CLINTON HILL – The New York City Council voted last week to co-name the corner of Dekalb Avenue and Ryerson Street in honor of iconic poet and former Brooklyn resident, Walt Whitman.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, where Whitman once worked as an editor, first reported the news, noting that the soon-to-be renamed Walt Whitman Way is approximately three blocks away from 99 Ryerson Street, the house where Whitman wrote his renowned collection of poems, Leaves of Grass.
May 31st marked the bicentennial of Whitman’s birth, with several events taking place across Brooklyn commemorating the poet’s life and legacy.
In October 2017, local activist Brad Vogel formally requested that the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) evaluate 99 Ryerson Street for landmark designation. After LPC denied the request, he co-founded the Walt Whitman Initiative to call on LPC to reconsider its decision.
The LPC determined that the property did not qualify for landmark designation since the poet only lived there for a short period of time and the structure has been significantly altered over the years, including “the addition of a floor and modern siding,” according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Whitman lived in Brooklyn for 28 years, residing at 99 Ryerson for a few months in 1855, according to the Walt Whitman Initiative.
“Whitman lived at a number of addresses in Brooklyn across his decades here in the city, but this is the only one in New York City that still stands,” Jay Shockley, of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project and a co-founder of the Walt Whitman Initiative, said in late 2017. “The city needs more landmarks like this one to help narrate the histories of LGBT Americans—and it needs to consider cultural landmarks seriously rather than aesthetic landmarks alone.”
Vogel started a change.org petition seeking support in landmarking 99 Ryerson. “We are seeking official city landmark designation from New York City to protect the building from demolition, especially because development is encroaching on the neighborhood,” the petition reads.
“While the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission initially rejected our request, the Commission is currently reviewing additional information and research that we provided on the significance of the site and Walt Whitman’s association with the site,” it continues.
The petition has collected more than 5,700 signatures. Vogel and the Walt Whitman Initiative also approached Council Member Laurie Cumbo with the idea of Walt Whitman Way. Cumbo, whose District 35 includes Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, sponsored the street co-naming.
Walt Whitman Way was part of a bill passed last week by the City Council requesting the renaming of 86 thoroughfares and public places across the city. Another street co-naming slated for Brooklyn includes renaming 7th Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues) in Park Slope “Joe and Flo Leopoldi Way,” Patch reports. The couple opened the family-owned-and-operated Leopoldi Hardware at 415 5th Avenue in 1966 and were beloved members of the community for decades. Joe died in 1989 and Florence passed away in December 2018.