Giant Elm With Contentious History Felled in Heights

Tree Was a Longtime Neighborhood Favorite

A majestic, beloved elm tree in Brooklyn Heights that building residents and neighbors had saved from the ax in 2007 was blown down in Hurricane Irene early Sunday morning. The elm, in the front garden courtyard of the Mansion House at 145 Hicks St., was one of the few healthy survivors of the Dutch elm disease that devastated most of these majestic trees in the past century. It was estimated to be 85 years old. Photo by Mary Frost

By Mary Frost

BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — An enormous, beloved elm tree in Brooklyn Heights that building residents and neighbors had saved from the ax in 2007 was blown down by Hurricane Irene early Sunday morning.
The elm, in the front garden courtyard of the Mansion House at 145 Hicks St., was one of the few healthy survivors of the Dutch elm disease that devastated most of these majestic trees in the past century. It was estimated to be 85 years old.

The tree’s 3- to 4-foot trunk knocked down the Mansion House’s front brick garden wall, while the top branches and canopy smashed through a cast iron fence in front of two wood-frame houses across the street at 146 and 148 Hicks St. A window was broken, several pieces of wood were knocked from the exterior, and another window was broken at 144 Hicks St. as well.

In 2007 the Mansion House co-op board of directors voted to remove the elm, which tightly hugged the corner of the building. They cited water leaks and root damage to an underground pipe carrying the building’s electrical supply line.

But a neighborhood uproar — some residents even threatened to chain themselves to the tree to prevent its destruction — resulted in a call for the co-op board to “review the numbers.”

Typical of sentiment at that time was this statement by Mansion House resident Brett Phillips, who told reporter Don Evans of the Brooklyn Eagle, “I feel passionately that we should keep the tree. The beauty of the tree and the courtyard was one reason I moved here.” To general relief, the elm was granted a reprieve.

Even though it was privately owned, “that tree had a public persona,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “It leaned out over the street and provided shade for the neighborhood. People are sentimental about elms, and the controversy that took place only added to its fan base and public interest.”

On Monday, workers from Terry Tree Service buzz-sawed the trunk and branches into pieces — leaving about 5 feet at the base — and trucked the tree away. It took the crew roughly six hours and several truckloads to complete the job. A worker at the scene told the Brooklyn Eagle, “We’ve done dozens of trees since yesterday, but this is the biggest one.”

Ralph Taccone, CEO of Terry Tree Service, told the Eagle that Terry Tree is a New York City vendor working for Lewis Tree (which conducts ongoing tree maintenance on trees such as trimming them near utility lines) under the direction of the city’s Parks Department.

“It’s too early to tell how many trees we’ve done already; we’re still waiting for the reports. But it’s easily dozens,” he said.

The removal of fallen public trees will be paid for with public funds, but Taccone said it’s not yet clear who will be paying for the removal of a private tree that falls onto a public street. “Every storm is different,” he said.

Other Fallen Heights Trees

In the backyard of a Sidney Place home (between Joralemon and State streets) a 70-foot elm with a three-foot circumference crashed into several buildings on Sidney Place, shattering windows Sunday afternoon well after the hurricane had passed.

Beside the elms, a large Linden tree blew down in front of 51 Joralemon St. at 5 p.m. Sunday, also several hours after the main force of the hurricane had passed. The tree fell on a late-model blue Toyota Corolla.

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Filed under Brooklyn Heights, Community News, Weather

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