David Mark Greaves
I grew up on the same block as the Dean Sage Mansion. I never knew the name, we only thought of it as the house where the nuns lived. My mother told me how she enjoyed watching them in their habits, walking in a line up Brooklyn Avenue to St. Gregory’s School and Church on St. John’s Place. The surrounding fence and ledge were part of the play world of the kids on the block, among them Clarence, Nathan, Ricky, Junior and myself.
Back then, on the more well-to-do side of the block, there were elegant homes with elaborate woodwork that were torn down and replaced by an elementary school. Opposite the mansion was one of the two Victorian buildings that housed the original Brooklyn Children’s Museum. The curator, Mr. Oakes White, would show us the exhibits and animals and let us use the museum as our water stop, allowing us to quietly come and go as we pleased. That’s also gone and replaced by a large structure that’s modern and energy-efficient.
The proposal for 839 St. Marks Ave. not only leaves the mansion intact, it exposes a back end unseen since the 30’s, and uses the former nun’s residence and garden to provide independent living for adults with mental illness and for low-income adults and families. I remember looking through the fence and watching the nuns walking through the garden and I cannot believe they would object to the space being used to provide increased space for the least fortunate in society as opposed to giving comfort to the comfortable. I think it is a fitting use of the property and the families should be given free passes to the museum and not just during the current free time on Thursdays, 2-6.