proclaiming: “BROOKLYN HEIGHT$” above a pair of small photos and the subhead: “Truman Capote House goes for amazing $12M.”
The house, at 70 Willow Street, was of course never owned by the author Truman Capote, but he rented a basement apartment there from the prominent Broadway scenic designer and producer Oliver Smith, and parties at the place drew the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Capote wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s while living there.
The sale price, which the News put at “about $12 million,” topped the recently set previous local record of $11 million for the brownstone at 212 Columbia Heights. The three-story, yellow-painted brick, Greek Revival house at 70 Willow is described in Clay Lancaster’s Old Brooklyn Heights: New York’s First Suburb as having been listed in the 1839 city directory, with Adrian Sinderen as the owner. The AIA Guide to New York City notes: “Stage designer Oliver Smith rescued this from the Red Cross, to whom it had been bequeathed, restoring its multipaned windows and making other corrections.”
Such historic details were, of course, not the reason public interest in the story. More interesting was the bit that Capote “had lavish, booze-filled parties at the house when Smith was out of town,” and the speculation that the director Baz Luhrmann may be the new owner. He was described as a client of Sotheby’s broker Karen Heyman, from whose web page the listing “had vanished” on Friday. The News said it was told by its sources that the purchaser used a corporate name.
The News also said that the 18-room house, boasting 11 fireplaces, crystal chandeliers, parking for four cars, and a stairwell mural copied from the Kennedy White House, had been listed for $18 million in 2010.
The most recent known owner was listed as Nicholas Calloway, who bought the house in the late 1990s.
Local novelist and film director Peter Hedges, who once gave a reading there, was quoted saying, “You can imagine Capote running around with his slippers on.” John Sample of Cobble Hill said he used to live behind the garden of the house and in fact saw Capote tramping around the garden in his slippers.