Fillmore Place Update

I’m reposting from Manhattan User’s Guide, who linked my video in their post about Fillmore Place.  Thanks to whoever chose to include it!

I do think The Times story mentioned below is an interesting example of how Williamsburg has been cast throughout the years. I wonder, for example, Where were the street cleaners at that time? And why are the residents cleaning the street seen as a futile effort to address the shortcomings of their neighbors, rather than an attempt by citizens to do a job that is normally performed through the city infrastructure?  Of course, the story is never black or white, but is at least more gray.

This weekend, two more of my dwindling groups of friends who live in a ten-minute radius are moving because their rent skyrocketed when their lease ended.  While historical designation is part of a larger effort to preserve livable neighborhoods in Brooklyn, I really hope to see some momentum in the larger movement to promote equity and ecomic diversity in places like Williamsburg, so that these beautiful neighborhoods are a resource for all city residents.

Fillmore Place 
Fillmore Place is having its moment, again.

The one-block street is now under consideration to receive Historict District status from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, thanks to the efforts of the Municipal Art Society and the Waterfront Preservation Alliance of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. It would be Billburg’s first residential historic district.

The street came into being during an earlier Williamsburg boom, when Alfred Clock and Ephraim Miller began construction of the two dozen or so three-story, brick row houses in the 1850s. Twenty-one survive.

It was another Miller, though—Henry Miller—who gave Fillmore Place its modest fame. Miller grew up in a house at the corner of Fillmore and Driggs, and in Tropic of Capricorn, he described Fillmore Place as “the most enchanting street I have ever seen in all my life.”

By the 1970s, much had changed in the feel of the street. The Times reported on those changes in a 1972 article called A Community Where Family Togetherness Is a Thing of the Past. It detailed the seemingly futile efforts of the residents to maintain the area, noting “Every week, Mrs. Hasiak, who is a paraprofessional at P. S. 19, and a neighbor sweep Fillmore Place and spray its gutters with Lysol.”

It’s a different story today. No one, as far we know, sprays the gutters any more, but Fillmore Place once again has a very Brooklyn, very appealing vibe. The concerns aren’t a flight to the suburbs, but rather, insensitive development of the borough. Sarah Nelson Wright captures life in this small corner of the world beautifully in her four-and-a-half minute mini-documentary, which you can watch here.

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1 Comment

  1. Sarah: It is a delight for me to have discovered your video on Fillmore Place. My mother grew up in #18, raised from the age of 2 years by her great aunt and uncle. Her uncle, William J. Dailey, owned a fish market around the corner on Grand Avenue. He also owned several of the houses on Fillmore Place other than #18. Sisters from Barbados, named Alleyne, lived in #16 for years as tenants of Uncle Dailey. Dailey also kept his black gelding, Blackie, in a stable at the end of the street, on the opposite side from #18. The last time I visited, about five years back, you could see that the present structure there is a converted stable. The horse pulled Dailey’s wagon to and from the Fulton Fish Market every morning except Sunday. On Friday nights, Dailey had 12 men opening oysters and clams at the “raw bar” in his store, trying to keep pace with the working men who gathered there to celebrate the end of the week. They brougt their “growlers” with them — tin cans filled with beer from the bar next door. The houses on Fillmore Place were called “parlor floor and basement” in those days, and my Mom lived at #18 very comfortably until she married at age 26. There were always at least two maids, and sometimes three. When Bill Dailey died in 1928 he left $150,000 to a variety of Catholic charities that Aunt Dailey (nee Mary Shelley), who pre-deceased him, had been fond of. The individual gifts were kept small — #10,000 or less — so that there would be little public notice of the overall size of his gift. That was a lot of money in 1928. He left my mother #5000, which she used to pay off the mortgage on the house I grew up in, in Queens Village. I have a million stories about Fillmore Place, a unique spot, and about Grand and Driggs Avenues. I am so pleased that you have celebrated this little street. All good wishes, Larry O’Brien
    PS: My son Thomas is a solo video producer/director. If you ever need help on Brooklyn projects, he would love that. L.

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