We met with Kim Maier on a crisp morning for a cup of coffee from Cafe Martin, her favorite spot across the park that is home to one of three Historic House Trust buildings in Brooklyn — The Old Stone House. Built in 1933, it’s the reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House, which played an important role in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.
Kim, a Park Slope neighbor, serves as its executive director, and has seen the space change quite a bit over time. We asked her about what’s different, what they’re still working on, and what’s yet to come.
PSS: You’ve been with The Old Stone House for almost 10 years now — how has OSH, and the park around it, changed in that time?
Kim Maier: When I started, OSH was a small building in a very run down park. There was active drug trade on the corner of 4th Avenue and 3rd Street. The timing for getting the house on its feet was perfect — the neighborhood started to move westward, and 4th Ave development was just starting.
In 10 years we have seen the number of people who visit the OSH go from 1,500 people to 30,000 people a year.
What inspired you to get involved with OSH?
My daughter had started at MS 51, and I was co-president of the PTA when we got a call from the Old Stone House to talk about education programming for schools. My background is in public administration, and the rest is history.
Looking back on what you’ve accomplished here so far, what do you think has had the biggest impact on raising awareness of the historical significance of OSH?
It is a combination of things.
Renovation of the park surrounding the OSH was important in making the entire space more welcoming, and it pushed the boundaries of Park Slope west, and in many ways anchored the park as a central public space in Park Slope. It is amazing what $9.5 million can do. The park these days gets 450,000 visitors a year, and yet is still a small park without regular park staff maintaining the space.
It has taken 10 years to create the space that’s both open to public and tells the story of the house. How do we make it relevant in 609 square feet, make it accessible, yet equally interesting to both adults and children (we get over 6,000 schoolchildren visiting a year)? How do we make it a place that gets visited more than once? How do we make the house sustainable — we are part of the Historic House Trust like the Wycoff and Lefferts houses, not just the Parks Department. These are the questions we have to answer as we keep making choices.
One thing we’ve done is hold lots of events that appeal to a broad section of the community. We decided to focus on much more than the Battle of Brooklyn, by focusing on our Park Slope community. The Battle of Brooklyn today is a battle for a sense of place. We hold more than 100 events a year at the house, big summer events, music, fairs, summer camps, the weekly farmers market, an annual holiday market. History is something that is happening around us all the time, and OSH sits at the heart of the community, tying together Brooklyn’s past and contemporary culture — food, gardening, music.
We do hold lots of food events. Sarah Lohman, the food historian whose focus is on American food from the Revolutionary War through the 1950s, has had events at the OSH, and has included some recipes in her book, which is coming out next year. The gardens around OSH grow herbs and vegetables.
Bees enjoying a sunflower in the garden last summer
What have you got planned for the next few years that we should look forward to?
The Gallery is the big focus these days. It is a three-year, $300,000 project that we have just started and still need to raise money for.
We have a big dream to build another building between the basketball and handball courts. It could be home for a small theater, storage and office space for the OSH, and would also allow for capital improvements on the current building. There is so much need and so little space in our neighborhood for small arts organizations to perform and rehearse, for community groups to meet. We hope to be able to be the center for community, if not a full-fledged community center.
Other improvements to look forward to are getting permeable pavement for 4th Street by the park and turning it into a play street, more of a public plaza.
Do you still live in the neighborhood?
Yes, we’ve been calling the corner of 6th Avenue and 3rd street our home since 1991, though we moved to Park Slope in the ’80s. In the early years, we were very Prospect Park focused — there was nowhere but Cucina to go to for dinner, and the OSH park itself was rather unsavory.
I come from Massachusetts, and I have to say Park Slope is my favorite place. It is the best planned city, and has a sense of community that is ideal in way that you do not see in the small towns outside the city. It is the small town that does not exist, in the best sense.
Is there anything else you’d like neighbors to know about OSH?
We are a private not-for-profit organization, and the best thing you can do to help us is become a supporter of the Old Stone House. Become a member, volunteer to clean up playground, work in the garden — you’ll be giving back right here in the neighborhood.
Also, we are almost always open to community — physically and emotionally. We are very excited about a generous donation that will allow us to install a dutch door so we can be more visibly open to the park come this spring. So yes, do stop by, say hi, become a member, lend a helping hand.
There’s something for everyone, and together we can continue to provide really high quality programming right in our neighborhood.
To support the Old Stone House, you can make a donation online or by check, or you can visit the historic space, located on 3rd Street at 5th Avenue, on Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-4pm, or by appointment. And be sure to see what events are coming up soon!