What’s the deal with Duffield Street in Downtown Brooklyn? The City Council has postponed — for the third time — a hearing to determine whether or not seven houses on Duffield and Gold streets were part of the Underground Railroad.
“This is not a search for the truth,” said Lewis Greenstein, the owner of 223 Duffield St. “They had their minds made up long ago.”
The “they” that Greenstein is talking about is a company called AKRF, a consulting firm that the city often uses to green-light construction projects like the Downtown Brooklyn Plan, which calls for bulldozing the Duffield Street houses to make way for an underground parking garage.
When the first AKRF report came out in 2005, the firm was accused by the homeowners and preservationists of lying and twisting the truth. It claimed that the Truesdell family, which owned one of the disputed houses in the 1700s, was not even involved in the anti-slavery movement. That was wrong and the new report corrects that.
Around the same time, a city official was also caught lying to the City Council when he claimed that dozens of historical research agencies had told him that Duffield Street had never been part of the fabled “railroad.” The agencies he cited said the official had never even spoken to them.
No wonder no one trusts AKRF.
“Those people could ‘prove’ that the Battle of Gettysburg never happened. They could say, ‘There was no battle here. All these people shot themselves.’ That doesn’t make it true,” said Greenstein.
So the city tried again, commissioning a second report that came out in March, and basically said the same thing the first report did.
“It [the Duffield houses] … does not have a significant association with a national figure of the Underground Railroad and his Underground Railroad activity,” the report concluded.
But the 500-page report isn’t the end of the story. The City Council’s Landmarks committee has to decide now whether the houses deserve to be saved.
The first hearing, however, was scheduled for March 20, about a week after the behemoth report came out — not enough time to fully digest it. So the city pushed the hearing back to April 11. And then April 17. And then May 1. And now it looks like May 3 might be it, but the Council hasn’t made up its mind yet.
“There is nothing nefarious going on,” said Kate Suisman, chief of staff to Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Prospect Heights), who is a proponent of preserving the houses. James was the one who asked for all the delays — and the Council obliged.
“Our office and the homeowners, the preservationists and the community groups — none of us had any time to look at this report,” Suisman said. “So we asked the Council to hold off until we all have a chance to review it.”
While Suisman doesn’t hold out much hope that the delay signals a willingness by the City Council to buck the Bloomberg administration and spare the houses, it does mean that private lawyers have a chance to prepare compelling cases to halt the destruction.
And while the city may never consider the houses historical enough for protection, maybe this short delay will give somebody enough time to find something that will convince a judge that this piece of history deserves its own monument.
Call me an optimist.
The Kitchen Sink
Bury the BQE: Apparently, tunnels are way hipper than triple-layer cantilever highways. Some Brooklyn Heights residents now want to replace the part of the Brooklyn–Queens Expressway that runs beneath the famed Promenade with a tunnel. “The beauty of a tunnel is it can anywhere,” said Democratic District Leader Jo Anne Simon at a Tuesday meeting with the state transportation officials. The current plan for repairing the busy highway calls for rebuilding the steel and concrete decks, but Simon sees “an opportunity” to fix a “cockamamie” design once and for all, noting that one such tunnel was built beneath the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. A Department of Transportation said the state would “look at a tunnel option if there was a strong consensus that a [it] must be looked at.” …
Congratulations to our friends at DUMBO’s ReBar — voted best new bar of the year by Time Out New York, beating out other Brooklyn hotspots like Union Hall and Marshall Stack. Of course, we knew they’d be successful as soon as they named a drink “the Gersh” after our esteemed editor.