Hurricane Irene mostly spared the city, but it destroyed a beloved and controversial 80-year-old tree that Brooklyn Heights residents once battled a co-op board to save.
At about 5 am on Sunday, Irene’s wicked winds knocked down the American elm in front of The Mansion House on Hicks Street — smashing the gigantic tree into a house across the street and breaking arbor-loving hearts across the neighborhood.
“This is a tragedy,” said Jonathan Elliott, a 49-year-old composer who lives in the 107-unit building near Clark Street. “This tree shaded a third of the block. It’s hard to imagine this street without it.”
Elliott was one of many locals who fought to save the tree in 2007, when his co-op board — which saw the aging elm as a liability — secretly voted to chop it down rather than pay to reroute electrical pipes that were caught in the tree’s ancient roots.
The dispute turned so ugly that some residents vowed to chain themselves to the tree to prevent its destruction.
In the end, Mother Nature won where the co-op board had lost. The toppled tree ripped up the sidewalk, knocked over a brick wall in the Mansion courtyard, and smashed through a window across the street. No one was injured.
The tree was more than just a picturesque canopy — it was a living piece of Heights history. It not only survived prior storms and the co-op board, but also Dutch elm disease, a plague that wiped out millions of American elms across the country.
“The tree was absolutely important to the neighborhood as shown by the all the people who came out today,” said Sebastian Lamicella, another of the tree’s backers.
“Everybody would stop and look at it when they passed. The yard won’t be the same without it.”