Chapter 3.4: Increasing Community Parameters



List of Tables, Maps, Illustrations, and Figures


1. Symbolism, Self and Urban Environment
    Residential Succession: How "Losers" Win
    Negro Pioneers and White Flight
    Relative Selectability among Minority Invaders
    Symbolic History and Self
    Symbolic History: Modern and Ancient Foundations

2. Self Selection and Urban Decay
    The Social Character of the Manor

3. Woodland to City Neighborhood: 300 Years of Change
    Indians, Geology and Transportation
    Protecting the Community: Covenant and Zoning
    Increasing Community Parameters

4. Invasion and Succession

    Irish and Italian Catholics
    Veterans: Undesirable Heroes
    Blacks and the Special Problems of Nonwhite Invaders
    Back to City Brownstones: A Confused Invasion
    The Invasion Mentality

5. Micrological Aspects of Urban Problems
    Involuntary Change: Aging and Death
    Attidues of Heirs
    Apartment Houses: The Big Change
    The Life of a Tenant and a Building
    Understanding Intricate Urban Problems

6. Stigma and Self-Image in the Inner City
    Achievement and Residentia Movement
    The Moral Careers of Inner-City Residents
    The Community Paradigm
    Implications and Applications


A new neighborhood group emerged on the local scene in 1969--The Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens Neighborhood Association Incorporated. It was formed by a small group of people with ideals and goals similar to those of the Lefferts Manor Association (in fact, most of the founders of the group were residents of the Manor),but it was an organization with contemporary design and more comprehensive interests. The original members strongly felt that racial integration of the community could be accomplished without destruction of the neighborhood, and in fact worked to publicize the "positive" aspects of integrated community life, an enormous challenge, given the climate of the times. The new organization claimed to represent a much larger collection of people, more varied interests, and a larger geographic area than the Lefferts Manor. The area it carved out for itself included the Lefferts Manor, much to the dismay of older, more conservative residents and the Manor Association as well. The Manor has never wished to involve itself with "outsiders". The new group took a more activist position in regard to neighborhood problems, and was better able to capture the interest of city newspapers in their coverage of local events and issues. The Manor continued to be highlighted as a special place, but now only as a part of a wider community entity.

Both the continuation of some of the ideals of the Lefferts Manor and the blurring of its distinct social and geographic boundaries can be seen in the following newspapers story about Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens:


"The quality of life has gone down in many parts of New York City", said Joseph Kolb, a brownstoner, "but here it has been maintained and in many ways improved. I don't think you will find another neighborhood like it--a stable, integrated area with architectural character."

The neighborhood, located on the fringe of Crown Heights, is referred to as Flatbush by most residents. But the name Prospect-Lefferts-Gardens, given it by the neighborhood association, is slowly catching on and has been adopted by the city. "It's near Prospect Park, it takes in the old Lefferts homestead and it's near the Botanic Gardens," explained Mrs. Sealy. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people live in one and two family homes and low rise apartment houses in the area.... It includes the Lefferts Manor section in which Mrs. Sealy lives--592 houses many of them brownstone or white limestone, restricted by the original deed and city law to one-family occupancy. With graceful old-fashioned gas lights in front of the houses, some streets bear a strong resemblance to London's Chelsea section. Lefferts Manor residents want the Landmarks Preservation Commission to declare the section a historic district.6

The third reason for the decline of publicly visible actions of the Lefferts Manor Association to defend the sanctity of the community via the courts is the result of local population changes. To say that the Association has maintained the same degree of past vigilance would be false. Concomitant with the influx of large numbers of nonwhite families in the 1960s, older and prominent white members of the Manor did relax their defenses, highlighting the racial aspects of community definitions and the social stigma of nonwhite groups. Also, the decade of the 1960s was framed by civil rights movements, during which "restrictive" covenants and "neighbor-hood preservation" groups were seen by liberal-minded publics and political authorities as immoral, if not illegal, racial barriers. The effect of this attitude on the courts was to eliminate both real and imagined racial discrimination. Subsequently many city neighborhoods, defended by social class hurdles, were quickly integrated, and the flight of the white middle class out of the city was accelerated. Liberal-minded Manorites, for example, found it unpalatable to defend their special community against non-elite, mainly black invaders. Black Manorites had even greater conflicts of conscience; defending the exclusiveness of the Manor was seen as a "racist" activity. So, for the most part blacks avoided the Association and did not openly support legal actions against violators of the covenant lest they appear to be "Uncle Toms".

Despite the decrease in visibility, the continuity of the goals of the Lefferts Manor Association is reflected here in two pieces of literature. The first, in 1938, lauded the decision of the City Planning Commission which ruled against apartment house construction in the Manor. In the decision, A.A. Berle Jr., Commission Chairman, stated: "There has been considerable feeling in the Commission that there should be some areas of the city in which individuals having the means can buy homes with some assurance that the development of the district would continue to be that of private, single-family dwellings".

To celebrate, the Association published a brochure, detailing the history of the Manor, and distributed it to all members. The following "Message from the President" captures the symbolic as well as the practical importance of the restrictive covenant:

The people of the Lefferts Manor live in a unique community. Here as if it were an island, is a tract of land covered with homes, surrounded but unaffected by the changing conditions to which other land occupied by trade, business and multiple dwellings is subject.... It is unusual to have a situation such as this in a great city like New York. This city, with its cosmopolitan population, its active industries, its commercial enterprises, is in a constant state of flux. Real estate values change with the changing uses of property--the moving of retail centers, and the inflow of other types of people. All owners of real property and all those who invest in mortgages, are affected by these changes must be aware of them. To occupy a home in an area stable in character and destined to remain so throughout the years is indeed a privilege.7

The brochure also included copies of the covenant and an outline of the general form of the courts' restraining orders in legal battles concerning violations of the restrictive covenant.

The second Lefferts Manor Association document, published in 1971 and distributed since then to new residents describes the goals of the organization and solicits membership in the organization, which had slowly decreased. The Association cited as its immediate aims: "preventing the commercial use of any Manor property, bringing people together for their mutual acquaintance and enjoyment, improving the general upkeep of the area, maintaining the one-family covenant and protecting members' investment in the community".

KEY CONCERNS Orderly and Safe Streets
Safe Traffic Conditions
Better Lighting
Proper Refuse Removal
Tree Conservation
Adequate Police Protection
KEY GOALS A distinctive and pleasurable atmosphere; safe living conditions; a stable community without regard to race, creed or color.8

In 1960 the Lefferts Manor area was zoned "one-family only" by the New York City Planning Commission. The designation was requested by the Lefferts Manor Association, as it was engaged then in constant litigation over the covenant. The zoning ordinance has added strength to the community's defense which at that time was beginning to waver. Since that time the Association has paid for the making of signs which loudly proclaim the zoning ordinance, and has had them hung from the street lamps in the Manor.

The Manor Association continues today to bring violators of the one-family, noncommercial covenant to court. However, blatant violations are not in evidence. The Association has since 1971 forced several commercial activities to cease in Manor homes and the simple threat of prosecution has eliminated some Abuses of the community territory. Violations come to light when property is sold, as the violation must be removed before title to the property can be transferred.

During the fifty-year history of the Lefferts Manor as a completed community, the Manor Association and community members in general have fought many battles against their "enemies". The defensive position of the Manor can be organized into four categories as follows:

  1. Because of the venerable history of the area, the ground upon which homes have been built is sacred. The residents, and the wider society, are morally bound to respect the symbolic value of the territory by not "desecrating" it through modification.
  2. Legal recognition through the courts, and other official sanction of the symbolic meaning of the territory, such as zoning and landmarks status, has been sought and obtained.
  3. The public argument that for the city as a whole to survive, it needs to retain and attract rich, powerful and prominent people. This can be done by providing them with protected enclaves.
  4. The conviction that discrimination in American society which is based on social class or economic situation is neither illegal nor immoral. The Lefferts Manor discriminates by class.

Similarly, the "enemies" of the exclusive character of the Manor have respectively four offensive arguments which they use to undermine the special nature of the community.

  1. The social class snobbishness of the Manor is contrary to the egalitarian values of American society.
  2. The restrictive covenant of the Lefferts Manor differentially affects various ethnic, racial and religious groups. Therefore, selection of Manorites results in de facto discrimination on these grounds.
  3. Individual rights to exploit property are more important, and constitutionally protected than are historical, communal values and privileges.
  4. The Lefferts Manor community is no longer the super-exclusive section that it once was. The area has changed over the years; therefore the legal and social rules protecting its special character are no longer valid.

All these defensive and offensive postures have been used since the Manor was established, in the courts, in public statements and in private arguments. More and more, however, the integrity of the Lefferts Manor is threatened by forces which cannot be thwarted by historical and communal values. Mortgage and insurance red-lining, the general economic decline of the city as a whole and the pervasiveness of the feeling that city living, per se, is undesirable are the issues that have at present the greatest impact on the future of the Manor and other stable inner city neighborhoods. Housing abandonment, property tax arrears, street crime, arson and frustration are a few of the manifestations of these problems which will be discussed in later chapters.

The following "Message from the President" of the Lefferts Manor Association in 1978 indicates both similarities and differences with the Presidential Message of 1938. The rapid changes which occurred in the 1970s have left their mark on the Association which now must reluctantly recognize that the well-being of this middle-class "island" depends more and more on the stability of surrounding, less affluent areas. The last paragraph of the message, however, emphasizes the classic Manorite independence.


Lefferts Manor is a very special neighborhood. It is special because it is a neighborhood which, in the midst of much change and turmoil in the borough, has held itself together by working together.

The beauty, charm, and stateliness which is Lefferts Manor today is no accident. It is the happy, planned result of neighbors working together and helping one another year after year in an intelligent and common-sense way.

We on the Board of the Lefferts Manor Association want to blend the successes and traditions of the past with the changes and challenges of the future. We recognize that Lefferts Manor must increasingly concern itself with the problems of adjoining areas, both commercial and residential. And that's what we are doing now, and with your help, hope to continue to do in the future....

Remember, all of our support comes from within the community and not from outside foundations or agencies. And that's very important. It means that you, our contributors and workers, are the only ones to whom we have to account in justifying our various projects for the community.

<< To Ch. 3.3 | To Ch. 4.1 >>

Notes to Chapter

6. Peter Frieberg, "A Fine Neighborhood in Prospect," New York Post, February 27, 1974.

7. Lefferts Manor Brochure (Brooklyn, NY: Lefferts Manor Association, 1938).

8. "Your Key to the Lefferts Manor Association" (Brooklyn: Lefferts Manor Association, n.d.).

<< To Ch. 3.3 | To Ch. 4-1 >>