The Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights will be renamed in honor of Congressmember Major Owens — a longtime staple of New York politics who served central Brooklyn in the US House of Representatives for 24 years.
“Major Owens left Brooklyn better than he found it, and New York City is proud to honor his legacy with this facility,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Generations of New Yorkers will learn, grow, and play at this community center, and they will have a role model of strength and fairness as they do.”
Owens, who passed away in 2013, began his career as an activist for racial and social justice while serving as a librarian in the Brooklyn Public Library during the 1960s.
In 1974, Owens channeled his advocacy work into a successful run for the the New York State Senate, where he represented the 17th district in central Brooklyn until he won a seat in the national legislature in 1982.
Owens’ election made him the successor to Congressmember Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman ever elected to the legislative chamber.
During his legislative career, Owens became known for championing the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibited discrimination against those with physical limitations.
Owens also received national attention for his personal style, which included his penchant for reading poetry on the floor of the House of Representatives during debates over hot-button national issues.
In 2007, Owens left the halls of the legislature’s lower chamber, paving the way for current Congressmember Yvette Clarke to take over the post, which she still holds today.
Years after his retirement, Owens became an advocate for transforming the Bedford Union Armory into a communal gathering space and place for recreation in the park-starved neighborhood of Crown Heights.
The City Council approved the armory’s conversion plan in 2017, turning the once-military space into a hub for physical exercise, community gatherings, art displays, film screenings, and more.
That green light came after a long fight spearheaded by community activists against a plan to give over some of the land to private developers looking to build residential units. Ultimately, the area’s representative in the Council, Laurie Cumbo, voted in favor of the proposal, which included some affordable housing units— all but assuring its passage.
Now, the armory will be known as the “Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center,” which drew praise form a cadre of local politicos who hailed the recognition of Owens’ contribution to the armory and the borough.
“Major R. Owens’ legacy of listening to the needs of the Crown Heights community and advocating for a gathering space and recreational facility that they could be proud of goes back a long way, and now it will be memorialized permanently,” said NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett.
Cumbo hailed the renaming as a symbol of the neighborhood’s vibrant history, saying Owens’ vision for a place where the area’s youth could make “cherished memories” has finally been realized.
“The Major R. Owens Health and Community Wellness Center is a true symbol of the culture and legacy of this historic neighborhood. We fought unwaveringly to ensure that this community space would reflect the beauty and history of Crown Heights, and I am proud to be standing here seeing that Major Owens’ vision is being brought to light.”