Park Slope to the White House: President Obama Lived on Second Street as a Young Man

Some Second Street residents were excited and others were indifferent to hear how President Barack Obama lived on their street when he was a 20-something college graduate.

Park Slope is home to many celebrities, like actors Steve Buscemi and John Turturro, but the neighborhood now has an even bigger claim: President Barack Obama lived on the top floor of a Second Street brownstone after he graduated college.

On Second Street, near the home of novelists (and husband and wife) Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss, stands a big, 109-year-old brownstone that fits in perfectly with the other buildings, except for one fact: Barack Obama lived on its top floor with his girlfriend at the time in 1984.

The fact that Obama lived in an apartment between Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue was revealed in Vanity Fair magazine’s article, “Young Barack Obama in Love: A Girlfriend's Secret Diary” by David Maraniss. The article was adapted from his book, “Barack Obama: The Story,” to be published this month by Simon & Schuster.

Many Second Street residents Patch interviewed did not know this piece of trivia. And Michael Robinson, who bought the building on Second Street where Obama resided in the 80s, said he had “no clue” until a reporter from The New York Times rang his doorbell and showed him a copy of the Vanity Fair article.

“I started cracking up when I found out it was real,” Robinson told Patch, who has lived in the building with his wife and two kids since 1994. “I had a smirk on my face.”

Robinson said that he remembers the “little apartment on the fourth floor” when they first moved in. He said upstairs, where his two sons who are now 21 and 24 years old live, had two bedrooms, a bathroom and a kitchenette.

He said that he remembers taking a picture of the space before they made renovations—the last remaining image of what the space would have looked like while a younger Obama, who had recently quit his job at Business International in Manhattan after he graduated from Columbia University in 1983, lived there with Genevieve Cook, his girlfriend at the time.

The Vanity Fair article said that the couple met at a Christmas party in the East Village in Manhattan in 1983, six months after he graduated. During their time on Second Street, Cook was a teacher at P.S. 133 on Butler Street.

But now, 28 years after Obama lived there, there is no evidence that the President of the United States had ever called Park Slope home.

“All you see is my not-so-neat sons’ room, a closet with their shirts and pants and some things lying on the floor and that’s about all there is,” Robinson said.

“But the Obama connection is funny,” Robinson explained. “But that’s the 99.9 percent of what I know. Unfortunately there are no other facts to be conveyed.”

Other Second Street residents, some who have heard the news and others who did not, were mostly excited to hear that our President, who was 22-years-old at the time, lived on their block.

“I love the block, and he obviously has great taste,” said Nieves Monasterio, who is friends with neighbor and novelist, Jonathan Safran Foer. “I feel like it’s a good premonition, especially for my kids, that they might do something great, too.”

Monasterio, who has lived on Second Street with her husband and children for four years, said she wonders what Obama would think while walking home on Second Street.

Another resident, Ryan Herrold, said his wife overheard The Times reporter talking to Robinson and told him right away.

“He used to run in Prospect Park, and I do too,” Herrold said. “He probably used the Third Street entrance, just like I do four days a week.”

Herrold also suggested a similar thing Monasterio said, “Maybe this means my two-year-old daughter will become president,” Herrold said.

But not everyone was impressed about the street’s claim to fame. An older man who was holding four canes in his hand said he has lived just off Second Street on Prospect Park West since before 1984, but never saw Obama.

“I don’t remember seeing him, but I wouldn’t have known who he was anyway,” the man said, explaining his name was coincidentally “Barack Obama.”

“It means absolutely nothing to me and if it’s not true, it means even less,” the man said. “It doesn’t change my life and it doesn’t change his.”

But Henric Matthewson, who moved from Norway and has been living two doors down from Obama’s former apartment for six months with his family, was certainly impressed.

“This is great! I am going back to Norway to tell my friends that I lived on the same block as Barack Obama,” Matthewson said.

Robinson said that when he came home on Wednesday, after The Times interviewed him, that Safran Foer came outside to congratulate him about the news, having first read about Obama’s Park Slope residence in Vanity Fair.  

Robinson had a good laugh with his neighbor and novelist who wrote, among other books, “Everything Is Illuminated.”

“I think it is rather funny, actually,” Robinson said. “I was joking with one of my friends that my house is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. But, I don’t make much of it, quite frankly.”

Parksloper May 07, 2012 at 04:32 PM
Time to get a life people. You're embarrassing yourself. Oh oh, I run in the same park he did.
Patti Geier May 07, 2012 at 09:39 PM
great idea!
Sara May 08, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Such a neat story, thanks!
Marcia C. May 08, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Very interesting!
Robert Paulson July 14, 2012 at 06:48 AM
Barry? Yeah, he used to hangout with Larry Fishburn and the crew...I used to see him on the park side getting high...


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