Williamsburg residents of all ages rallied last week to save the embattled neighborhood senior and daycare hub that is in danger after a big rent hike.
Longtime and recently born Willamsburgers gathered at the Swinging Sixties Center last Thursday evening to show their support for the community center that has hosted programs for elderly people and kids, as well as community board meetings, since 1974. In a letter two weeks ago, the building’s new landlord raised the rent by a third and threatened to padlock the tots and oldsters out if the center fails to pay, prompting the place’s patrons to sing its praises — and their own.
“Those kids are the future of our neighborhood and us guys are the history of our neighborhood,” said 73-year-old Katherine Torello. “I don’t want this place to ever close.”
The center has had a rough few years. The city revoked funding for both the senior and toddler programs in 2012, then restored the money after residents raised a stink. The activist group Saint Nick’s Alliance raised $20,000 to help the tenants renovate and repaint the interior when the landlord refused to do any work. The group also offered to buy the building for $6-million, but the previous owner accepted $4.5-million from father-and-son team Victor and Harry Einhorn instead.
Alliance spokesman Greg Hanlon said his organization still wants to buy the building from the Einhorns and that he hoped the protest would make them consider it, or at least think about giving the center a break.
“Once the commnity’s attachment to this building is underscored, anyone who owns it would want to keep a good thing going,” Hanlon said.
If the new owners will not sell, Janice Peterson, a member of the Swinging Sixties board of directors and Community Board 1, says she is trying to convince the city to seize the building using eminent domain, pointing to the decades it has been used to host publicly funded programs.
The seniors who frequent the center are a tight-knit bunch, Torello said.
“People make real friends here,” said Torello. “We chat, have lunch, go to each other’s funerals. This place means a lot to us.”
Neither Victor nor Harry Einhorn returned repeated calls for comment.