We’re bringing back a BHB tradition of an annual list, described by our founder John Loscalzo aka Homer Fink as “10 people who live or work in Brooklyn Heights who we think made an impact on our neighborhood, the city, the country, or the world” or who are “influential, altruistic or just plain special.” After input from everyone at BHB, here in no particular order are the Ten.
1. Rev. Adriene Thorne and Darryahn Knight for dreaming up the idea of the Brooklyn Heights Community Fridge and enlisting neighbors to help make it a reality. “Built by neighbors for neighbors,” the Fridge located at 124 Henry St. has been a hub of feeding the hungry and gathering the community since June 2021. It all started when Darryahn sparked the idea to Rev. Adriene, who then turned to Nextdoor to crowd source for help. Jenny Hunter-Astrachan and Caroline Koster stepped up, and with the help of many volunteers, architect James Koster designed and built the shed that houses the Fridge and helped it blend seamlessly into the neighborhood. In October, the Fridge was awarded Nextdoor’s global #LoveYourNeighborhood prize, and last month, the Fridge’s founders were invited to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the day of Nextdoor’s IPO.
2. Peter Kendall Clark aka Brownstone Baritone for serenading the neighborhood and soothing the hearts and nerves of the pandemic-weary with his “Songs from the Ledge” concerts. In May 2020, with the encouragement of friends, Peter began singing while perched on the ledge in front of the Mansion House at the 7:00 p.m. clap for frontline workers. Word spread of his magnificent voice and crowds gathered, and Peter sang for 100 consecutive nights from the ledge. The concerts then turned weekly with Peter’s performer friends making guest appearances. The media caught on as well and the concerts were covered by NY1, ABC Eyewitness News, the New York Post, and more. Last week, Peter gifted the neighborhood with a special holiday concert, his 195th performance. Peter, sidelined from his performing career due to the lockdowns, shared his talents with the community, and we got a desperately needed reprieve from the dreariness of quarantine life. A win-win if there ever was one.
3. Mary Frost of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for her consistently superb reporting on issues that affect the community’s quality of life. Just a couple of past examples are Mary’s remarkably detailed report of the BQE rehab proposals, and the Clark St. station shutdown when it was just a rumor not yet reality. This past year, the neighborhood, and perhaps the entire city, was captivated by Mary’s you’ll-never-guess-whodunit mystery of the crazy-making noise coming from Cadman Towers. [Spoiler alert: Someone decided to set a pigeon repeller sound machine on his terrace and leave for vacation for weeks.] The story was so grippingly written that New York Magazine picked it up for its mass audience. Also not to be missed is Mary’s report of the equally maddening “whistling condo” in Cobble Hill.
4. Lara Birnback, Executive Director of Brooklyn Heights Association, for leading the BHA’s mission to preserve and enhance the quality of life in Brooklyn Heights. Where there’s a vexing issue affecting the neighborhood, Lara is there to advocate. Whether it’s calling out the powers that be on the BQE mess, or taking on the non-essential helicopter industry, Lara is out there fighting for Brooklyn Heights. Under her stewardship, the BHA also launched the Brooklyn Heights Together Community Relief Fund to raise funds for workers who were furloughed or lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Last month, the BHA raised funds for those who lost everything to the Montague St. fire. Lara is everywhere and naturally makes an appearance in Mary Frost’s mystery noise story (see above), with BHA described as “the only organization that took the noise complaints seriously.”
5. State Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon for co-sponsoring the bill that was signed into law on Dec. 23, 2021, that authorizes a pilot program along the BQE for the installation of state-of-the-art, weigh-in-motion technology to issue violations electronically when trucks exceed the legal weight limit of 80,000 pounds. “Removing overweight trucks from the BQE will extend its lifetime and allow us time to envision a long-term solution for the entire BQE corridor that reduces reliance on polluting freight trucks and prioritizes climate justice,” said Jo Anne Simon.
6. Jeremy Lechtzin, Vice President of the BHA and member of its Landmarks Preservation Committee, for his passion for and vast knowledge of Brooklyn’s architectural history. Armed with “reams of research and months of archival digging,” Jeremy pitched a story to a fellow “Brooklyn history nerd” who works at the New York Times. That led to the publication of this glorious, interactive article about how almost every street address in Brooklyn was changed in 1870 amidst a “fledgling bureaucracy stumbling to keep up with a growing city, and flawed reforms that are still felt by Brooklyn residents today.” Not only is Jeremy published in the New York Times, he’ll occasionally pop into this blog’s comments section to drop his keen knowledge of Brooklyn archival history, to the delight of all our readers.
7. Estela Johannesen, owner of James Weir Floral Co., for her dedication and tireless work in keeping Montague St. lush and green. Estela is the caretaker of 50 trees with 200 window boxes along the 4 block stretch. Estela’s talents and labor earned Montague St. the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Greenest Commercial Block prize in 2019. Despite the economic and mental hardships every small business owner has faced, Estela’s work never stopped, all the while running the beloved shop she managed to keep in business throughout the pandemic.
8. Kate Chura, Executive Director of the Montague St. BID, for always having the backs of the small businesses on Montague St. It can’t be an easy job helping to improve a commercial district plagued with intractable problems like astronomical property taxes, eccentric landlords who leave property vacant for almost a decade, and the ghostly hotel that’s, let’s face it, never going to open. While some decry Montague St. as perpetually drab, it’s not for a lack of Kate trying. This year, Montague St. BID hosted the Make Music festival in June, the Sunday Social in September, and holiday photos with Stoop Stories in December. And let’s not forget, all the new eateries set to open soon, proving that Montague St. will always persevere.
9. Laurent Chavenet, chef and owner of Le French Tart Deli, for opening his wildly popular bakery/deli in our neighborhood, during a pandemic no less. Did he know how much of a void was left by Cranberry’s closing? Did he sense that the community was in desperate need of comforting pastries and baguettes? Have you tried his fig jam and brie sandwich? You must. Bienvenue and merci, Chef Chavenet.
10. The Firefighters of Engine 205/Ladder 118 for their heroic efforts to save people, pets and property from the 121 Henry St. fire on Nov. 23, 2021 and the 132 Montague St. four-alarmer on Dec. 10, 2021. In both cases, the blazes were extremely fast moving, and at Henry St., high winds could have carried the embers far and wide. At Montague St., the firefighters were temporarily trapped inside and it took hours to contain the early morning fire. Several firefighters sustained burns to their hands, ears, and foreheads. No lives were lost in either fire and the heroic efforts of the firefighters prevented spread to adjacent buildings.
Lastly, BHB salutes all the people who helped keep the rest of us safe under quarantine through the pandemic, the grocery and restaurant delivery workers, the UPS/FedEx/USPS employees, and all frontline and essential workers of every type. BHB also thanks everyone who contributed to our sense of community, including all the kind neighbors who have been filling the Community Fridge day in and day out, and the Buy Nothing Brooklyn Heights/Dumbo/Vinegar Hill group which organized toy drives, helped find lost pets, and provided a forum where neighbors can ask neighbors for things they need.