Broad and Washington, Neighborhood Unity Discussed in Hawthorne

The neighborhood of Hawthorne is changing, and a recent meeting gave us a glimpse into how the community feels about it.

Northwest lot of Broad and Washington | Image via Google Street View

Northeast lot of Broad and Washington | Image via Google Street View

Entering the Hawthorne Cultural Center at 12th and Carpenter on Tuesday night made the newly arrived autumn coolness feel good, as opposed to a dread-ridden prelude to my least favorite season.

The entrance hall, laden in artwork and faux fall leaves, was occupied by chatting adults and ridiculously adorable children laughing and screaming and running around until being ordered to sit tight. I waited for 7:00. Word on the street was the monthly Hawthorne Empowerment Coalition (HEC) general meeting would be announcing an update on the dual-tower, mixed-use development proposed by Bart Blatstein for the northeast corner of Broad and Washington.

As it turned out, this was not the case, but it did provide some interesting insight into how the residents feel about the changes within their community.

Upon being allowed into the meeting room (Maria, the HEC board’s Sergeant-at-Arms asked to get me in, bless her heart), attendees were told there had been a misunderstanding, with several online publications reporting an unspecific Broad and Washington update was on the agenda. (Whoops.)

Really, the “update” was to say HEC had received an email of apology from the office of Councilman Kenyatta Johnson because one of its representatives had presented a manner deemed discourteous by neighbors at a previous neighborhood meeting. The rep had been there to discuss a bill that would affect the 4.5-acre vacant lot Blatstein owns and wants to develop.

“We want to be treated with respect,” said one member recalling the rep’s behavior. “Can we request a new representative?” asked one, with another adding, “A new liaison makes sense.”

Ultimately, the frustration came down to being heard with regards to the steps shaping the project. “[We] want to be part of the process since the beginning” … “so that it doesn’t make further progress as it is now.” HEC Recording Secretary Albert Hicks and President-elect Brian Kisielewski reiterated the latter sentiment at the end of the meeting, saying HEC does not support the the current plan as it is now. Concerns include the project’s height, proposed curb cuts, and garage entrances along 13th Street.

With regards not only to Blatstein’s plan, but other changes happening on and around Washington Avenue, a less vocal resident identifying himself only as Kenny said “I’m for development, but not if it’s going to kill the little guy.”

But while the Broad and Washington update took but a few moments of the meeting’s start, the rest was relegated to discussing the group’s bylaws and whether or not to have then HEC President Tim Hitchens step down from his role, as he no longer lives in Hawthorne, the borders of which are Broad Street to 11th Street, South Street to Washington Avenue. (Hitchens, who’s been an active member of the community for six years, board member for two years, and president of HEC for the last few months, ultimately stepped down.) Perhaps not so strangely, that dialogue seemed like it was headed for G-word territory.

What had started out as community members taking turns to speak out about the appropriateness (or lack there of) of a board member living outside the community they serve, turned into speakers beginning to preface their statements with how long their families have been living in Hawthorne (“my family has been here since 1930,” “we moved here in 1952”) and the hard work they’ve put into improving it without changing its individuality, as now appears to be on the verge of happening.

“I’m hearing a lot of us versus them rhetoric,” voiced one eleven-year resident who’d been listening to members say their piece about new people moving in. “I appreciate the older residents who fought to make the neighborhood better … but we’re [all] here now and we need to be united,” he said.

Following this defense and call for unity, a long-time Hawthorne member clarified it was not a question of race, saying: “This was never a black neighborhood; this was never a white neighborhood. This was always a family neighborhood.” The reassurance was lovely and undoubtedly genuine, as was another one of her timely maxims regarding further potential shifts in the neighborhood that could happen if the group’s board doesn’t stick to being Hawthorne-based and -invested: “Ain’t none of us are going to be here unless you’re a millionaire.”