100 years with the BHA

A Brooklyn Heights civic group whose long history of battling for the neighborhood dates back to the Taft administration is readying to highlight another worthy cause: itself.

The Brooklyn Heights Association will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary with a series of yearlong events that will kick off in January. The group is the granddaddy of the city’s many civic groups, and it is also one of the more accomplished, successfully steering state and city policy to preserve the neighborhood’s rich history and particular aesthetic.

“I have reason to believe that Brooklyn Heights would not be what it is today if it wasn’t for the Brooklyn Heights Association,” said the group’s executive director, Judy Stanton.

In 1910, the BHA was a fledgling civic group battling to prevent the annexation of Hoyt and Schermerhorn streets for use by the court system. The group helped thwart the plan, and has since succeeded in establishing the neighborhood as the city’s first historic district, and foiling builder Robert Moses’ scheme to cleave the Heights in favor of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. “Who knows how many houses would have been knocked down,” Stanton said.It also claims responsibility for first suggesting the idea of Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Its centennial celebration will kickoff on Jan. 20, with “Hollywood in the Heights” at St. Francis College. The event, hosted by Academy Award-nominated filmmaker and novelist Peter Hedges (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”) will examine how the neighborhood has been portrayed in film, and why directors seem smitten with the neighborhood in the first place. Hedges will then lead a panel discussion of film industry professionals in what organizers call an “intimate and informative conversation.” Ironically, the BHA has often had a testy relationship with film crews, occasionally blasting them for commandeering local streets. “Half the neighborhood hates it and half the neighborhood loves it,” Stanton conceded.

The entire line-up of“Celebrating a Century” events will be announced at the Jan. 20 event.

“We are proud of all that BHA has accomplished for its residents throughout the last 100 years and are thrilled at the prospects that lie ahead as we enter our next century,” BHA president Tom van den Bout said in a statement. “The Celebrating a Century event series is the perfect way to highlight and celebrate all that our neighborhood has to offer.”

“We are hoping our centennial celebration is more about fun than anything else,” Stanton said, adding that the hope is to attract attention to the civic and its latest initiatives. Moreover, she continued, the goal is to help locals understand why neighborhood associations matter.

Stanton, who has served as the group’s executive directorfor the past 20 years, said the BHA’s strength has been its dogged consistency. “We haven’t changed a lot,” she said.

The well-heeled group has, however, made concessions to the computer age. It recently revamped its Web site, www.thebha.org, and maintains a Facebook page and Twitter account. “It’s the only way to reach anyone under 30 years old,” Stanton said.

Hollywood in the Heights will be held Jan. 20th at 7 p.m. in the auditorium atSt. Francis College, 180 Remsen Street. Admission will be free but, due to limited seating, it is necessary to sign up in advance. To confirm attendance, please email [email protected] learn more about the Celebrating a Century series, visit www.thebha.org, or call 718.858.9193.