Here are some pictures of the great day last year, and we think this year will be even more fun!!
Here are some pictures of the great day last year, and we think this year will be even more fun!!
A “very productive year” was how Willowtown Association President Ben Bankson characterized 2012 at the association’s annual meeting held Wednesday evening, November 14, at the Alfred T. White Center on Willow Place. The meeting consisted of a potluck dinner and a celebration of the center’s 50th anniversary.
President Bankson cited the following as the year’s highlights:
+ The annual Spring Fair on Saturday, May 19, on Willow Place was well received on a picture-perfect day. As the association’s main fund-raising effort, the fair realized a net gain of $4,200 for the treasury. Next year’s fair is set for Saturday, May 18, again on Willow Place. The hard-working fair committee will begin planning it shortly after the New Year.
+ Under the leadership of Director Melissa Neel, Mickel’s Garden on Columbia Place was beautifully transformed and run smoothly. Some exciting plans are in the works for several improvements.
+ Prodded by Secretary/Treasurer Bill Newbury, the city planted two new trees in empty pits on Columbia Place and four in all of the empty pits on State Street. The association has seen to the installation and paid for handsome iron guards around the four on State Street.
+ The board unanimously endorsed renaming the Palmetto Playground on State Street, the Adam Yauch Playground. This late Beastie Boy used to play basketball on the playground. Reportedly the name has been changed by the city’s Parks Department, but this remains unconfirmed.
+ The association has formed two new committees. The Business Improvement Committee chaired by Bill Newbury has already dealt with two issues involving the businesses on Columbia Place. The Joralemon Street Closure Committee chaired by Linda De Rosa is finally seeking action in partnership with the Brooklyn Heights Association on what was in the General Project Plan for Brooklyn Bridge Park from its beginning, the closing of Joralemon at Furman to vehicular traffic.
+ As a gift to the Alfred T. White Center, the association is working on a new outdoor lighting scheme designed by Director Clare Brew, a lighting specialist. Contributions for this project are welcome and will be gratefully received.
The main business of the meeting was to elect the association’s 12 directors for 2013. The ballot presented by Director Frank Ciaccio, chair of the nominating committee, was approved by acclamation. Newly elected was Giovanna Fadda of 32 Joralemon Street. She is a native of the Sardinia region of Italy who with her husband Andrea Mocci opened the River Deli restaurant at the corner of Joralemon and Columbia Place in 2010 and at the same time moved to the Riverside Apartments from Manhattan. Eleven incumbents were reelected (see, Board of Directors, in the “About Us” section). The directors in turn elect the association’s three officers.
The preview of proposed lighting of the exterior of the Alfred T. White Community Center at 26 Willow Place….Reports on Hurricane Sandy relief efforts by Assemblywoman Joan Millman and City Councilman Steve Levin….Sublime playing of his flute by Director Petr Kotik of the S.E.M. Ensemble….Spirited singing by Mykel Frank of the Heights Players….A tribute to 2012 Alfred Award recipient Noel Collado by Director Cathy Fuerst of Saint Ann’s Preschool….Tasty dishes on the potluck dinner table and lots of wine–these were aspects of a memorable celebration of the 50th anniversary of the center on Wednesday evening, November 14, hosted by the Willowtown Association at the center. The following remarks by the association’s president, Ben Bankson, provided the framework for the occasion:
Fifty years ago this past summer–on June 8, 1962–a group of 36 Brooklynites held a testimonial dinner in the house at 16 Willow Place to celebrate their accomplishment in giving to “the people of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill a place for their individual and community projects and programs.” That place was 26 Willow Place where we are now gathered. Six months later–on December 16, 1962–what was called the Brooklyn Heights Community Building officially opened.
The proposed construction of a public multi-purpose athletic and recreation center along Furman Street just north of Joralemon in Brooklyn Bridge Park to be called The Fieldhouse was the subject of a special community meeting sponsored by the Willowtown Association on Wednesday evening, June 27, at 7:30 at the Alfred T. White Center on Willow Place.
Construction of the center will realize a feature of the park that to date was not possible because of financial restraints. Its estimated cost, $40 million, will be underwritten by Joshua P. Rechnitz, a Manhattan philanthropist. He is the founder and chairman of the nonprofit corporation, The New York City Fieldhouse, dedicated to “promoting healthy and sustainable living in our communities through recreational and competitive sports with an emphasis on competitive track cycling.” The donation is one of the largest ever made to a New York City park. Mr. Rechnitz will also underwrite any shortfalls in operating revenue incurred by the center for the first 10 years.
Leaders of the June 27 meeting were Greg Brooks, newly named executive director of The New York City Fieldhouse Inc.; Kate Collignon, public relations consultant for the project; and Jean Phifer of the architectural firm retained to design the center, Thomas Phifer and Partners.
In introductory comments Brooks said that “this was a meeting to hear concerns and get information from the community, not to offer answers.” The main concerns expressed by the attendees dealt with the increase in vehicular traffic the fieldhouse would generate especially on Joralemon Street and parking. “Joralemon Street is already overburdened with cars,” one attendee said. “This issue must be made a priority.” Another noted that “parking in Willowtown has become much more difficult since the opening of the playgrounds on Pier 6 in the park.”
The outmoded one-story warehouse building on the site of the proposed center was to remain as a storage and maintenance facility for the park. The Fieldhouse is to include space for these purposes along with a public boathouse and restrooms.
The following remarks about Caroline Palestino, 1919-2011, and Mary Merz, 1926-2011, were given by William “Bill” Newbury, secretary/treasurer of the Willowtown Association, at its 2012 Spring Fair on Saturday, May 19, on Willow Place as part of a ceremony dedicating trees on Columbia Place and State Street to the two women.
We have gathered here to celebrate the lives of two stalwart champions of Willowtown, women who represented the best of this neighborhood. Caroline Palestino lived here for all 92 years of her life. A native of Ohio, Mary Merz moved to Willow Place in 1965, more than 50 years ago. Not only were they each wonderful mothers of four kids, but they also took Willowtown under their motherly wings. Caroline and Mary nurtured and protected the neighborhood in ways that kept Willowtown intact and prepared for its life today.
Listen to this history:
+ Caroline was born at 10 Columbia Place, where her family had a dry goods store. Just this month Rachel Graville of Iris Café on Columbia Place opened a “take away” store also on Columbia Place, probably the first new such store in the neighborhood for some 50 years.
+ Caroline attended kindergarten in the building at 26 Willow Place dating from 1876 and used as a public school during 1928-42. Since 1962 it has been the Alfred T. White Community Center that has always housed a thriving preschool. For the past 30 years the preschool has been under the auspices of Saint Ann’s School on Pierrepont Street.
+ In the 1920s the Palestino family moved to 355 Furman Street, where they opened a restaurant. In 1928 Caroline watched workmen pour the concrete for the construction of the massive warehouse at 360 Furman Street, now reborn as the luxury condominium known as One Brooklyn Bridge Park.
+ Caroline delivered lunches from the family restaurant to local businesses including Fein’s tin can factory on Furman Street below Remsen. There she met her husband Raymond. The site is where a field house/velodrome is expected to be built in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
+ In the late 1940s construction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway led to the demolition of 355 Furman Street. The family then moved to an abandoned brownstone at 37 Willow Place, where Caroline lived for the rest of her life. She forever disliked the words that brought about this change, “eminent domain.”
+ Mary and her husband Joe, both architects, started their own firm in 1960. Shortly they became the owners of four newly cleared lots on Willow Place and the site of three new houses designed and built by them. No. 48 became their own home and office. Theirs were the first new houses built in the neighborhood in some 60 years.
+ Mary had poured her energy into the successful battle to stop urban planner Robert Moses from realizing his “slum clearance” plan for Willowtown. He wanted to build apartment towers here. All of the beautiful and historic homes in our vibrant neighborhood today would have been lost.
+ With four kids, Mary was also an active parent and volunteer in the Brooklyn Heights Community Nursery School then at the A.T. White Center.
To their final days, these two women continued to share their love of Willowtown. Caroline into her 90s sat proudly, with her front door wide open, at the top of her stoop greeting neighbors as they walked by. And similarly Mary was always out walking, greeting everyone with her indomitable smile, or checking the condition of the neighborhood on her bicycle.
The Willowtown Association is proud to honor these two longtime residents with memorial trees. They taught us to love and cherish our neighborhood and all that is special about it.
Mary and Joe Merz
The tree dedication ceremony held as part of the Willowtown Association’s 2012 Spring Fair on Saturday, May 19, on Willow Place included the reading by Rector Steve Muncie of Grace Church Brooklyn Heights–or, as he said at the ceremony, Grace Church Willowtown–of the poem, “When I Am Among the Trees” by Mary Oliver, and his giving a dedicatory prayer. The poem and prayer follow:
When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness,
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow of ten.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”
Now Bless These Trees
Gracious God, most loving, most merciful source of all that is true and lovely and beautiful. You created us in your image to live in peace and harmony with one another. And you have called us to tend and keep the garden of your creation. In this world of conflict and destruction, in this world of wounds and sorrows, watch over Willowtown and all the world. Grant us hope in the future, hope in your creative power, hope in what may yet be. Grant us strength and courage to rebuild what has been destroyed. Help us to bring peace and healing where lives are broken. Give us courageous vision to plant a new future for all people. Now bless these trees planted in loving memory of our dear neighbors Caroline and Mary. May they spring forth and grow as living witnesses to your sheltering care for all people, now and forever. Amen
Following is the statement read as part of the presentation by the Brooklyn Heights Association of an Award for Outstanding Community Service to the Tenants Association of the Riverside Buildings in Willowtown at the BHA’s 101st annual meeting Monday evening, February 28, at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in the Heights. William “Bill” Ringer and Jean Campbell, leaders of the Tenants Association, and attorney Frank Ciaccio, who has given it legal help along with others, were present to receive the award. Ringer and Campbell are former directors of the Willowtown Association. Ciaccio is presently a director.
Anyone who lives in a designated historic district…knows that there’s not a building within its boundaries that does not deserve the protection of historic preservation. Still, some buildings are, well, more historic than others. Not because they are older, or because someone famous lived in them, but because they have actually had an impact on the life of the city.
You could not find a better example than the Riverside Buildings on Columbia Place. This remarkable six-story apartment complex, constructed 120 years ago by Alfred T. White, a Brooklyn Heights philanthropist, was designed specifically to make life pleasant, safe and healthy for the working poor. Amazing idea! It was our great good fortune that Mr. White’s good
intentions were expressed in wonderful architecture.
Because the worst aspects of turn-of-the-century tenements were their filthy, dangerous stairways and putrid air shafts, Riverside put its stairways on the outside of the building–graceful iron stairways, strong yet elegant. Instead of dark, airless air shafts, Riverside was built around a vast park-like courtyard. There was light. There was fresh air. There was space.
Sooner or later a remarkable achievement like Riverside was bound to be threatened. In 1950 “Moses the Hun” [Robert Moses, 1888-1981] descended on Furman Street, sword in hand. In order to create our beloved Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, he amputated the western arm of the complex. Astonishingly, the central courtyard was scarcely damaged. Now a half-century later the current owner of Riverside is trying to compete with Moses’ callousness with plans for a parking garage right in the courtyard.
That is when the Riverside tenants took up arms. With limited resources–this is, after all, a rent-controlled building–they valiantly and, so far, successfully challenged the landlord. The owner responded with significant changes, but Alfred T. White’s original intent would be gone. The 14 75-year-old trees would be gone. The protection from BQE noise and emissions would be gone. There would no longer be a park-like courtyard but a serviceable, utilitarian space.
You need stamina, conviction and a good pro bono lawyer to take on a challenge like this. Consider what the Riverside tenants had to go through to get what they rightfully demanded. Warning: do not try to decipher what follows.
First, they had to fight the landlord’s ACM with the RA, then the PAR with the DHCR’s DC, and after that there was RFR at the DHCR. Not to mention the LPC hearing and appeal, side by with the BHA. Even with the pro bono legal help of Heights [and Willowtown] resident Frank Ciaccio, an army of lawyers and preservation and housing advocates, it was the Riverside tenants who supplied the courage and tenacity that are carrying the day. Although the final decision has not been handed down, the Brooklyn Heights Association wants to honor these tough, principled folk right now. We are proud to have such valiant neighbors. They are proving that fresh air, trees and wide open space are worth preserving. And so is Alfred T. White’s democratic vision.
At public hearings held last November 30 and December 9 President Ben Bankson of the Willowtown Association and Vice President Linda De Rosa read statements on behalf of the association’s board giving ideas on alternatives to housing to raise the maintenance budget for Brooklyn Bridge Park. Their statements included all nine of the potential funding streams that the park board’s Committee on Alternatives to Housing authorized its consultant, Bay Area Economics, to analyze for a draft report to be released in February for public comment. In the spring the committee is expected to advance its recommendations on funding to the park’s board for final action.
President Bankson’s statement was as follows:
“The Willowtown neighborhood borders Piers 5 and 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park and is greatly impacted by whatever happens at these piers and anywhere else in the long and narrow waterfront park. We will watch with much interest the building of Pier 5 between now and its expected opening in the summer of 2012. Our focus too is on all of the activities that are slated to take place there and the park-goers they will attract.
“Since last March when Pier 1 was opened to the public followed several months later by the upland section of Pier 6, I have walked several times a week in a loop from Willowtown through Pier 6, along the pathway on the East River shoreline, around Pier 1, up to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and back home. My walks provide me with varying perspectives on this unique, beautiful and already very popular park and give me a deep appreciation for it. The Willowtown Association applauds President Regina Myer of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation and her team on their remarkable accomplishments to date and looks forward to what is yet to come.
“We welcome the present openness of the parcels of land at Piers 1 and 6 and along John Street that have been designated for the development of residential housing and a hotel within the park. We decry the construction of any buildings on these parcels and feel that this would be a desecration of our waterfront that is finally completely accessible.
“Common sense would seem to shout a loud no again to filling in these parcels with buildings. We urge instead that they be left as they now are but landscaped as integral parts of the park and made into inviting groves.
“If housing must be used as the means to raise the needed revenue to maintain the park, we urge that the present Watchtower facilities that front but are not in it and that are expected soon to be sold become instead the structures needed to fulfill the maintenance scheme. The large T-shaped Watchtower facility along Furman Street and extending to Vine Street already has the very look of a hotel. What a wonderful place it would be–Brooklyn’s Plaza perhaps?–without taking up an inch of park land.
“We are pleased that the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council is up and running and that the Willowtown Association is represented among the initial members. Could not the dozen or so groups on the council, all of whom have a deep interest in the park and its future, take upon themselves raising some part of the maintenance revenue? Or perhaps this could be part of the mission of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. The park has quickly established itself as “an urban treasure” that I am sure all of us would be more than happy to help support through voluntary contributions.
“On my regular walks through Brooklyn Bridge Park, I am much inspired by what already is and being able now to see up close our amazing waterfront and especially the tidal flow. I can hardly wait for the park’s full completion. But, please, no new high-rise condos in the park! No hotel in the park! Certainly in our midst are enough creative minds to come up with ways to raise the needed maintenance revenue that are far more sensitive to what a park is supposed to be without more buildings in it. We hope that this will clearly be the conclusion of tonight’s hearing and the one next week and what the consultant Bay Area Economics will recommend.”
Vice President De Rosa’s statement was:
“As our president said in his statement given at last week’s hearing, Willowtown borders Piers 5 and 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park and is greatly impacted by whatever happens at these piers and anywhere else in the long and narrow waterfront park….
“In June 2005 the Willowtown Association adopted this seven-point platform regarding the park entitled, ‘Fighting for a Public Treasure on Brooklyn’s Waterfront.’ The seven points were:
“1. A park plan in keeping with the ’13 Guiding Principles’ adopted in 1992 by elected officials and local community groups.
“2. Creation of an affordable waterfront park that can become a real public treasure.
“3. No new residential housing in the park.
“4. Income-producing uses other than housing.
“5. Greater access to the park via public transportation and on foot.
“6. An affordable maintenance budget.
“7. Respect for the surrounding neighborhoods and their residents.
“The park is well along in becoming the very public treasure we called for as the crowds coming to the finished Piers 1 and 6 bear witness. And now we are here to push for alternatives to housing and a hotel in the park.
“Last March the Willowtown Association’s president along with representatives of three other nearby neighborhood groups met with staff members of the century-old independent advocacy organization New Yorkers for Parks. Interestingly, the organization did a study during 2008-09 on the very subject of this hearing. The result is entitled ‘Supporting Our Parks: A Guide to Alternative Revenue Strategies.’ We recommend it to members of the committee and their consultant Bay Area Economics. The study zeroes in on the very situation facing Brooklyn Bridge Park with its ‘self-sustaining mandate’ and the difficulties of creating such a park especially in a poor economy.
“Here are just a few suggestions based on the study:
“+ Leverage concessions to support directly or provide maintenance, operations and security within the lease footprints.
“+ Create conservancies and/or friends groups to generate private support.
“+ Generate income from fee-for-attendance events in the park or for its use such as to make a film. Encourage events that will make park improvements thereby reducing maintenance and operations needs.
“+ Seek out revenue-generating ‘sponsors’ of the park.
“+ Seek a tenant for the Empire Stores in the park that will lift up their history such as a museum focusing on all that has taken place on the very footprint of Brooklyn Bridge Park not the least being that our first president, George Washington, once escaped across the East River from here.
“+ Establish a Park Improvement District or PID modeled after the far more common Business Improvement District.
“We know that no one magic bullet can meet the self-sustanting mandate. Other excellent ideas already put on the table include Senator Dan Squadron’s Park Increment Recapture program–the PIRC–which Mayor Michael Bloomberg has already rejected; the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund’s Park Improvement Optional Tax Fund, modeled on what is done in Polk County, Florida; and Tony Manheim’s concept for the Watchtower properties bordering the park.
“There certainly is an answer that is not dependent on new housing and a hotel in the park as the testimony at these hearings has shown. It lies in the will to make the park as completed a true amenity for the community in keeping with our original vision. The answer lies in multiple-funding schemes that can weather the ups and downs of the economy and that do not rely 90 percent on luxury housing. That bubble, as we all know, has burst.”