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.

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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.

Stalwart Champions of Willowtown

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.




Caroline Palestino




Mary and Joe Merz

Living Witnesses

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



Willowtown's Leaders Give Ideas for Park Funding Alternatives

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."

Tree Trust Plants ‘Peggy’s Tree’

Planting the Cherry Tree.

A cherry tree was planted in the Palmetto Playground in Willowtown on Thursday, November 18, in memory of Margaret “Peggy” De La Cour by the Tree Trust of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.  Peggy lived with her family just across from the playground at 27 State Street for 35 years and was a former president of the Willowtown Association that helped finance the planting.

Peggy died unexpectedly in February 2008 at age 63.  She was a native of Brooklyn who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 and a master’s degree in public administration from New York University in 1984.  She worked in senior positions at the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Water Board and the office of the Brooklyn Borough president.

Those present at the tree planting included Peggy’s husband Willis “Wids” De La Cour and their son Russell.  They and other members of the family invite Willowtown neighbors to come to the Palmetto Playground on Saturday morning, December 4, at 10 o’clock for a follow-up gathering at the tree and a light brunch and to help plant spring bulbs.  Those wanting to do bulb planting are asked to bring gardening gloves and trowels.

Bob Stone of 23 State Street oversaw arrangements for “Peggy’s tree” with the Tree Trust and in consultation with the De La Cour family.

Willowtown Association Elects 2011 Board

Three new directors were elected by acclamation to the 12-member board of the Willowtown Association at its 2010 annual meeting held Wednesday, November 17, at the A.T. White Community Center on Willow Place.  Their terms are for the year 2011. The new directors are Clair Brew of 10 Willow Place, Clint Padgitt of 277 Hicks Street and G. Bradley Smith of 10 Columbia Place. They replace the retiring directors Jean Campbell and William "Bill" Ringler, both also of 10 Columbia Place, and Joseph Merz of 48 Willow Place.

The association’s following officers were all reelected: Ben Bankson of 14 Willow Place, to his second term as president; Linda DeRosa of 47 Joralemon Street, to her second term as vice president; Stephanie Zancolli of 21 State Street, to her second term as secretary; and Andrew "Andy" Reynolds of 37 Joralemon Street, to his third term as treasurer.

Reelected as directors were Franklin Ciaccio of 43 Joralemon Street, Elizabeth "Libby" Cooper of 30 Columbia Place, Mary Goodman of 10 Willow Place, Seth Murphy of 37 Joralemon Street and William "Bill" Newbury of 23 Willow Place.

A native of Chorleywood, England, Clair Brew has lived in New York since 1999 and been a resident of Willowtown since last year. She is an artist who works in lighting from a studio in Red Hook. Her website is, www.clarebreew.com. She and her husband, Chris Scarafile, a cinematographer, became first-time parents last August with the birth of their daughter Darwin Rose.

Clint Padgitt is a native of New Orleans and Ridgewood, N.J., whose descendants were Texas saddle makers. He has lived in Willowtown since 1983. He is an ordained pastor/chaplain in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America serving at Zion-St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on the Upper East Side and at the German Seamen’s Mission and Seafarers & International House also in Manhattan. He plays the bassoon in the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra.

Brad Smith is a native of Kalamazoo, Mich., who has been a resident of the Riverside Apartments in Riverside for exactly 50 years. He has always been active in its tenants association.  He worked as a customer service representative for publishers and has served as a longtime Big Apple greeter giving individualized tours of the city.

TOGETHER! Annual Potluck Dinner & 2010 Annual Meeting of the Willowtown Association

Wednesday, November 17Alfred T. White Community Center on Willow Place

6:30 - Happy Hour - Complimentary wine & hors d’oeuvres 7:30 - Dinner - Bring a favorite dish to share 8:30 - Annual Meeting - Election of 2011 board of directors

Featured guest speaker - Assemblywoman Joan Millman Presentation of the association’s first Alfred Awards

Any Willowtown resident can make nominations for the association’s 12-member board made up of the president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and eight directors.

Nominations are to be submitted by Monday, November 1, to the secretary–Stephanie Zancolli, szancolli@indigoing.com, or 21 State Street, Brooklyn NY 11201.  For each nominee please include (1) name and for which board position, (2) address, (3) hometown, (4) how long a Willowtown resident, and (5) occupation.

Role Models for All Seasons

The following talk was given by historic preservationist Otis Pratt Pearsall at the rally opening the 2010 Spring Fair of the Willowtown Association on Saturday, May 15:

Otis Pearsal speaks about Joe and May Merz

I ask you, what could be finer on this gorgeous day than to be right here in beautiful Willowtown–this wellspring of preservation where the fervor is still palpable, thank God–to celebrate Mary and Joe Merz, my preservationist running mates of literally 50 years, who in various combinations together and with others have done it all.

In sum, what they’ve done is no less than secure amidst the swirling turbulence of New York this tranquil node of sheer architectural beauty that as a living, breathing, vibrant community is just about as perfect as it gets, anywhere. How’s that for a legacy!

And while we’re at it, let’s not forget the early contributions of other Willowtowners, such as Malcolm Chesney of 8 Willow Place, one of the organizers and treasurer of CCIC, the Community Conservation and Improvement Council, which kicked off the whole movement; Arthur Hooker, the first head of our statutory drafting effort, who lived just beyond the powerhouse; and Joe Maggio of 11 Willow Place.

By 1960 Joe had assumed his place as a member of the Brooklyn Height Association’s Preservation Committee. He and Mary, both graduates of Edward Larrabee Barnes’ architectural office, were just setting up their own practice in their carriage house home on Grace Court. And it wouldn’t be long before Mary and Joe, as natural-born idealists bent on neighborhood improvement and not al all as money-grabbing developers, began eyeing the empty lots on a very fragile Willow Place.

But meanwhile, the Heights had a problem. Four years after attempting to jump-start preservation for the very first time in New York, its initiative was stymied and appeared likely to remain so while unsympathetic renovations hostile to the neighborhood’s historic fabric accelerated along with its popularity. Something had to be done to hold the fort. And so, when the BHA in 1962 sponsored establishment of the Design Advisory Council to provide free architectural guidance to property owners, Joe and a tiny band of colleagues volunteered and over the next five years worked unceasingly in more than 100 separate cases to safeguard our architectural heritage.

This was an absolutely invaluable service to the cause of preservation, now, of course, lost in the mists of time. But fate had in store for Mary and Joe a singular preservation contribution more important by magnitudes–the rescue of Willow Place and, by extension, the rescue of Willowtown, which was then under the baleful eye of the Housing and Redevelopment Board and facing the imminent threat of a fateful "Urban Renewal Study."

I hope that Mary and Joe will write up and document the dramatic story of how, along with another former Edward Larrabee Barnes colleague, they were able to purchase the vacant lots on Willow Place at city auction and with help along the way from Mrs. Darwin James to complete in 1965 their meticulously scaled, award-winning houses in a startlingly appropriate modern idiom.

Willow Place was already an architecturally conspicuous block, boasting multiple houses on the Municipal Art Society’s 1957 listing of buildings that should be preserved. But construction of the Merz houses, with far less bulk than zoning allowed, and handsomely designed for their specific sites, was the crucial vote of confidence.

And what’s more, their Modernist idiom directly inspired the BHA philosophy, welcomed by the early landmarks commissions, that continues contributing to the treasure trove of Heights architecture–each new building should represent the finest architecture contemporary with its date of construction. So it was that the influence of the Merz houses was specifically responsible for the Modernist architecture of the first new building in an historic district, Ulrich Franzen’s well-received Watchtower building at the corner of Pineapple Street and Columbia Heights.

While, of course, all of this took place quite some time ago, Mary and Joe are hardly ones (unlike some today) to take the ongoing preservation of our historic architecture for granted. Far from complacent, they have recognized all along that vigilance and the community’s tenacious readiness to push back, not a gentle reliance on big brother, is the only practical way to defend the integrity of our historic district. And so, at the sound of the bugle, they spring to the barricades, just as comfortable, for example, defending the Candy factory sculpture garden in the northeast corner of the Heights as rising to the defense of the Riverside courtyard here at home.

Mary and Joe are indeed role models for all seasons, and we are both humbled and inspired by their example.

Willowtown Association Celebration Day in Brooklyn

The following proclamation was made by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz at Willowtown’s 2010 Spring Fair on Saturday, May 15:

Willowtown day in Brooklyn

WHEREAS, it is a time-honored Brooklyn tradition to recognize those outstanding individuals and organizations dedicated to the betterment of the neighborhoods they serve and the great Borough of Brooklyn; and

WHEREAS, President Ben Bankson and the officers and members of the Willowtown Association–a 57-year-old neighborhood-based organization, whose mission is to address the issues that impact the quality of life for residents–have gathered once again to host a Spring Fair to take note of the organization’s ongoing efforts to ensure the economic vitality, safety, maintenance and sense of community in Southwest Brooklyn and featuring entertainment, food and fun, all in support of the organization’s ongoing endeavors and to pay tribute to Willowtown Visionaries Joe and Mary Merz; and

WHEREAS, on behalf of all Brooklynites, I salute President Bankson and Vice President Linda De Rosa, who serve as Spring Fair coordinators, the officers and members of the Willowtown Association as they host this festive and exciting event that pays tribute to Willowtown Visionaries Joe and Mary Merz, whose projects include the redesigning of what became Palmetto Playground. I commend the Willowtown Association for their ongoing dedication to improving the quality of life for so many of our residents, I congratulate them as they celebrate the annual Spring Fair that coincides with the 45th anniversary of the designation of Brooklyn Heights as New York City’s first historic district, and I thank all those present for helping to make Brooklyn a better place to live, work and raise a family."

Worthy of Our Highest Respect and Esteem

The following proclamation was made by State Sen. Daniel squadron at Willowtown’s 2010 Spring Fair on Saturday, May 15:

Daniel Squadron praises Willowtown

WHEREAS, a great state is only as great as those organizations that perform exemplary service on behalf of their communities; and

WHEREAS, it is the sense of this legislative body to commend the Willowtown Association as it convenes for its 2010 Spring Fair to be held on Saturday, May 15; and

WHEREAS, the Willowtown Association was formed in 1953 out of a group of committed residents who organized themselves to discuss and address neighborhood concerns; and

WHEREAS, since it began nearly 60 years ago, the Willowtown Association has proven to be a strong advocate and protector for the unique neighborhood for which it is named, having won many important battles; and

WHEREAS, some of the Willowtown Association’s victories include convincing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reroute the B-63 bus off of Hicks Street; working with former Mayor John Lindsay to convert a vacant lot at Columbia Place and State Street into a basketball court, supporting the design and construction of an inclusive and accessible Brooklyn Bridge Park and fighting alongside the tenants of the Riverside Apartments to preserve the building’s historic courtyard; and

WHEREAS, the Willowtown Association acquired not-for-profit status in 1997, allowing it to expand its projects and services with increased efforts at rehabilitation and beautification of public spaces throughout the community as well as strong and effective advocacy on issues such as affordable housing and historical preservation; and

WHEREAS, it is the sense of this legislative body that when organizations of such noble aims and accomplishments are brought to our attention, it is appropriate to publicly proclaim and commend those organizations for the edification and emulation of others; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that I, State Sen. Daniel Squadron recognize that in the Willowtown Association we have an organization worthy of our highest respect and esteem; and be it further

RESOLVED, that a copy of this proclamation be transmitted to the Willowtown Association on the occasion of its 2010 Spring Fair.

Annual Willowtown Spring Fair

Join us this Saturday, May 15th for our annual spring fair dedicated to Willowtown visionaires Joe & Mary Merz for 50 years of serving our community.

FAIR SCHEDULE 11:30 - Opening rally at Joralemon & Willow Place
12 to 5 - Food by Iris Café, flea market tables, silent auction, book table, plants, standing games
12 to 4 - Jumpy Castle
12:30 to 3:30 - Caricatures
1 & 1:30 - Sneak preview tours of Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park
1 to 3 - Pony rides
1 to 4 - Music by Johnny Sheppard & Billy Swing
1 to 4 - Face painting
2:30 to 3:30 - Running, potato sack and three-legged races with medals
4:30 - Raffle drawing & close of silent auction

DHCR Upholds Riverside Apartments Parking Garage Decision

This week in Willowtown tenants of Riverside Apartments rejoice in the news that the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) upheld it original decision and denied the appeal of the landlord for administrative review of an earlier decision. This decision was short and to the point; The building of a parking garage after the common courtyard was illegally demolished almost 2 decades ago is not restoration of services lost.

Leslie Toress, Deputy Commissioner, replied to the landlord in a brief three page response. Selected quotes show the tone of the letter was very distinct as it seems the DHCR is tiring of the landlords games and frivoulouse use of public resources as he tries to push his plan through, in spite of the logic of the situation.

The letter mainly responded to the fact that the DHCR did not have sufficient evidence to conclude that the existing trees, as tall as the 6 story buildings, were better for the area than the replacement trees proposed. In a single paragraph, containing a single sentence Leslie Torres stated:

While deference should be given to experts when appropriate, the decider of fact must not check their logic and reason at the door.

She went on to say:

. . . no expert opinion is needed to determine facts that are self-evident . . .

In reponse to the traffic that the landlord said would not be increased it was stated:

. . . it must be remembered that there was originally no vehicular traffic in the courtyard . . . this is clearly more than existed . .

The landlord, Joel Wiener of Pinnacle Management, LLC, still has the option to challenge the decision in the New York Supreme Court. We are confident that the decision will stand and applaud DHCR for taking such a strong stand in this case. The Willowtown Association has and will continue to be a proud supporter of the efforts at Riverside to both protect the tenants rights and maintain the charm that makes our neighborhood such a wonderful place to live.

Council-elect Stresses Community Serviceat Willowtown's 2009 Annual Meeting

Willowtown annual meeting New York City Councilman-elect Stephen Levin of District 33 praised Brooklyn philanthropist Alfred T. White, 1846-1921, for being "a great example to us of community service" in a talk given at the annual meeting of the Willowtown Association on Wednesday evening, November 10. The meeting was held in the community center on Willow Place in Brooklyn Heights that bears White’s name and where he operated a kindergarten. A block away is the Riverside apartment complex built by him in 1890 as a lasting model of better housing for the city’s poor.

Levin, who will take his City Council seat in January, said that like White he feels "fortunate to be able to serve others and to give back, to be civically minded." He expressed his hopes to serve on the Committee on Land Use and the Committee on Housing and Buildings, thereby being able to continue to push his efforts for more affordable housing for working New Yorkers and seniors.

The Riverside complex "is still beautiful to this day," Levin said. "It shows that you can have your cake and eat it too. You can have affordable housing and maintain the quality of the neighborhood."

He said that "we’re looking at a ton of issues and ways to be creative" in addressing them. He underscored his opposition to two construction projects that the Willowtown Association has sought to stop–a commercial parking facility on the Riverside property and luxury housing in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park. "The park is a public space," he said. "Housing in the park makes it private."

Annual Meeting Elects Association’s Officers and Directors for 2010

Ben Bankson of 14 Willow Place was elected the new president of the Willowtown Association by acclamation at its 2009 annual meeting November 10 at the A.T. White Community Center. A retired editor and writer in the church press field, he served as the association’s secretary for the past four years. He is a native of Sioux City, Iowa, and has lived on Willow Place since 1975.

Bankson succeeds Craig Bickerstaff of 21 State Street, president for the past four years. Because of the association’s term limits for its four officers, Bickerstaff was ineligible to run again.

Elected the new secretary was Stephanie Zancolli, also of 21 State Street, who previously served as a director of the association. A project manager, she is a native of Brooklyn and wife of Craig Bickerstaff. The couple have lived in Willowtown for the past 13 years.

Reelected vice president was Linda De Rosa of 47 Joralemon Street. She held this office for the past year and previously was a director. She runs her own business in Manhattan designing and selling leather handbags and accessories. She was raised on Union Street in Brooklyn and has lived in Brooklyn Heights for 28 years and in Willowtown for six.

Reelected treasurer was C. Andrew "Andy" Reynolds of 37 Joralemon Street. He too held this office for the past year and previously was a director. A retired computer consultant, he is a native of Rockville Center on Long Island and has lived in Willowtown since 1984.

Newly elected as one of the association’s eight directors was Elizabeth "Libby" Cooper of 30 Columbia Place. She is an architect who comes from Huntington also on Long Island and has lived in Willowtown for the past three years.

Elected a director after an absence of three years on the association’s board was William "Bill" Newbury of 23 Willow Place. He works in investment research. He is a native of Concord, Mass., and has lived in Willowtown since 1991.

Elected a director after an absence of one year was William "Bill" Ringler of 10 Columbia Place. He is a former advertising print production manager and copywriter. He comes from Richmond, Va., and has lived in Willowtown since 1979.

Reelected as directors were:

+ Jean A. Campbell, also of 10 Columbia Place, a language specialist and teacher of translation. Her hometowns are Western Springs and Westmont, Ill. She has lived in Willowtown since 1973.

+ Franklin Ciaccio of 43 Joralemon Street, a counsel with the law firm King & Spalding in his native Manhattan. He has lived in Brooklyn Heights since 1966 and Willowtown since 1970.

+ Mary Goodman of 10 Willow Place, an executive recruiter who formerly worked on the business side of magazine and newspaper publishing. She comes from Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y., and has called Brooklyn home for 20 years and Willowtown for eight.

+ Joseph "Joe" Merz of 48 Willow Place, also an architect. He is a native of Queens who has lived in Willowtown for the past 40 years.

+ Seth Murphy, also of 37 Joralemon Street, a web developer and programmer currently with the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan. He comes from Port Jefferson on Long Island and Kennebunk, Maine, and has lived in Willowtown since 1998.

The officers and directors all have one-year terms.

A High Privilege

Every resident of Willowtown probably feels highly privileged to live in this special place with its rich history. The Willowtown Association has served the neighborhood for more than 50 years, seeking always to address issues that impact the quality of our lives and to be a collective voice and advocate for the residents. As the association’s new president, I will work with our board to see that we continue to carry out this good work. Thank-you for your support, and do not hesitate to alert us to any issues of concern to you.

Ben Bankson

Borough President Markowitz Designates Willowtown Association Celebration Day

Following is the text of a proclamation issued by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz: Whereas, it is a time-honored Brooklyn tradition to recognize those outstanding individuals and organizations dedicated to the betterment of the neighborhoods they serve and the great Borough of Brooklyn; and

Whereas, President Craig Bickerstaff and the officers and members of the Willowtown Association–a 56-year-old neighborhood-based organization whose mission is to address the issues that impact the quality of life for residents–have gathered to once again host a spring fair to take note of the organization’s ongoing efforts to ensure the economic vitality, safety, maintenance and sense of community in southwest Brooklyn, and featuring entertainment, food and fun, all in support of the organization’s ongoing endeavors; and

Whereas, on behalf of all Brooklynites, I salute President Craig Bickerstaff, spring fair Coordinator Ben Bankson and Linda De Rosa, the officers and members of the Willowtown Association as they host this festive and exciting event that pays tribute to the ‘great heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self,’ Alfred T. White, on the 120th anniversary of the construction of his progressive Riverside Houses, I commend them for their ongoing dedication to improving the quality of life for so many of our residents, and I thank all those present for helping to make Brooklyn a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Now, therefore, I, Marty Markowitz, President of the Borough of Brooklyn, do hereby proclaim Saturday, May 16, 2009, Willowtown Association Celebration Day in Brooklyn, USA."

A Magical Place

The following remarks were given by Amanda Trees, who was born in Alfred T. White’s progressive Riverside Apartments, as part of a rally opening Willowtown’s annual spring fair May 16, 2009. In dedication to Alfred Tredway White, philanthropist, architect and founder of the Riverside Buildings in Brooklyn Heights, a plaque is being placed today on a tree in the Riverside courtyard to commemorate the original principles and ideals of this very special person. His innovative beliefs gave inspiration and reality to many buildings to follow throughout the world.

We are hoping to protect and preserve the healthy trees and foliage in the courtyard, much of which has existed since 1889, and prevent their destruction with attempts to construct a parking garage in their place.

Though it has been claimed that new trees will be planted in the places of these phenomenal, wonderful and gentle giants, it is doubtful they will survive the conditions atop a 24/7 garage with vents, constant motion, pollution and inevitable drainage problems.

Sometimes it is possible for good things to happen and good causes to win. Though often the odds are against us, we cannot help but continue the struggle as the alternatives are heartless and sad.

I remember clearly when I was a baby, sitting in a carriage outside this fountain area in the courtyard and my mother’s singing to me every day. Though we moved when I was still very little, there was a firm memory in my whole being about a magical place I once loved, where something very special and beautiful still lived and I somehow searched to find again.

After years of being in the theater and struggling with the problems facing people in the arts in terms of housing conditions and uncertainties, with the help of friends I came back here to live. My mother then told me this was the place I was born–that magical place I remembered from when I was first starting out in the world, my home. It was still here. So was the courtyard and even the swan statue from that time, though it was kidnaped at one point and replaced with another fountain.

To picture the destruction of this peaceful, growing grove of huge trees and flowers in the wrought iron circle is unthinkable. These giant trees are our friends. They are the friends of everyone who sees them, walks by them or drives by them on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Instinctively I know that building a garage here would shake everything up and make many problems, possibly insurmountable. In the end what would result would be a destroyed haven.

Somehow the garage managed to get by some of the channels. But there’s still hope for us and our wonderful courtyard to be restored honestly and truly, not destroyed.

I hope and pray the energies here today will all converge and create a chain of strength that will transcend all of the obstacles and hurdles we face in the preservation of our homes and peaceful courtyard as originally conceived in 1889 by Alfred T. White.

Feasible Ideas and Ideals for Our Time

The following talk about Willowtown’s "saint," Alfred T. White, 1846-1921, was given by Bradley Smith, a resident of White’s progressive Riverside Apartments in Willowtown for nearly 50 years, at a rally opening Willowtown’s annual spring fair May 16, 2009. My friends, we are here today to honor Alfred Tredway White and to take a look at his life and legacy.

What was the world like when Alfred White was born in 1846? Our United States was scarcely 60 years old. Still America offered the prospect of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to the poverty stricken and to the persecuted. In the cities of Brooklyn and New York entrepreneurs were pursuing their particular brand of happiness with a vengeance. The rich got richer, while the poor....

Well, the Whites were rich. Alfred White’s childhood home, a palatial mansion, still stands at No. 2 Pierrepont Place in Brooklyn Heights.

There were those individuals and families like the Whites who firmly believed that with wealth comes responsibility. These Unitarians took to heart the biblical admonition that from those to whom much is given, much is required.

We’ll only mention in passing White’s work with the Children’s Aid Society, the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We’ll also only mention in passing White’s putting up the Willow Place Chapel in 1876 and its Columbia House addition in 1906.

We will focus on White’s pioneering work in the field of housing for the working poor. There were settlement houses, settlement schools, sanitariums and hospitals set up specifically for the poor. The poor desperately needed some sort of schooling and training for some sort of work, some place to live and some place to die. And die they did–of cholera, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and yellow fever.

The filthy, feckless poor were crammed together in filthy, rate-infested tenements. We do well to recall that it was not until 1901 that a New York City law was passed mandating one indoor water closet for every two families in any given tenement building. The constitutionality of this law was questioned by unscrupulous building owners who insisted they were entitled to a minimum 40 percent return on their investments. Hopefully they could collect an exorbitant 100 percent return or even more to be squeezed out of the unfortunate, unwashed, unworthy, underclass tenants.

But Alfred T. White, buttressed by his firm religious convictions and his direct contacts with the hard-working, hard-pressed poor, realized there simply had to be decent housing provided for them.

There were model tenements in London, England. White reasoned that there could and should also be model tenements in Brooklyn. White invested his own money, anticipating a reasonable return of 5 percent–philanthropy plus 5 percent.

In 1877 White’s Home Buildings opened in Cobble Hill. In 1878 and 1879 White’s Tower Buildings were erected, also in Cobble Hill. And in 1890 White’s Riverside Buildings were completed in Brooklyn Heights. Philanthropy plus 5 percent proved entirely feasible.

These sturdy brick buildings had outside, fireproof staircases. Inside each apartment had its own sink, its own wash tray and its own water closet. And the innovative idea that sunlight, fresh air, green trees and park space should be incorporated into the very fabric of tenements was nothing short of shocking to some.

More than 100 years later we all realize the tremendous importance of sensible civic planning–planning for affordable public as well as private housing, housing projects with park space and playgrounds, such as were pioneered by Alfred T. White.

Today we ask ourselves how in our time we can preserve and promote the ideas and ideals initiated in his time by Alfred T. White.

2009 Willowtown Annual Spring Fair Announced!

The Willowtown annual street fair has been announced and will take place on Saturday May 16th. The fair will be dedicated to the "great heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self," Alfred T. White. This is the 120th anniversary of the construction of his progressive Riverside Houses on Columbia Place. We’ll hear about his impact on our neighborhood at an opening rally at noon and the dedication to him of a tree in Riverside’s historic garden. Willowtown Spring Fair 2009