Weeksville Heritage Center Celebrates New Museum Building

The new museum building at the Weeksville Heritage Center is finished, and the official ribbon cutting took place yesterday morning, although the building won’t open to the public until spring 2014. The celebration included an African libation ceremony and speeches from local officials.

WHC board chairman Timothy Simons and outgoing Borough President Marty Markowitz recalled when WHC was just a dream in the mind of founder Joan Maynard, who saved four of the early free black community’s 19th-century houses from urban renewal plans and housing project developments. With its new building, located at 1698 Bergen Street, WHC wants to provide an oasis for visitors and the community as well as resources for scholars looking to research Weeksville. The new center cost $34,000,000 to build and hosts a 700-square-foot art gallery, performance space that can seat 200, classrooms, administrative offices, archival storage space and a studio for recording oral histories.

Designed by Caples Jefferson Architects, it’s one of only two LEED-certified buildings in central Brooklyn and incorporates sustainable elements like drywells that filter on-site storm water and geothermal wells for heating and cooling. Elizabeth Kennedy Landscape Architects designed the surrounding 1.5 acres, which will include a microfarm and heritage-based garden with plants that were grown in 19th century Brooklyn. Outside one of the structure’s large windows sits an oval-shaped sculpture made of discarded tires, “Sugar in My Bowl II,” created by Chakaia Booker.

Unfortunately, none of the speakers said anything about the inspiration for the building design, but the wood cladding echoes the center’s 19th-century wood frame Hunterfly Road houses, and the tiles lining the presentation space appear to have a carved foliate design. The building was deliberately placed far away from the Hunterfly Road houses to emphasize their once-rural siting, and subtle references to African design weave through the building, according to Architect magazine, such as the pattern of the exterior stone and the overhead latticework in the transparent walkways.

The modern looking building sits across the street from the dilapidated St. Mary’s Hospital. Click through to the jump for lots more pictures. What do you think of it?

Weeksville Museum Gets Major New Building [Brownstoner] GMAP

2 Comment

  • dnk

    Weeksville is a fascinating place. If you’ve never been there, go right now.

    My wife and I visited one afternoon. We said, “um, we’re here for the 3 o’clock tour” and some nice person said, “you ARE the 3 o’clock tour.” She grabbed a set of keys and gave us a personal tour through three houses restored to different time periods (circa 1840s, 1870s, and 1930s if I am not mistaken). Our guide had a fantastic knowledge of African-American history and of the people who lived in Weeksville that brought the whole thing to life. Tour lasted more than an hour. And it was like $5 bucks.

  • This is so thrilling to finally see come to fruition! Forget about RIP Joan Maynard. I’m sure Weeksville’s dearly departed visionary is dancing up a storm in the heavens over this one!