Bed-Stuy locals block naming a bar after historic Weeksville

November 16, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Caption: The still-under-construction Hotel RL Bedford-Stuyvesant at 1080 Broadway. After strong local opposition, the hotel's bar will not be named after the Weeksville historic district.  Eagle photo by James Harney
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A bar by any other name but Weeksville would suit many Bedford-Stuyvesant residents just fine.

That became crystal clear when representatives of a new hotel coming to the neighborhood early next year told a recent Community Board 3 meeting about plans to name the hotel’s bar “Weeksville” after the nearby site of one of the first free black communities in the U.S.

In 1838, just 11 years after slavery was abolished in New York, a free black man named James Weeks acquired a large plot of land in what is now Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood and sold lots on it to other blacks, who named the newly-formed community Weeksville.

As it grew, Weeksville became a thriving, largely self-sufficient enclave of free blacks. By 1850, it had become the second largest community of free blacks in the pre-Civil War U.S. and spawned The Freedman’s Torchlight, one of the country’s first African-American newspapers.

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By 1900, Weeksville was home to more than 500 families — including numerous doctors, ministers, teachers and other professionals — and had its own churches, schools, an orphanage, a home for the elderly and several black-owned businesses. It existed as a separate community into the 1930s, after which the growth of Brooklyn surrounded and all but engulfed it, replacing original neighborhood structures with newer ones.

In 1968, James Hurley, a subway engineer, and Joseph Haynes, a pilot, rediscovered and saved four original wooden Weeksville cottages. Now known as the Hunterfly Road Houses, they were landmarked in 1971 and are the centerpiece of the Weeksville Heritage Center, a museum site that has been open to the public since 2005. 

Earlier this month, the reps of Hotel RL Bedford-Stuyvesant, slated to open at 1080 Broadway in February, went before Community Board 3 to enlist support for their application to the State Liquor Authority for a liquor license for the hotel’s bar.

According to a DNAinfo report, hotel general manager Michael Melendez explained at the Board 3 meeting that the inn’s management was considering naming the pub Weeksville because the original settlers of the historic community “came in … grew as a community. They provided to their own community, took care of themselves and … to Hotel RL that’s important.”

But many in the audience took the suggestion as an affront to the Weeksville legacy, reportedly calling it “disrespectful,” and demanding that the idea be dropped and that the community be surveyed about what the bar should be named.

“People were not happy with the choice of that name; they felt it did not reflect what Weeksville stood for,” Board 3 Chairperson Tremaine Wright told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Wright added that other residents who spoke out at the meeting expressed concerns that placing the name “Weeksville” on a bar might cause confusion for visitors to the neighborhood who, inquiring about the historic site, could be mistakenly directed to the bar instead.

“It would be the same as if someone proposed opening a bar at the corner of 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and naming it MoMA,” Wright said. “I don’t think anyone would want that.”

Board 3 ultimately voted 18 to 12, with three abstentions, not to recommend that the SLA issue a liquor license to Hotel RL Bedford-Stuyvesant’s bar, although Wright noted that the final decision rests with the Liquor Authority.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Spokane, Washington-based Red Lion Hotel Corporation, Hotel RL’s parent company, confirmed to the Eagle that “the [Bedford-Stuyvesant] restaurant and lounge does not have any name, just the Hotel RL bar and restaurant. This is consistent with all the bars and restaurants at Hotel RL properties nationwide.”


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