Former residents plan ‘old project’ celebration

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 30, 2009

Before 1952, housing on the east side of Brookhaven waspoor.

Then came Carver Heights.

For 57 years, the “old project” around Alexander Junior HighSchool has provided comfortable housing for many and has served asa cornerstone of the black community. Now old and worn, the housingproject has been scheduled for demolition, and its former residentsare throwing a party Saturday to say goodbye.

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“It was needed, needed, needed,” said Maseree Smith Lewis, 83,who moved into Carver Heights shortly after it opened and is one ofits few remaining original residents. “Where I was living hadoutside restrooms and all that stuff, but when we moved up there,it was so comfortable. I just thought it was wonderful.”

All of Brookhaven, black and white, has been invited to theCarver Heights Old Project Celebration and Fellowship, which beginsSaturday at 11 a.m. The daylong party will feature food andrefreshments, music, a black community history slideshow andrecognition of original Carver Heights residents.

The history slideshow will be available on DVD for $5, andcelebration T-shirts will be sold for $10. Proceeds from the eventwill go to the establishment of a scholarship, starting in May2011, for any student whose parents or grandparents lived in CarverHeights.

“It provided homes when we didn’t have one,” said Helen EleyIrvin, one of the Carver Heights Celebration Committee organizersand resident of the project from 1962-1969. “It provided a goodplace to live, and when we lived there, it was like family. We werelike family and friends … friendships that have continuedthroughout our lives.”

The “old project” was so named when the “new project” -Cloverdale – was built.

But in 1952, Carver Heights was modern and much needed. Beforeit was built, Irvin said many on the black side of town lived insubstandard housing.

Irvin said planning for the low-income project began in 1949,and the final city inspection was completed on April 27, 1952. Thefirst occupants moved in on Dec. 1 that same year. Two weeks later,25 residents had moved in.

Maxine Jones lived in Carver Heights block B-1, Apt. 2, when shewas a child during the 1960s. She said almost everyone in the blackcommunity either lived at Carver Heights or played on the project’splayground after school at some point in their lives.

“I can still remember everybody who stayed on that front row. Itwas fun times,” Jones said. “There was a closeness. Everybody tookcare of everybody, everybody looked after everybody and it was afamily within a family. (Carver Heights) was just a part of who weare.”

Carver Heights is an important part of the black community’shistory in Brookhaven, but now it’s time to move on.

Brookhaven Housing Authority Director Mike Proffitt said heexpects approval for demolition to come down any day from the U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Special ApplicationCenter in Chicago. Once permission is granted, the city willadvertise for bids to tear the dated project down.

Proffitt said Carver Heights has a number of structural anddesign problems that make new construction more cost effective thanrepair.

“It would take a pile of money to bring them up to today’sstandards,” he said.

After Carver Heights is laid to rest, Proffitt said a new,60-unit subdivision style project would be erected on the site.