That Willowtown is truly “A.T. White country” is underscored by five locations within the neighborhood that were part of the life and work of Alfred T. White, 1846-1921, known as that “the great heart and mastermind of Brooklyn’s better self.”
First is the Gothic miniature A.T. White Community Center at 26 Willow Place, which he had built in 1875-76. It housed the so-called “settlement school” that he headed. The school was formed by his church, First Unitarian on Pierrepont Street at Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights. His wife, the former Annie Jean Lyman, also taught at the school then called the Willow Place Chapel.
Second are the distinctive red-brick Riverside apartment buildings on Joralemon Street and Columbia Place. Aside from being one of New York’s masterpieces of late Victorian design, they were a prime example of his vision to improve housing for the poor. Each apartment offered natural light and good ventilation. The buildings were grouped around a large courtyard providing residents with a lot of elbowroom. In a booklet by White, “Sun-Lighted Tenements,” he noted that the courtyard was the equivalent to 12 New York City lots each 25- by 100-feet. Features of the courtyard included a playground and a bandstand where White offered the residents weekend band concerts. Riverside originally consisted of nine buildings. The four along Furman Street were demolished in the late 1940s to make way for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Fortunately the courtyard and its fine old trees mostly remained intact.
Third is an addition to the Willow Place Chapel built in 1905 to provide more space for the school and to serve as a clubhouse for the students and other children who lived at Riverside directly across Columbia Place. The addition was called Columbia House.
Fourth are the two brownstones at 283 and 281 Hicks Street that once were St. Christopher’s Hospital for Babies of which White was a benefactor.
And fifth at 276 Hicks Street is White’s former carriage house. Both his childhood home at 2 Pierrepont Place, which still stands, and his home as an adult around the corner at 40 Remsen Street were only a couple of blocks from Willowtown. As the historian Francis Morrone has written about him, this juxtaposition “represented his urban ideal of rich and poor, patrician and immigrant, living side by side, each in a dwelling that met generous minimal standards of amenity, comfort and healthfulness.”