Atlantic Ave. honors green pioneers - Local beautification efforts have deep roots

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A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but along Atlantic Avenue hundreds of them grow -- along with a few cornstalks.

And last week Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association (AABA) members presented a plaque in memory of the late Carolyn Cranston Spieler, who was largely responsible for many of the trees planted.

Spieler was a founding member of Turn Atlantic Green (TAG), the group that lobbied, raised money and planted many of the trees along the thoroughfare between Flatbush Avenue and Furman Street.

“It was a crossroad of dealings when we first moved to Boerum Hill in 1968,” recalled Joe Spieler of the days when he and his wife first moved to the area.

Spieler said in those days there were only three trees along the Atlantic Avenue corridor between Flatbush Avenue.

There was a pretty good furrier by the name of Meschel who had three mature ginkgo trees in front of his shop on Atlantic Avenue, said Spieler, while the rest of the thoroughfare was bare of any greenery.

Spieler said that is when his wife, along with a few other residents, began TAG and the crusade to raise money to buy and plant trees.

AABA President Sandy Balboza and members Nancy Cogen and Nat Hendricks recalled how TAG beat the bushes, holding fundraisers in several neighborhoods including Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope to raise money for the endeavor.

Eventually, the group raised $11,000 and former Mayor John Lindsay matched the money allowing for the planting of hundreds of trees along the corridor.

In 1982, the Spielers’ moved to London, England for work and when they returned in 1995, Carolyn found that many of the trees that had been planted had died.

“Carolyn, through sheer force, again began raising money for trees,” said Joe Spieler, recalling how his wife began caring for the old tree pits.

Balboza and ABBA became involved, and TAG garnered the interest of former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, who donated some trees from the parks Department.

Today the avenue sports hundreds of healthy green trees, and thus a plaque was presented in memory Carolyn Spieler, who died two years ago.

The plaque will be cemented in place in a tree pit around Christmas when the Spielers’ children and grandchildren come into town.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Ewers, who owns the Brawta Caribbean Café at 347 Atlantic Avenue and the corner of Hoyt Street, cares for the tree which will have the plaque in Spieler's honor.

Ewers, originally from the island of Jamaica, has something of a green thumb. As such, she has done a tremendous amount of planting on that corner.

This includes flowers, herbs and spices in front of her shop, along with a few stalks of corn in the tree pit where the plaque will go.

“Carolyn would have loved the corn as she was originally from Oklahoma,” said Cogen, who owns The Melting Pot, 492 Atlantic Avenue. “It’s a fitting tribute.”

Updated 3:44 pm, October 19, 2011
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