Funds to Restore Magnolia Tree Earth Center’s Facade Reach $70K With Help From Boro Prez

The team behind Bed Stuy’s Magnolia Tree Earth Center is getting closer to its fundraising goal to fix the center’s crumbling facades and remove the more than decade old sidewalk shed thanks to a $20,000 donation from the Brooklyn borough president and more than $50,000 raised in a GoFundMe.

According to the organization’s board president, Wayne Devonish, another $40,000 is needed to complete the repairs, and he hopes that it can be raised and work started before the end of the year.

In a rally outside the center Wednesday, Borough President Antonio Reynososo pledged $20,000 in discretionary funds to repair the community center, which operates out of three conjoined houses at 677, 678, and 679 Lafayette Avenue. His donation added to the almost $53,000 raised through a GoFundMe campaign that was launched earlier this year, which aims to gather $350,000 in donations.

politicians rally outside Magnolia tree earth center

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso speaking at the rally

“We all need to do our part in defending the legacy of Hattie Carthan and safeguarding this center of environmental justice for decades to come,” Reynoso said. “So please tell Hattie’s story…and encourage everyone around you to do their part in ensuring that we don’t lose our history and lose our vision for this future.”

The three houses protect a more than 140-year-old magnolia tree, a rare species to find in New York City, and therefore the borough’s only living landmark. In 1977, the buildings were saved from demolition for that reason, and in large part thanks to one woman: Hattie Carthan.

Carthan brought the Magnolia Tree Earth Center to the row houses, a non-profit dedicated to environmental education, sustainability, and community building – especially for younger generations. Over the decades it has become a pillar of Black-led community work, organizing, and education in the gentrifying neighborhood.

hattie carthan info card

However, both 678 and 679 Lafayette Avenue are suffering from crumbling facades, and, after a dodgy contractor experience, the organization does not have the funds on hand to restore the buildings, its board director previously told Brownstoner. The two brownstones are covered in scaffolding and the buildings are racking up fines from the Department of Buildings. Permits issued in 2020 show the scope of work includes roof and facade work on all three houses, plus window and door updates to No. 679.

NYC Commissioner of Cultural Affairs and former City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, local Council Member Chi Ossé, and State Assembly Member Stefani Zinerman spoke at the rally about the importance of the center in the community, and urged everyone to support the fundraising efforts – either through donations or spreading the word.

“We have to save this organization,” Cumbo said. “It has been a critical part of Bedford Stuyvesant for so many years. We have to make sure that it extends beyond for our children and our children’s children. This is our legacy, and this is our history.”

[Photos by Anna Bradley-Smith]

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