How Bed Stuy Became Home to Brooklyn’s Only Living Landmark

Bed Stuy's landmarked magnolia tree. Photo via Wikipedia

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A landmarked brownstone? Sure! A landmarked church? Of course. But a landmarked tree? Yep, Brooklyn’s got one.

Bed Stuy’s southern magnolia at 677 Lafayette Avenue is New York City’s only living landmark. Planted in approximately 1885, the magnolia grandiflora — or “laurel magnolia” — is unique not only in its historic designation but also in its northern location. According to the 1970 designation report (PDF), it is rare for the genus to flourish north of Philadelphia.

bed stuy brooklyn

Hattie Carthan (1901-84). Photo via Magnolia Tree Earth Center

Sowed by former Bed Stuy resident William Lemken with a seedling shipped from North Carolina, the tree’s historic designation is largely credited to local activist Hattie Carthan, who was endearingly nicknamed “the tree lady.” When the tree was threatened by plans to build a parking lot on the site, Carthan, the tree’s longtime “adopted mother,” raised money to protect it. She ultimately saved both both the magnolia and the three brownstones behind it.

One of these brownstones is today the location of the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, a nonprofit dedicated to the pursuit of environmental sustainability and green education.

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Hattie Carthan is depicted in a mural located behind the tree she helped save. Photo via The Bowery Boys

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