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The Long Road Back

Two apartment buildings rise in Park Slope: nothing unusual there. But in 1960, the site they occupy was anything but ordinary.

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Broker Peggy Aguayo, of Aguayo & Huebener, remembers the day in December 1960 when a DC-8 collided with a propeller plane and fell onto Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. “It was amazing and horrible,” she says about the crash, one of the worst in the nation’s history. One hundred thirty-five people were killed, including five on the ground. (The only surviving passenger was an 11-year-old, Stephen Baltz, who died days later at a local hospital and became a symbol for the community’s grief.) Aguayo was a little girl living on Sterling Street in Crown Heights; that day, confused, she wondered why her neighborhood seemed peaceful when the news said a calamity was unfolding there. Turned out it was taking place a mile or so away, at the corner of Sterling Place and Seventh Avenue. The wreckage slammed into and destroyed a church (incredibly, called Pillar of Fire), and about ten brownstones were set ablaze.

Two of those houses were eventually demolished, and—whether because the site troubled people or simply by circumstance—the sites remained undeveloped until now. On the northwest corner, until recently occupied by a one-story funeral home, is the Vermeil (pictured above right and inset), a long-in-the-making, 22-unit condominium composed mostly of large apartments—three- and four-bedrooms, some duplexes, with their own parking—that are likely to be snapped up by the area’s large family base. Across Sterling Place, a four-story building awaits final touches; the developers won’t discuss it, but rumor has it that the apartments will be rentals.

Construction in the Slope is constant these days, as families, many from Manhattan, settle in. “As more and more people come, there’s always going to be a need,” says broker Ellen Blau of local firm Warren Lewis. Jacob Pinson of Yachad, who’s developing the Vermeil, saw nothing complicated about the site, and took no special steps to note its past: “It’s a mature and vibrant community, and we just wanted to be a part of it,” he explains. But given their location, these projects are a little more closely watched than is usual. Aguayo notes that a corner associated with horror is coming back to life. Blau agrees, “It’s nice to see something new there.”


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