Sunday, September 30, 2007

Daily News: Families feeling squeeze in name of development

The Daily News today reports on a protest against the NYC planned use of eminent domain to destroy low-income housing in order to create luxury high-rise housing and shopping.

The article, Families feeling squeeze in name of development, is about a protest by FUREE to protest eviction letters send to residents of 402, 404 and 406 Albee Square by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD):

"First we learn that the city wants to use eminent domain to condemn the Duffield St. homes and destroy our history," said FUREE Board Chair Beverly Corbin. "Now, in the same square block, they also want to evict over 30 low-income families from their homes. The Downtown Brooklyn Plan has gone too far in emphasizing profit over people."

The affected families are not only raising their voices through protests and rallies; they have also initiated legal action, asking the court to reverse HPD's decision to condemn their homes.

"In order to justify seizing the properties, the city was required to justify the takings as part of a legitimate plan for urban renewal of a blighted area. The city did not do this, " said Jennifer Levy, a South Brooklyn Legal Services attorney.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Brooklyn Paper: ‘Abolitionist’ Duffield Street

The Brooklyn Paper reports on the co-naming of Duffield Street in ‘Abolitionist’ Duffield Street:

"Duffield Street represents sacred ground," James said. "Co-naming Duffield Street ‘Abolitionist Place’ was [an] attempt to put pressure on the administration to recognize that they need to incorporate these homes into their development plan, which they can easily do."
Um, unfortunately the Brooklyn Paper inaccurately reports that it was the Bloomberg administration was behind the co-naming:

The Bloomberg Administration co-named a stretch of Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn "Abolitionist Place"

It was really the idea of Jacob Morris who worked with Community Board Two and the office of Councilmember Letitia James. Oh, and Councilmember David Yassky also showed up- the Duffield Street Abolitionist homes are in his district. Yassky was the only person who said anything nice about the Bloomberg plan to destroy the homes while "commemorating" Brooklyn's Abolitionist history. Nobody else pretends to buy Bloomberg's plan.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Brooklyn Star: City Acknowledges Abolitionist Past, Sort Of

The Brooklyn Star covers the Duffield Street co-naming as "Abolitionist Place" in City Acknowledges Abolitionist Past, Sort Of. The article reports on the irony of the recognition the City is giving the block while at the same time, Bloomberg intends to destroy the properties in question. Nevertheless, the depth of the history of Duffield Street and all Downtown Brooklyn is getting more and more attention:

Numerous known abolitionists lived, worked, and worshipped in Downtown Brooklyn, from Henry Ward Beecher, who auctioned slaves into freedom from the pulpit of Plymouth Church, to Nathan Egelston, a leader of the African and Foreign Antislavery Society, who also preached at Bridge Street AME and lived on Duffield Street.

His fellow Duffield Street residents, Thomas and Harriet Truesdell were leading members of the Abolitionist movement. Mr. Truesdell was a founding member of the Providence Anti-slavery Society before moving to Brooklyn in 1851. Harriet Truesdell was also very active in the movement, organizing an antislavery convention in Pennsylvania Hall in Philadelphia. The hall was set on fire by an angry mob.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Doubts about the co-naming and a hopeful response

The Brooklyn Paper reports pessimistically in Sad irony on Duffield:

Forgive us if we didn’t celebrate alongside city officials at the ceremonial co-naming of Duffield Street as “Abolitionist Place” on Thursday. We couldn’t get past the irony.

After all, Duffield Street is the same stretch of Downtown where the city plans to demolish a row of historic houses that may in fact be the area’s only link to the fabled Underground Railroad....

In a statement, several City Councilmembers said the co-naming of Duffield Street as Abolitionist Place “supports the homeowners on Duffield Street, and the preservation of their homes.”

It does nothing of the sort. In fact, it allows the Bloomberg Administration to make an empty symbolic gesture that will not stand the test of time.

This is more pessimistic than necessary for a few reason. First of all, the "empty symbolic gesture" that the Brooklyn Papers seem to be referring to is Bloomberg's new panel to "commemorate" Brooklyn Abolitionism- while still moving forward with plans to demolish the Abolitionist homes. But the fact that he was forced to even acknowledge Brooklyn's Abolitionist history represents a vast improvement from three years ago. When was the last time Bloomberg responded like this to protest?

Awareness of the importance of these homes has grown dramatically since the homes were first condemned in 2004. Even six months ago, many newspapers were simply reprinting NYC Economic Development Corporation press releases. In the last few months, there has been a steady stream of media coverage, including front page coverage on AM New York.

The co-naming was the work of the City Council and the community board, and it was supported by every local state elected official. Now, both local Congressional representatives support the Duffield homes: Yvette Clarke has written letters twice, and just this week, Ed Towns has officially joined the fray.

If the pro-Duffield fight was limited to a street co-naming, the Brooklyn Paper pessimism would be warranted. Support for Duffield now ranges from all the Brooklyn papers, every blog, to every level of government (except the Mayor's office). That doesn't mean that this is an easy win, but there are more reasons to be optimistic today than last week.

Duffield Street Co-named "Abolitionist Place"

City Council Representatives David Yassky and Letitia James co-named Duffield Street as "Abolitionist Place" in a ceremony on Duffield and Fulton today. They were joined by Lewis Greenstein and Joy Chatel, who each own properties on the block built in the 1840s. Also in attendance were various representatives of churches involved in the local Abolitionist movement and several elected officials and their representatives. The movement to promote Brooklyn through the celebration of its history has gained new congressional allies, including both Yvette Clarke and Ed Towns.

This being Brooklyn, the event was joyful, chaotic, solemn, noisy and profound.
  • A photo essay of the event and subsequent reception can be found here.
  • A video of Joy Chatel and her family dancing and drumming is here.
  • Assemblyman Joe Lentol's speech can be seen here, with a few interruptions by Mr. Ed Carter.
  • To see the unveiling, click here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nevins Street Incident

Who Walk In Brooklyn blogs about Duffield rather pessimistically in Nevins Street Incident:
the ongoing destruction (some call it “revitalization”) of downtown Brooklyn is among the most dreary stories of the era. Architecture buffs have made their laments & the battle over the houses on Duffield Street continues but, without ever discouraging people from pursing “impossible” causes (see the resolute No Land Grab & Develop Don’t Destroy for starters), the fate of downtown as a heterogenous public space seems particularly bleak.
While many small businesses are being pushed out of Downtown Brooklyn, I am becoming even more optimistic about preserving the Duffield Abolitionist homes.

The newest advocate of the Abolitionist homes is Congressman Ed Towns. This might represent a sea change in elected officials supporting the promotion of Brooklyn through the celebration of its history.

Applause Fills Brooklyn’s Duffield Street

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle is the first to publish an article on today's co-naming of Duffield Street as Abolitionist Place. Here is a what they wrote in Applause Fills Brooklyn’s Duffield Street As Renaming Acknowledges 19th Century Abolitionist Past:

Heralded by a string of percussionists and dancers, a crowd gathered Thursday at the corner of Duffield and Fulton streets to applaud an official acknowledgement of a piece of Brooklyn history.

To the activists, preservationists and politicians who are fighting the demolition of homes on Duffield Street— believed by many to be a stop on the 19th century Underground Railroad— yesterday’s co-naming of the street to Abolitionist Place was a long-awaited vindication of their cause.

The event was also, they believed, a point of entrance. “This is the beginning,” said Duffield resident Lewis Greenstein, who said that slaves hid there on their way to freedom in Canada. “Let’s keep our fight alive.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tomorrow: Duffield Street co-named as Abolitionist Place

Duffield Street between Fulton and Willoughby will be co-named Abolitionist Place tomorrow at 1pm. More info to come!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Vinegar Hill & the Underground Railroad

In August, District Lines, the publication of the Historic District Council, published a fascinating summary of the history of Vinegar Hill, a neighborhood just north of Downtown Brooklyn and bordering Navy Yards. It touches on history relevant to Duffield Street in this paragraph:

No doubt at least partly because of its proximity to the East River, the neighborhood became a link in the Underground Railroad that provided safe transport to escaping slaves. There could have been another reason, too. The designation report cites 1820 United States Census records documenting 657 free Africans in Brooklyn, about nine percent of the population at the time, which could have made the neighborhood a link not only to the river but to destinations in Brooklyn. One nearby church became a station on the escape route, and a house on Hudson Avenue within the historic district still has a door in its subcellar leading to a tunnel to the waterfront, another link in the train.

The article is not online yet, but you can find other volumes at here. The Historic District Council has a brief description of Vinegar Hill here.

New People, Old Streets Signal Challenges for Downtown Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle published an editorial by Dennis Holt about the many changes in traffic coming to Downtown Brooklyn. In New People, Old Streets Signal Challenges for Downtown Brooklyn, Holt writes:

The development changes coming to the Willoughby-Fulton Street part of the old Downtown Brooklyn will lead to dramatic changes in traffic patterns, rules and regulations.

This conclusion is not the result of any detailed traffic studies but of the simple act of walking around that part of Downtown Brooklyn for more than an hour last Friday with a development scorecard in hand.

Just to repeat: These observations are not based on any systematic study. On Duffield, Holt says:

The block next to Duffield Street will be a new park. Beneath it will be a 600-car garage where most people will park. Duffield is going to be busy.

Actually, it will be a 696 car garage, if the city pursues its plans to confiscate and demolish the Duffield Abolitionist homes. Holt continues with some bold predictions:

Also, parking cannot be permitted on Willoughby at any time. This street will become the province of taxis — Brooklyn is going to have its own taxi industry. Commercial deliveries will have to be sternly regulated and managed.

He ends with a point that is often made in this blog:

But city and Brooklyn planners have got to revisit the old Downtown area with the new Brooklyn in mind. Everything is going to have to change, and all these new buildings are going to have lots of people in them. And more new people who will be living just across the Flatbush Avenue Extension will also impact the area.

Wavering resolve: Brooklyn Eagle reports on Duffield owner selling

On September 10, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that Lewis Greenstein, one of the Duffield owners, wants to sell. This was based on the Brooklyn Paper's article Down on Duffield. On September 8, this blog reported that Greenstein had regained his resolve- see "The fat lady has not yet sung." Here is what the Eagle published in its Real Estate Round-Up:

[Greenstein] has told the Eagle in the past that he expects the city to seize his half of the block later.

“It’s not about money in my pocket,” Greenstein told the Brooklyn Paper. “It’s about economics. I know that eventually the city is going to steal [the building] from me. I want a fair price in the open market.”

And who can blame him? While the city will be offering Chatel “market value” for her home at pre-rezoning rates (the upzoning of her block significantly added value to her property), Massey Knakal Realty has an assemblage of five lots behind him listed for $26 million, and a parking lot on the block listed for $10 million.

Even if the city seizes those lots via eminent domain, the new owners could earn a quick windfall selling the air rights to a handful of developers, a real estate insider explained to the Eagle.

Since the Brooklyn Paper article, Greenstein has stated repeatedly that he is not quitting the fight to protect his home.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Yvette Clarke writes in support of Duffield (again)

Representative Yvette Clarke has written again in support of the Duffield Abolitionist homes. In a letter to her former colleague City Councilmember Larry Seabrook, she expresses support for Four Borough Neighboorhood Preservation Alliance's call for public hearings of the Civil Rights Committee. She continues:
Many questions surrounding the [Duffield Street] Houses in the Underground Railroad movement remain unanswered. It would be premature for the city to agree to the demolishment of these properties before further research is done to determine their historical significance.
Click here for a PDF of the letter.

Beecher's Bibles

The Brooklyn Rail just published "The Case Of The Duffield Street Homes." The article discusses current issues, and says this about the Truesdell family, 19th century residents of 227 Duffield:
Thomas and Harriet Truesdell were veterans of the abolitionist movement by the time they moved from Rhode Island to Brooklyn in 1850. Thomas was a delegate to the 1836 Rhode Island Anti-Slavery Convention. He donated to the American Anti-Slavery Society, and subscribed to the National Anti-Slavery Standard. His wife, Harriet, sat on the planning committee of the 1838 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women.

The Truesdell’s neighbors included officers in the Underground Railroad and the anti-slavery New York State Vigilance Committee, and other abolitionist eminences such as William Lloyd Garrison and Reverend Henry Ward Beecher. The guns that the Reverend was then sending to anti-slavery militias in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska were called “Beecher’s Bibles.”
The article also describes the physical evidence that didn't fit into the city's narrative. For more images of the basement and their significance, click here.

Is this Miami Beach or Brooklyn?

Here's another rendering of 237 Duffield, brought to us via Curbed:

Saturday, September 8, 2007

"The fat lady has not sung yet"

The Brooklyn Papers just published "Down on Duffield," which looks at the two most prominent owners who have been fighting eminent domain in Downtown Brooklyn. The article suggests that one owner still wants to fight and the other, Lewis Greenstein, is finally ready to give up.

Lew wrote the following Letter to the Editor in response to the article:
The above statement got the drift of what I said to the reporter. But after 3 1/2 years of being lied to, you get tired and depressed of all the abuse. Bloomberg (who is in the process of selling NYC to developers) and the city have deep pockets, and they have worn us down. I will not sell to the city, but if I have my way, someone will come forward to help save this property in some way— to date no one has stepped up help save the building. My passion is wavering but I'm still in the hunt of the truth and will continue until my dying day. My head is not in the clouds— eventually the city will take this building by eminent domain abuse as it has done so many times, and if I can get out with some respect, I would like that. I have not given up yet as the fat lady has not sung yet.
Lew is right. Nobody has come forward to buy the homes and fulfill the often-repeated goal of the owners: to preserve them as a museum. If you think you don't have enough resources to fight the popular billionaire mayor, what is the point of fighting?

But the point of this blog is to repeat that the stated benefits of Bloomberg's proposed parking lot and grassy knoll are not worth fighting for. By contrast, the historical importance of the homes is much more valuable to the city, whether or not the owners have the ability to fight for them.

Lew has sacrificed tremendously to defend the historical value of this property. I hope we can all give him the support he deserves.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Use American Express to buy Abolitionist homes

There is a popular installation at Madison Square Park in Manhattan. American Express is teaming up with the US Open to share the world of professional sports and consumer debt with the public. Everyone wins when a private corporation rents a public park, right? The public gets to practice their tennis serves, and there is more money for the Parks Department. The parks can always use more money.

A few people do not win from this situation. Indirectly, this will allow more city money to be spent to confiscate and demolish the Duffield Abolitionist homes. American Express helps the city budget, and so there is more money to pay for the lawyers to fight the owners and residents who don't want their homes and businesses taken through eminent domain.

For more images of how our Madison Square Park is a great public space to relax and contemplate, click here. Oh, and the Parks Department wants to know, are you a cardmember?

Brownstoner: Sneakers Out, Minibars in at 237 Duffield Street

Brownstoner reports in Sneakers Out, Minibars in at 237 Duffield Street:

This rendering of a 22-story, 107-room hotel to replace the VIM store at 237 Duffield Street recently just popped up on the Karl Fischer website. According to the site, the 108,000-square-foot building is scheduled to cost $40 million and be completed in 2008. That timeline seems a stretch given that there's not even an application for demolition listed on the DOB website.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

NoLandGrab leaves us in the dust

NoLandGrab has been doing a much better job than this blog in covering Duffield Street press over the last few days than this blog. They've posted links to letters published by amNewYork here and here.

It's great that amNewYork continues to discuss Duffield Street.