Updated 2007.11.03: Updated with more history from Erin’s comment. Added photos of the site I took last April.
This map highlights the future location of a new community garden to be created in Flatbush, in the neighborhood of Prospect Park South. The red border outlines part of the property, which also includes the smaller wedge of land to the east, next to the B/Q subway line. The underlying image is aerial photography from 2004. The gray shapes are the outlines of buildings. The gray box within the red border is a garage, which you can see in the photos below.
The total area is .8 acres, huge by city standards. You can see from the photo that the property is covered by trees. The property is vacant, but not abandoned. It’s owned by a resident of the area who wants it to benefit the community, as a community garden.
Susan Siegel, outgoing Executive Director of Flatbush Development Corporation, has been in communication with the owner of the property for some time. I first heard about this project in February of this year from Jan Rosenberg of Friends of Cortelyou and Brooklyn Hearth Realty. I attended a meeting of some interested community members. Things have been quiet until this week, when Susan let us know that the owner has given us the go-ahead.
The site has an interesting history. As my neighbor, Erin Joslyn, notes, this was originally the home of Dean Alvord, the developer of Prospect Park South, later purchased by Israel Matz:
One of the most impressive homes in Prospect Park South, was the enormous mansion purchased in 1920 by Israel Matz, founder of the Ex-Lax company. After years of neglect, it was consumed by fire in 1958.
– Forgotten Flatbush: When Flatbush was Greenwich, Victorian Flatbush, An Architectural history
The forest which lives on the site now is just 50 years old, grown since the building burned down in 1958. “Forgotten Flatbush” includes an old aerial photo of the area from 1908, a hundred years ago, which shows the old “Ex-Lax Mansion”, and the future location of the community garden. The trees for which the neighborhood is known are absent from the photo; they were just a few years old.
Here are some views of the site, taken last April.
This is the view south down the central drive into the site. The garage is on the right. There’s a lamp post on the left, with Daffodils blooming at its base. Not visible in this photo, the house foundation is to the right.
Most community gardens don’t start with a forest. This presents unique opportunities and challenges. The southern end of the property is already partially cleared and cultivated as gardens. For more residents to grow vegetables, more trees will need to be cleared.
I hope that the northern end, at least, can be kept forested. Many of the trees are likely “weed” trees, invasive species, which can and should be removed. There is already wildlife there, and this part of the property could be preserved as a wildlife and bird refuge and sanctuary. There could be wildflower walks and native plant gardens, cool ferny sanctuaries, shady refuges, and story circles.
The foundation of the old house is largely intact, now largely filled in by a half-century of leaf litter and plant growth. This could be cleared and restored. This could become an educational part of the site, evidence of its history. I have visions of developing it as a sunken garden, a grotto of native plants and ferns, which can fulfill other important educational purposes.
Now that the owner has given their go-ahead, there will be many community meetings and other events for those who want to participate and contribute. I’ll post these here on this blog and add them to the calendar in the sidebar.