Friday, February 19, 2010

Looking For Something to do on Weds Nights? Sign Up for an Oral History Seminar

The Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) in Brooklyn Heights is offering a six-week oral history seminar beginning on March 24 and running through May 5. BHS’ oral historian Sady Sullivan will lead the seminar, which will focus on the voices of women, and will introduce the practice of oral history as an historical methodology, a unique narrative genre, and a tool in the reconciliation of social injustices.

The class will examine oral history in all its forms — audio, video, print, and exhibition — and in a variety of settings such as museums, schools, archives, performance, radio, and online. In addition to learning the theory and background of oral history, students will learn the practical and technical information needed to conduct their own interviews.

Admission is limited to 15 participants and the deadline for enrollment is March 5. The course, which will meet on Wednesdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., costs $250 (BHS members $200). Registration is done through For a copy of the course syllabus, visit the Oral History section of BHS’ web site,

PHOTO: Suffrage Hikers Jessie Hardy Stubbs, Colonel Ida Craft and General Rosalie Gardiner Jones promote a mass meeting at BAM, ca.1913

Keeping Up With the Ortners

If you live in Brooklyn and you don't know who Evelyn and Everett Ortner are, you probably should. They were hugely responsible for the brownstone revival movement, which in turn, was hugely responsible for the revival of Brooklyn in general. They bought a brownstone on Berkeley Place for $32,000 (pictured) in the early 1960s and thereafter used every means they could think of -- civic engagement, landmarking, publicity through film and print, partnerships with corporations such as Brooklyn Union Gas, and collaboration with preservationists worldwide -- to preserve, protect and celebrate the Brownstone.

Evelyn Ortner passed away in 2006 and Everett is now 90 years old. This week, Brooklyn historian John Manbeck wrote a piece on Everett Ortner including information on his life before becoming the savior of Park Slope. Notably, he was a POW during WWII and the editor of Popular Science magazine. What a cool dude. Here's that story.

Here's Brownstoner giving the Ortners their well-earned props as well in a 2008 posting about the most influential Brooklynites.

Also, I found out about the Ortners through the Brooklyn Historical Society's excellent neighborhhod history guide on Park Slope, written by architectural historian Francis Morrone (also author of An Architectual Guidebook to Brooklyn), which is for sale at BHS, 128 Pierrepont St. Lots of good info in there if you care to know more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Talk on History of Brooklyn's Theaters on Feb. 24

An illustrated talk on "The Stages of Brooklyn" will be given at the Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection Reserve Room at the central branch at Grand Army Plaza. Cezar Del Valle will present the talk, which will cover legitimate theater, vaudeville and other live venues. It will begin at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 24. It's FREE. Find out a bit more here.

Historic Brooklyn Church Faces Demolition

Well, this seems to becoming a more and more familiar story. There is another church in this "Borough of Churches" on the cutting block. As the church-going flock has dwindled, it's become harder and harder for the diocese to maintain these large, costly and beautiful buildings. The latest to face this problem is Our Lady of Loreto in the Ocean Hill neighborhood.

It was built in 1906, and according to Ann Friedman, director of the Sacred Sites Program of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, it is a “very early example of a Catholic church in a high Italian baroque style.” In contrast, most churches in the city are built in a gothic style. “It is not a typical Brooklyn church,” she said.
Read the full story at The Eagle

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Brooklyn Vet Travels Back to the Battlefield

At the tender age of 18, Brooklynite Norman Wasserman was drafted into the US Army to serve his country during World War II. After basic training, he landed in Europe in 1944 as a member of the 286th Field Artillery Observation Batallion in General Patton’s Third Army. His outfit was responsible for determining the location of enemy artillery, a job he was tasked with during the Battle of the Bulge, a six-week struggle to maintain the Allies’ incursion into the Nazi-controlled European mainland.

Wasserman, now 85, recently had the opportunity to return to the site of that battlefield. Here is an essay recently published in the Eagle that he wrote since returning from Luxembourg this past December: Lottery in Luxembourg

Putting a Face on the Struggle For Affordable Housing

One reads a lot about the struggle for affordable housing here in New York, and in Brooklyn in particular, where we are experiencing the mixed blessing of gentrification perhaps more than any other borough.

A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society — one of its most relevant to date — puts a human face on the issue of housing, which too often gets debated in terms of units, percentages and square footage.

“Tivoli: A Place We Call Home,” which opened Feb. 11, tells of the triumphs and travails of Tivoli Towers, a 33-story residential building in Crown Heights built in 1974 as part of the Mitchell Lama government-subsidized affordable housing program.

“It’s a small project that represents something so big,” says one of the exhibit’s creators and a Tivoli resident, Delphine Fawundu Buford, who worked with longtime friends and fellow Tivoli residents Scott Brathwaite and Anthony Clouden Jr. to make the 80 portraits and 25-minute documentary that comprise the exhibit.

In 2006, the building’s owner announced plans to convert the building to market rate housing – which could have doubled and tripled rents. The tenants mobilized, raising money for a lawyer, and ultimately triumphed when a judge held up a clause in the building’s deed that required it remain in the Mitchell Lama program until 2024. The battle, Buford says, made her think about “the need to preserve the history of the community that was there.

“It’s something so basic that people are asking for, just to afford a home…and here’s what one community is doing to try to maintain that,” she explained. “You hear everyone talking about it – ‘Can I afford to live in New York City?’ – even people with larger incomes.”

Buford and her collaborators spent last summer interviewing 40 of the building’s residents for the documentary, which focuses not only on the tight-knit community of Tivoli, but on the ongoing quality of life issues presented by the building’s poor condition.

“It’s always easier to intellectualize the issue and then the people get lost in the debate. [The exhibit] kind of humanizes it, and makes people think, ‘That could be my neighbor or my brother or sister,’” said Buford.

The accompanying portraits (examples of which are accompanying this post) show residents posed in front of the pale walls of Tivoli’s interior, some alone, some with their families. Each portrait includes the subjects’ names, occupations and how long they have lived in Tivoli.

“I wanted to focus more on the people. Focusing more on the person rather than their surroundings makes you ask questions about who that person is and what’s going on in their life,” says Buford, a photographer and filmmaker by trade who has traveled to such places as South Africa, Cuba, Ghana, Egypt and New Orleans for her work.

“I’ve documented communities around the world, so doing this about my home was so special,” she says. “It’s almost like a self-portrait…After the [opening], one of my longtime friends was crying. People kept coming up to us in the days after. They were really excited. Walking in and seeing all those portraits of their neighbors, there was a pride there.”

The residents of Tivoli are among the constituents of City Councilwoman Letitia James, who attended the opening along with Borough President Marty Markowitz and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries. “This exhibit puts a beautiful face to that struggle [for affordable housing],” said James. “Now, when you think of Tivoli, you don’t think of brick and mortar, but of the children, seniors, men and women who live there. They are a part of the fabric of Brooklyn and part of the fabric of society.”

“Tivoli: A Place We Call Home” will be on display at the Brooklyn Historical Society (128 Pierrepont St.) until August 29, 2010.

TOP PHOTO: The Lawrence-Alford Family, which has resided in Tivoli Towers for over 30 years.
MIDDLE PHOTO: Anthony Clouden Jr. (who is one of the exhibit's co-producers) and Daughter Anari
BOTTOM PHOTO: Carol McKoy, Retired MTA Worker, 36-Year-Tivoli Resident
All Photos by Delphine Fawundu Buford

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

New Oral History Project on Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field

Many a Brooklynite suffers from a stubborn ache in their heart over the loss of the Dodgers and the subsequent demolition of Ebbets Field. That sense of loss may be eased by an upcoming project of the Brooklyn Historical Society, which is inviting Brooklynites from near and far to share their experiences of Ebbets Field and their memories of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Your stories and memories could be archived as part of the BHS oral history collection. Your interview could also end up in an upcoming book about Ebbets Field or in BHS’ exhibit on Ebbets and the Brooklyn Dodgers, opening on June 3, 2010.

Ebbets Field was constructed in 1913 and stood on the block bounded by Sullivan Place, Bedford Avenue, Montgomery Place and McKeever Place — on the border between the Flatbush and Crown Heights neighborhoods. It was demolished in 1960, not long after the Dodgers decamped Brooklyn for Los Angeles, and apartment houses were built in its place.

If you would like to share your stories about Ebbets, e-mail with the subject line “Ebbets Field Story” or call (718) 222-4111 x241. Interviews will be scheduled on March 23 and March 25 and will take 30 minutes; no walk-ins will be accepted. Contact BHS by March 15 to make an appointment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rare Prints of Brooklyn To Be Exhibited at BHS, In Honor of BHA.

This just in from the Brooklyn Historical Society: In celebration of its 100th anniversary, The Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) is sponsoring “Brooklyn in Prints: A Special Gathering,” a curated exhibit featuring rare and unusual prints and images tracing the history of the borough from its farmland days to the 21st century.

This exhibit, which will be held at the Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), will be open to the public for two weeks from Saturday, February 27 until Sunday, March 14. An opening night reception and gallery talk will be held Friday, February 26, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Prints will be available for purchase with a share of the proceeds going to both Heights organizations.

The Heights Association was founded 100 years ago at the BHS’s building, then known as the Long Island Historical Society. The New York Times wrote, on February 6, 1910, that the residents “arose in their wrath [and gave] a forcible object lesson of their demands...” The uncannily predictive headline to the story appeared as “HEIGHTS DEMANDS RIGHTS,” which began a long tradition culminating in the 50-block area’s designation as the city’s first historic district 55 years later, in 1965.

The exhibit is curated by The Old Print Shop of Manhattan. Among the unusual prints that will be featured will be a large, detailed lithograph showing the Heights from Williamsburg done in 1848; a moody print by Stowe Wengenroth showing Columbia Heights at night in 1945; a color etching of a cheerful State Street stoop scene from 1949 by Mortimer Borne; and etchings by Joseph Pennell from the early 20th century as well as many images of the Brooklyn Bridge.
There will be over 50 prints on view. A sneak peek is available here.

Admission for the reception and gallery talk is $15; BHA and BHS Members: $10. RSVP by calling 718.422.4111 or email

This is the second event of the Association's 100th anniversary celebration. Read about the first — a panel discussion and slide show about the films that have been shot in Brooklyn Heights — HERE


Brooklyn's First Multi-Venue Complex [Brownstoner]

Home Sweet Home: Brooklyn's Wyckoff-Bennett House
[New York Times]