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The city Department of Housing Preservation and Development recently finished an affordable housing development on the site of a former Catholic church in Brownsville called the Monsignor Anthony J. Barretta apartments. The $18,000,000 development on Atlantic between Eastern Parkway and Sackman Street consists of eight four-story buildings that house 64 units. The apartments, mostly one- and two-bedrooms, were rented through a lottery process run by the city. Rents range from $597 to $860 a month for a family making a maximum of $49,800, according to a chart from the city’s Housing Preservation and Development Department. Also, eight units were set aside as Section 8 housing for very low-income tenants. RTKB Architects designed the buildings, and Community Preservation Corporation Resources (CPCR) was the developer.

Before construction began last year, the site had been home to the 100-year-old Our Lady of Loreto Catholic Church and school, an architectural gem that preservationists struggled to protect. The church closed its doors in 2009 due to low attendance. Within two years, the Brooklyn diocese sold the land to the city, which preserved the original church building and built the development next to it.

Fight to Preserve Ocean Hill Church [Brownstoner]
Brownsville Church Saved from Wrecking Ball [Brownstoner]

Photo by Briarwood Organization

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Crain’s created an interactive Google Map of home sales prices across all five boroughs and came up with some slightly surprising results: Brownsville, Dyker Heights and Ocean Hill saw the largest increases in median sales prices. In the third quarter, homes were selling at more than twice the price than they did in the same period the year previously in all three neighborhoods, according to Crain’s. Above, a community garden at the corner of Decatur and Thomas Boyland in Ocean Hill.

Across all the boroughs, 14,073 homes sold in the three months ending September 30, an increase of 28 percent from a year ago and 33 percent from last quarter. But despite the big rise in sales volume, median sales prices stayed relatively stable throughout the city, increasing only 4 percent in the past year to $515,000. The data is based on a report from The Real Estate Board of New York that came out Tuesday.

In Brooklyn, Bed Stuy led with the most number of transactions, a total of 250 in the quarter. Park Slope was hot on its heels with 230 transactions. Next were East New York with 167, Gravesend with 165, Bay Ridge with 157, and Bushwick with 139. What do you make of the increase in median price and sales activity in these areas?

3Q Home Sales Volume Jump [Crain’s]

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Community arts organization Groundswell Mural Project unveiled a new mural yesterday called “Intersections Humanized” in Brownsville. Fifteen young people, some with a history of court involvement, collaborated with artists Chris Soria and Don Christian Jones to design and paint a 35-foot-high and 55-foot-wide mural on the side of a Lane Bryant store at 1550 Pitkin Avenue. The piece depicts a “central constellation of individual portraits” that “highlight the strength and diversity present in Brownsville, while creating a positive shared identity for the neighborhood’s 116,000 residents,” according to Groundswell.

The city is also awarding a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to Groundswell for a larger mural project in Brownsville called “Transform/Restore: Brownsville,” which will involve high-risk young adults, local businesses, and community members. As many as forty young people on probation will interview community members and then paint five murals inspired by Brownsville’s strengths along vandalized parts of Pitkin Avenue. GMAP

Photo by Groundswell

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The Pitkin Avenue BID is hosting its 5th Annual Summer Plaza weekends again this year. The first event was held last Sunday and the next two are scheduled for Sunday, June 23rd and Saturday, June 29th. All the events, which are free of charge, go from 11am to 5pm. They include face painting, games for children, educational activities, health screenings, music and live entertainment. According to the BID, “The events are an opportunity for Brownsville’s retail businesses to celebrate their customers.” Check out photos from last Sunday’s event at the Pitkin BID Facebook page.
Photo via Facebook

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When the 625-unit, low-income housing complex Marcus Garvey Village opened in Brownsville in the mid-’70s, hopes were high that the low-density housing with separate entrances for each family would give its occupants a sense of ownership and pride and help to reduce poverty and crime. That has not happened, alas, as The New York Times noted, and the idea that architecture can create social change has been largely abandoned. After all, bigger forces than architecture affect the poverty rate, which has risen from 29 percent to nearly 40 percent in the area since the complex opened. However, the article notes, courtyard areas in the Village became an important link in the drug trade of the ’80s and ’90s because they were shielded from public view. So it seems as though architecture and design, as Jane Jacobs so clearly saw, has an effect after all.
A Housing Solution Gone Awry [NY Times]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

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Welcome to the Hot Seat, where we interview folks involved in Brooklyn real estate, architecture, development and the like. Introducing Rasmia Kirmani-Frye, the Director of the Brownsville Partnership. The Brownsville Partnership is a part of Community Solutions, a national not-for-profit organization whose mission is to strengthen communities to end homelessness.
Brownstoner: What neighborhood do you live in, and how did you end up there?
Rasmia Kirmani-Frye: I live in Fort Greene. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for about 20 years, and have lived all over. I started in Windsor Terrace, and then Sunset Park, Fort Greene, Crown Heights, and back to Fort Greene. I ended up in Fort Greene the first time when I came back from my PhD fieldwork on the West Coast and needed a roommate and somewhere to live – I totally lucked out on both! When my husband and I got married we needed to find a place and ended up two blocks away from where I was living the first time in Fort Greene – we love it. And I should add, my husband grew up in Bed-Stuy, on Putnam and Throop.

BS: Can you talk about the beginnings of the Brownsville Partnership, and how you became involved?
RKF: The Brownsville Partnership – an initiative of Community Solutions, a New York-based national not for profit – was launched in 2008 by Rosanne Haggerty. She and a team started working in Brownsville in 2005 doing community organizing. Rosanne met Brownsville’s unofficial “mayor” Greg “Jocko” Jackson – lifelong resident and agent of hope in Brownsville – and the Brownsville Partnership was born with Greg as the founding director. He passed away last May, but it’s his legacy of hope-in-action that we are carrying out [that] lives on. Prior to working at the BP, I was a community organizer in Brooklyn, and then consulted with community-based organizations in Brooklyn for the past 15 years. I became involved in January 2008. My long-time mentor, and founding president of the Times Square BID, Gretchen Dykstra, was working with Rosanne to conceptualize the work in Brownsville and, knowing that I have a long term love of Brownsville, she suggested I talk to Rosanne. I did and I met Greg, and I was totally inspired by both of them, and that was it. Love.

After the jump, how rapid gentrification in Brooklyn is changing Brownsville, hopes for the community in ten years, and Ras’s favorite spot in the neighborhood…

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An unusual, tree-house-inspired playground is going into an existing park in Brownsville, the Architzer blog reported. It’s called the Imagination Playground, and its central feature is big building blocks made of blue foam, designed to encourage children to play creatively on their own. A similar playground already exists in Manhattan at the South Street Seaport, and others have been springing up around the country; the playgrounds and the blocks were designed and donated by architectural firm Rockwell Group. The multi-level space at Brownsville’s Betsy Head Park will incorporate sand and water, and a long, winding play ramp will weave through the surrounding trees, said the blog.

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The Brownsville Partnership and the Municipal Art Society are hosting the first annual Brownsville HOPE Summit on Saturday, February 23rd. The summit kicks of a yearlong initiative that will engage residents in creating a safer, healthier and more prosperous neighborhood through local ideas and action. At the summit residents will have access to markers, flip charts, maps and photographs to identify underutilized neighborhood resources, troubled spots and opportunities for short-term improvements and long-term development. The idea is to come up with a blueprint that guides local initiatives for the rest of the year. You can check out all the details about the reception and the actual summit right here. The Brownsville Partnership, which is spearheading this event, is a network of residents, city and non-profit partners based in the neighborhood.

Editor’s note: An updated version of this post can be viewed here.

Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Former Loew’s Pitkin Avenue Theater, now Brownsville Ascend Charter School, and retail
Address: 1501 Pitkin Avenue
Cross Streets: Corner Saratoga Avenue
Neighborhood: Brownsville
Year Built: 1929-30, rebuilt 2010-12
Architectural Style: Art Deco with Mayan and Art Nouveau touches. Interior “Hispanic-Mooresque”
Architect: Thomas Lamb. Renovation: Kitchens & Associates and Anderson-Miller Designs
Other Work by Architect: Over 180 theaters across U.S., Canada and world. In Brooklyn: Loew’s Metropolitan, Loew’s Gates, RKO Bushwick, Strand, among others.
Landmarked: No

The story: The age of the great movie palaces is over. In the teens and into the 1930s, they were built to provide an escape into the fantasy world of live theater follies and Hollywood motion pictures, with exciting stories of beautiful leading ladies and handsome leading men. For your average person, the theater itself would be an escape, a fantasy building with exotic décor, padded and plush sets, gilded surfaces and bright lights. These palaces were everything a local dull, coldwater flat was not, an escape into another world. And no one built a fantasy theater like Thomas Lamb.

He was the best of a handful of theater architects and designers who made magic. Lamb was born in Scotland, and came to the U.S. as a child of 12. He got his architectural training at Cooper Union, and set his office up on 40th Street in the theater district. His first theater was for film mogul William Fox, in 1909. He would go on to be the architect of choice for the Loew’s, Fox, and RKO chains. His theater designs would grace cities around the world, with almost 50 here in New York, and theaters from Philadelphia to Toronto, Jakarta to London, Cleveland to Johannesburg.

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The Art Deco Pitkin Theater in Brownsville, abandoned and disintegrating for many years, has been restored and is now home to the Brownsville Ascend Charter School and, soon, big-box retailers. Borough President Marty Markowitz and a festively dressed crowd of proud and excited parents and execs turned out Thursday afternoon to celebrate the ribbon cutting of this symbol of the past and the future of the neighorhood. Markowitz spoke about the dramatic changes in Brownsville, which he personally experienced, having worked down the block when he was a boy at the auto supply company AID when Pitkin Avenue was one of the busiest commercial strips in all of New York City. “With Ascend, I do hope the culture of violence will disappear from our streets,” he said. “I hope the day will come soon when it is easier to buy a book on Pitkin Avenue than to buy a gun.”