It’s not often that Americans get to know the people associated with the landmarks named in their honor.
With buildings, highways and byways dedicated to the legacies of presidents, politicians, celebrities and achievers of magnanimous deeds, it was an eye-opening and truly joyous occasion when an entire Brooklyn community met direct descendants of the lawmakers responsible for penning legislation enabling their residency and affordable housing.
Nevertheless, on the last Saturday of the summer, Sept. 19, state and congressional legislators converged on Lindsay Park to herald 50 years of affordable housing in the borough and also co-name a thoroughfare in honor of its pioneers.
Mayor Bill DeBlasio sent Dan Abramson to represent his office and also bear witness to the 50th anniversary celebrations and the co-naming ceremony designating Mitchell-Lama Way.
Organized by a group called Shareholders for the Betterment of Lindsay Park, the occasion invited Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, City Councilman Antonio Reynoso and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to join investors who paid into a landmark housing model in 1965.
Located at Leonard Street between Boerum Street and Montrose Ave, the only public thoroughfare dedicated to the 1955 bi-partisan Mitchell-Lama legislation enabling middle-income New Yorkers to purchase cooperative units in high-rise buildings is now in the center of Lindsay Park.
The golden celebration hailed Lindsay Park, its seven towering 22-floor edifices, trailblazing board members and committee volunteers who throughout five decades succeeded in preserving its cooperative status as the most diverse Mitchell-Lama in the nation.
Chinese Dragon dancers, a marching band, vintage cars, step dancers, a history tent, Woodhull Hospital medical team, puppets, face painting, free massages, a myriad of entertainment for youngsters – a kiddy bounce house, video games, play vehicle etc – overshadowed the pall that this past summer for the first time marred the storied history of the development when the district attorney’s office hauled away files that could corroborate charges made by a number of shareholders that the standing board of directors may be corrupt.
“Many of us actually believed the development was named for one entity called Mitchell-Lama” Ronny Wasserman, a community activist said.
“No, it was two guys who crossed the aisle to agree on a bi-partisan concept of affordable housing for New Yorkers.”
The pair represented two politicians – Manhattan, Republicans State Senator McNeil Mitchell and Brooklyn, Democrat, Assemblyman Alfred Lama.
Together in 1955, they defied political differences to agree and sign what became the Mitchell-Lama law offering middle-income families an opportunity to invest in cooperative and rental apartments that allowed them to live an affordable lifestyle.
Now deceased, their off-springs, a son and grandson showed up for a ceremonious afternoon honoring their forward-thinking relatives.
Mitchell whose father died in 1996, made it to the event accompanied by his wife Laura, son Ian and a dog named Foxy Lady.
Alfred, a real estate appraiser, arrived solo.
He said his wife and son were unable to attend because they had committed to other obligations before being invited to the historic ceremony. However, the next generation Lama lavished praises on his progressive grandparent, an architect, and assemblyman who he said died when he was 24-years-old.
Nostalgically, he said he regretted ignoring details about his grandfather’s political pursuits. Lama reflected on his early years when his total focus was on music and the rock star he might have been. At that time, he said politics were not in the cards and he neglected to fully explore or acknowledge the strides his conscientious relative must have taken in order to execute a law which has been mimicked throughout the nation and even worldwide.
According to Wasserstrom who has lived in LP for more than four decades, it was a daunting task that paid off handily after he successfully united the pair.
He said in order to connect the families of the pioneering politicians he relentlessly researched the internet with clues to a worldwide search.
Wasserstrom said he wanted his neighbors to celebrate the milestone achievement with pride and knowledge of how and why they now live in the most diverse housing complex in the entire United States.
“Without this Mitchell-Lama program our buildings probably would not have been named the most diverse apartment buildings in the nation,” Wasserstrom explained.
At the newly designated landmark, both men were presented declarations of Mitchell-Lama Day with proclamations from the City Council.
LP shareholders also handed them baskets of cheer and a wealth of gratitude.
Because of its alluring price tag, police officers, postal employees, teachers, firefighters, MTA workers, nurses, and other civil servants were attracted to buy into the development five decades ago.
At that time the 44-acre development boasted three swimming pools, solariums, below-market parking, terraces, a professional building, two accessible supermarkets, a nearby shopping district and affordable monthly maintenance fees.
Councilmember Reynosa who seems familiar with issues surrounding the solvency of LP challenged the celebrants to “preserve the vision” of Mitchell and Lama.
He urged empowerment of all shareholders.
“It takes a village,” the congresswomen reminded the joyous crowd.
Along with that African proverb she also warned against “obstructionists” and developers who exploit community interests when capitalizing on rezoning agreements.
“We have failed if this co-naming is just history and nostalgia,” Wasserstrom added, “This sign needs to be a sign not of things that were, hope faded but of things to come, hope renewed.”
Shareholders of Lindsay Park Housing Development in Williamsburg can now make the claim that after 50 years, they now fully understand the dynamics that enabled their Mitchell-Lama housing complex — acclaimed to be a jewel in Williamsburg and the crowning glory on Brooklyn.