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Magnolia Tree Earth Center starts much-needed repairs after decade-long preservation effort

Magnolia Tree Earth Center starts much-needed repairs
Magnolia Tree Earth Center starts much-needed repairs 02:27

NEW YORK -  Walking past a property covered in scaffolding on Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, you may never know you are looking at something special. 

"The Magnolia Tree is the only living landmark in the state of New York," says Wayne Devilish, chairman of the board of directors at the Magnolia Tree Earth Center.

A 150-year-old tree that usually grows in the South was the inspiration behind the center that carries its name. It's a nonprofit incorporated in 1973 by local environmental activist Hattie Carthan. 

"She saw that they were going to cut it down as well as cut down these three buildings. So she wasn't having it," Devonish explains. "She had them landmarked. She found the money to renovate the buildings and she's given us an amazing inheritance."

For five decades, the center has worked to foster awareness of the natural sciences, with free programs centered around STEM and sustainability. Yet, the nonprofit has faced its own share of challenges, with its three landmarked buildings around the tree falling into disrepair. 

"There's an old scripture in the Bible that talks about dry bones. Well, this place is existed in a dry bottle state too long, long enough, and they're now coming back to life," says Reverend Dr. Valerie Oliver Durrah, who has been involved with the center for decades. 

For years, activists worked to raise money for much-needed work. Finally, the center's leaders say the community came together to make it happen, so far raising more than $300,000. 

The historic exteriors have been obscured by a sidewalk shed for more than ten years, but with this new development, the center's leaders say construction should be done before December.

Now, workers labor on the brownstone facades, all made possible through Go Fund Me donations and support from local officials, including Brooklyn Borough Pres. Antonio Reynoso, whose office provided $20,000. 

"As soon as I got the call, I knew one that I would be helpful, but that I'm just one person in a long line of people that have already done their part to make sure that it's stable, that it's up and running, and that the center will stay alive," Reynoso says. 

Leaders say the final price of a complete renovation can cost in the millions. But with this optimistic turn, they're set to celebrate its 50th anniversary by the end of the year. 

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