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Willowtown anniversary dinner to honor veteran activists

Political action in Willowtown, circa 1979: then-Heights Press photographer Amy Davis captured this group of residents standing near a proposed—and also opposed—bus stop on Joralemon at the corner of Willow Place.

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

In the late 1950s Robert Moses, known as the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, saw Willowtown in the southwest corner of Brooklyn Heights as a slum and targeted it for demolition. He intended to build high-rise housing on the cleared land. Long-time residents and newcomers who in 1953 formed the Willowtown Association fought back and won, being one of the few neighborhoods in the city ever to defeat Moses. He also targeted the northeast Heights as a slum. There he won. The present high-rises along Cadman Plaza West and Henry Street are the result.

The Willowtown Association’s annual potluck dinner on Wednesday evening, Nov. 13, at the A.T. White Community Center at 26 Willow Place will mark the association’s 60th anniversary.  The evening will begin with a “happy hour” at 7 p.m.

The program following dinner will include the presentation of the association’s 2013 Alfred Award to Peter and Camilla Flemming, community activists for a half-century.

The greening of Columbia Place, the development of the present Adam Yauch Park and the preservation of the historic Belgian block surface of Joralemon Street are among the many other achievements of the Willowtown Association over six decades, president Ben Bankson notes.  Money raised primarily through the association’s annual spring fairs has gone toward such causes as scholarships for Columbia Place YMCA day campers, defeating the building of a garage in the courtyard of the Riverside Apartments and the upgrading of the Atlantic Avenue Gateway project to improve the area under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway overpass near the entrance to Brooklyn Bridge Park. The association’s latest project is to light the exterior of the A.T. White Center.

Peter and Camilla Flemming have been residents of Brooklyn Heights since 1955, living at 51 Joralemon Street in Willowtown from 1966 until last spring. Their son David of Carroll Gardens and daughter Elizabeth of Philadelphia grew up there. Both were counselors at the branch of the YMCA when at 62 Joralemon.

Peter has a degree in law from New York University and Camilla in public administration from the New School. Peter had a general law practice from 1958 until he retired in 1996. Camilla held various positions in the city’s Human Resources Administration, the last also before her retirement in the mid-'90s as director of a program to place teenage mothers back in school.  Among Peter’s community endeavors, he has served as president of the board of the A.T. White Center and, since its beginning in 2010, as a member of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Advisory Council. Camilla is a former treasurer of the Willowtown Association and co-author of the “Willowtown Walking Tour Guide,” updated annually.       

The Willowtown Association will provide complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres for the happy hour.  Attendees are asked to bring contributions for the potluck table. 

Long before Brooklyn Bridge Park was a gleam in the eye of designer Michael Van Valkenburgh, these residents of Willowtown volunteered to clean up the trashy highway that was Furman Street just off BQE entrance. On three successive weekends in April, 1991, they turned out to do a good deed for a much broader constituency.

Problems inherent? Willow Place has always had problems with the power sub- station located across from the co-ops at 30-32. The substation sends huge volumes of power   to the subway line half a block away running under Joralemon. Until those power lines were   insulated just a few years ago, they created havoc underground by eroding the integrity of water   main lines running into homes. Seen here, a ‘70s vintage photo showing open manhole covers being serviced up and down Willow Street.

November 6, 2013 - 7:00pm


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