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Historic tree and education center in Brooklyn cuts ribbon after restoration project

Ribbon cutting held Tuesday at Brooklyn landmark
Ribbon cutting held Tuesday at Brooklyn landmark 02:01

NEW YORK -- It's a legacy that began with what's considered a "miracle tree." A flowering magnolia in front of 677 Lafayette Ave. in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn is more than 100 years old, and usually grows in the South.

It's only able to survive New York winters because it is sheltered by the warmth of the adjacent brownstone and the heat from the boiler below, said Wayne Devonish, chairman of the board of directors at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center, created to preserve and celebrate the relic.

"It is the only living landmark in New York state. So all of the others have died off, and this one is still here," he said.

In 1973, a legendary local activist named Hattie Carthan fought to designate the tree and the three neighboring buildings as landmarks.

"It's important for us all to be a part of legacy building and passing the baton. If you don't have anybody to pass the baton with, the dream just drops," said The Rev. Dr. Valerie Oliver Durrah, a donor and advisor at the center.

Despite all odds, the center is celebrating its 50th anniversary having marked another milestone -- the restoration of its historic facade. In October, CBS New York reported on the effort to raise money to repair the buildings that have been used for generations to provide STEM and sustainability programming to the community.

"The roots haven't seen sunlight. The tree hasn't been viewed. The brownstone hasn't been viewed. I mean, everything is just breathing right now," Devonish said. "Hattie Carthan is looking down at us and saying, like, 'Finally, guys! Yeah, you're moving.'"

Tuesday was the first time in more than 10 years that the facade of the brownstone and the tree were unobstructed by the scaffolding that came down this week. Momentum for the fundraising efforts really took off early last year, and the center was able to raise $350,000 to make it all happen.

More than 700 people contributed, said Devonish, a testament to the center's earned reputation as a local treasure.

Taylor Shaw, a mural artist, was visiting from Mississippi and the tree was on his Brooklyn bucket list.

"I'm from the South. I love Magnolia. It's my favorite tree. My grandma had one in her backyard we used to climb," he explained as he stopped by to get a glimpse of the tree.

Leaders cut the ribbon on Tuesday, and went back to the work they've been doing for generations.

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