Jackson Street Settlement House overhaul eyed

If a building falls in Brooklyn, it makes a tree grow

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A tree might soon grow in Brooklyn, but only if a building once frequented by the author of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” bites the dust.

Neighbors are more upset about the noise and dust the impending demolition of the 113-year-old Jackson Street Settlement House will kick up than the fact that legendary Kings County novelist Betty Smith taught sewing to the kids of immigrants there or that the Williamsburg institution made an appearance in her famous first novel.

“They are going to tear up the shingles of my house and my family is going to be disrupted,” said Phil Montana, who lives next door on Manhattan Avenue. “I do not think it is necessary.”

The School Settlement Association wants to bulldoze the three-story building to make way for a new structure to house the programs it wants to add for Williamsburg and Greenpoint youngsters, which it says the current structure cannot accommodate,

“We realize that, going forward, this building is un-sustainable for hosting the kind of programming this community needs,” said Greg Hanlon, spokesman for the Association partner Saint Nicks Alliance.

The center hosts after-school and summer-camp programs featuring activities such as basketball, theater, and prepping kids to write the next Great American Novel, but it is too cramped for the organization’s needs, Hanlon said.

For instance, the current facility’s gym has a low ceiling that puts a damper on long-range basketball shots, he said.

“Though people have heroically made it playable, we can do a lot better,” Hanlon said.

Outside the replacement center, the School Settlement Association plans to plant a Tree of Heaven. The type serves as a symbol for perseverance amid constraints in Smith’s seminal tome, in which the protagonist enrolls in evening sewing and dance classes as a rapidly maturing teen. The fast-growing deciduous tree is an import from China and its nicknames include “tree from hell” and “ghetto palm” for its foul smell and its ability to proliferate in harsh urban environments with the help of a rapid seed dissemination mechanism and an aggressive root system that poisons the soil to keep out other plants.

Tearing down the piece of literary lore and building a new, four-story community center in its place will cost approximately $18 million, according to Hanlon. Saint Nicks has been fund-raising for a year to meet the goal.

The current structure, which was built in 1901, is not landmarked or in a designated historic district.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike from Williamsburg says:
Neighbors also opposed this because it would affect parking. And one guy spoke at the community board meeting against it because he has lived in the neighborhood for 4 years and he doesn't think money should be invested in the community because "when will it end?" and he got a lot of cheers.

And one woman doesn't think kids at the local elementary school should have access to a gym or auditorium because it will mess up her view of Manhattan.

I am always in awe that people will publicly admit to their extreme selfishness. And that's why I go to community board meetings.
May 19, 2014, 8:53 am
Hector Cepeda from (orig.) Williamsburg; (currently) Valencia, CA says:
First, the Immaculate Conception Parochial School, then its adjacent administering church, and now the possibility of the Settlement House from which the Boy Scout camping trips of my long ago youth were planned and launched, and whose gym enabled many spirited games of dodgeball and weekly meetings. No longer a local resident, I have no right to comment on the wisdom of SE's proposed demolishment, but I can say that it saddens me.
May 25, 2014, 1:32 pm
philip montana says:
you would be concerned if it was your house
June 3, 2014, 6:41 pm
Mike from Williamsburg says:
An 8 story building is slated to go up right next door to my building. I'll manage, Phil.
June 17, 2014, 7:18 am

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