The Restoration of Restoration Plaza

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Restoration Plaza, an economic development initiative conceived as part of Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (with then Senator Jacob K. Javits and Mayor Lindsay pushing it along), opened in the mid-1970s: 300,000 square feet of commercial space including the Billie Holiday Theatre, the Skylight Gallery, local businesses and non-profits, and plenty of chains (it was created by the nation’s first Community Development Corporation, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation). Many count it a success; even so, it’s getting an upgrade, courtesy of Garrison Architects (whose plans for Redesigning Grand Army Plaza came in third in the recent contest). Here’s what they have planned: “Restoration Plaza will become an open, accessible, and vibrant place, filled with people and bustling with activity. Its open spaces will be lined with benches and plantings. Shops and galleries will be clearly visible from Fulton Street… At night it will… be busy with neighborhood residents and visitors attending performances and movies in the Plaza’s cultural centers. The Plaza will be surrounded with light from the Wall of Fame celebrating the founders of Restoration Plaza and Bedford Stuyvesant’s most influential citizens.” The final phase includes a garden and a “Great Hall” for weddings and concerts.

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  • Brownstoner

    sounds cool. who’s footing the bill?

  • Having street visibility for the businesses will be such a welcome change. The current layout is so bizarre.

  • stuyheightsarch

    I think this is really great and I am all for Restoration Plaza getting a greatly needed makeover but Fulton Street needs one desperately. Fulton street has no trees, the shops have signage that is not to scale, lack to trash cans on the corners so all the trash is on the street. This street is one of the oldest historically important streets in Brooklyn and the city and some residents treat it like s&!t. The street should be were look like 5th in Park Slope by now or Myrtle in Clinton Hill by now. I don’t understand what the city is doing. From Washington Ave to Fulton Park there are like maybe ten Charlie Brown looking trees…. Whats up with that?

  • Praise the Lord! The place has been looking like crap for years now, and change is long overdue.

    Restoration Plaza was a HUGE commitment to urban renewal. Then state senator Robert Kennedy was one of the important moving forces here, and the plaza complex would not have existed but for his efforts. There is still, I believe, the Rose Kennedy Center for women and children on Marcy Ave and Halsey, which the Kennedy’s funded. Robert Kennedy was a frequent visitor to Bed Stuy during this time.

    Architecturally, the original design, joining the original facade of the Borden’s Milk plant (which now houses the theatre)with the brownstone facade of the adjoining buildings to create a large plaza, was great. When I moved to BS in ’83, the Plaza was a thriving center with a large NY Telephone office, Con Ed office, Bklyn Union Gas office, and Chase Bank, along with retail stores, a cafe, and a US Post Office branch. The community took full advantage of the utility offices, and lines were long, as at that time, a lot of local people paid their utilities in cash.

    As the years went by, and the entire neighborhood actually improved, Restoration went downhill. They tore down the brownstone facade a couple of years ago, which let more light into the plaza, but they never finished the stairs. The ice skating rink was never utilized as it could have been, and is now a tented place for religious revivals and an occasional private party. All of the utilites left, and the spaces remain empty on the second floor. Con Ed was above where Applebees is now. Citibank and WaMu are a good addition, as is the much maligned Applebees, but the whole place is a mixed bag of success and failure. Foodtown has been rebuilt, and is great. Duane Reade is much needed, but the retail is pitiful. The theatre wing of the complex is great, but the office space in the back is substandard, hard to reach and low rent. The post office is a joke.

    I’m hoping that this new “restoration” is accompanied by a renewed spirit in the board of Restoration Development Corporation to not just make things shiny and new, but get new desirable businesses in there, and take care of business in enforcing standards of excellence in upkeep and maintanance. This has the potential to be the center of a large, successful business and shopping hub. Don’t blow it.

  • My understanding is that the leadershp of the Development Corporation has not changed in many years. Absent evidence to the contrary, it seems that such a corporation has been far better at providing steady incomes to its employees than it has in actually “developing” anything.

  • I didn’t want to come out and say that, Putnam, but you hit the nail on the head. I agree.

  • Montrose: Thank you for all of the information you provided.

  • stuyheightsarch

    Sometimes you do have to clean house. I can say that they do own a lot of property in the area and they have been renovating the apartment buildings such as the ones on MacDonough Street between Tompkins and Marcy

  • Are they still going to have office spaces available?

  • Brownstoner,

    Restoration Plaza was after my time growing up in Crown Heights during the 1950s. Back then, Fulton Street was considered the border between the Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant. The intersection of Fulton and Nostrand was where we caught the “A” train to downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan, and Fulton Street was lined with mom and pop shops, appliance stores, banks, and groceries.

    My siblings’ and my favorite among the stores was a nut and candy place just off Fulton on Nostrand Avenue. This appeared huge to us, with aisles lined with every conceivable delicacy and big bags of nuts — peanuts, cashews, etc., all in their shells — overflowing onto the floor.

    The old gent running the place had a soft spot for my little sister, and always gave her a treat when our parents brought us by. At the time, she was enormously shy, and could barely say thank you, but he gave her a lollipop or chocolate every time nevertheless. And this was often, because his shop was on the way from the subway to our apartment, a great stop after catching a movie at the old Albee or the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History in the “city.”

    Fulton Street was also on the way to my parents’ friend who lived in the Montrose-Morris pile down Nostrand Avenue. (Called the Alhambra, I think.) He was an artist living in a big, dark apartment filled with his paintings. He and my dad would have deep political conversations while we kids sat around eating date bread with jam. I can still taste it!

    I loved the “Independent” subway line, as it was called then. It was the city’s newest, with broad platforms and gleaming tiles. The A train would come roaring into the Fulton Street station, my brother and me daring each other to see who’d hang over the station’s edge the longest. The A was an express, but there was something called the “Super Express” that I always wanted to take to the Bronx, a mysterious place to a Brooklyn kid for whom the city was as big as the universe.

    I didn’t know at the time that the A was famous, or that it helped make Bedford Stuyvesant New York’s largest African American community, connecting as it did central Brooklyn with Harlem and bringing new families to the borough looking for better housing. It was just a great, metal dinosaur, whose levers I wanted to pull. My brother and I would head straight for the first car and watch the stations fly by from the front door’s window. Standing next to the operator’s cab, we pretended to be the train’s engineer, the best job in the world, as far as I was concerned. (Only when I told my parents my career dream did they start steering me in other directions. To this day, I’m convinced I’d be happiest at the controls of the A — if they still call it that; I hardly ride the subways anymore.)

    Years later I’d read that Bobby Kennedy was starting the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, with the plaza it’s flagship project. Of course, the plaza was on the Crown-Heights side of Fulton Street, but neighborhood distinctions ceased to matter at that point. For Brooklyn, Bedford Stuyvesant became the designation for any neighborhood where African Americans lived.

    Nostalgic on Park Avenue

  • stuyheightsarch

    NOP your stories are told with such vividness. I love it man… I could read your stories all day long…

  • Thanks, Amzi. I recall Montrose Morris on these pages saying that your handle comes from another famous Brooklyn architect — one I didn’t know. That’s what I like about Brownstoner. I get closer to Brooklyn even when far away.

    NOP

  • stuyheightsarch

    Yes Amzi Hill was the architect that designed my home in the Stuyvesant Heights section of Bedford Stuyvesant. I am also an architect but not as great as Mr. Hill. He did many of the Queen Anne style brownstones in Park Slope, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant.
    I had grandaunts and uncles that came to Bedford Stuyvesant in the 1930s and many stayed until they died.. When I read your post it is like hearing them talk about the early days in Brooklyn.

  • Amzi, maybe in the future you’ll recount some of your family’s stories for us. They’d be interesting to know. NOP

  • Great story, as usual, NOP. I can just picture a child of the 50′s in the subway. On the older trains, where you can still press your face to that outside window, kids (and some adults) still watch the stations zip by. An iconic scene, and part of what still makes NYC magic.

    BTW, a little close to home (your old home on Pacific, anyway)…. The row of about 9 classic Italianate brownstones on the north side of Pacific, were also designed by Amzi Hill in 1879. They were built as speculative housing for a John H. Stevenson, and are the oldest buildings on the block. You were looking at Amzi Hill’s work throughout your childhood. Who knew?

    Amzi (21st C) I’d love to hear your stories as well. I am fascinated by this entire area, and can never hear enough stories.

  • Montrose:

    Thanks for the information about the Amzi Hill row houses on Pacific Street.

    I’m looking at them right now in a photo of my mother and little brother. He can’t be more than two years old and she’s swinging him in the air, the houses in the background.

    Both my mother and brother are laughing with bliss.

    That’s Crown Heights for me!

    NOP