Civic leader Fran Vella-Marrone talks Dyker Heights past and present

There is arguably no one who knows Dyker Heights better than Fran Vella-Marrone. For over 35 years, she has been a leader in the Dyker Heights community and is the longest-serving president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association. She has also been a political activist, neighborhood advocate and is currently the chair of the Brooklyn Conservative Party.

Vella-Marrone took the time to talk with this newspaper about Dyker Heights past and present.

Home Reporter: Please tell me about the history of Dyker Heights as you know it. I believe it was a resort area at one time?

FVM: Dyker Heights was established in 1895 by a developer named Walter Johnson. It was established as an exclusive residential area. Because of the height of the land (150 feet above sea level), it had the best views of the New York harbor and became very popular with the wealthy and influential people in the New York area, even to the point of drawing people from Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights.

HR: How did it get its name?

FVM: Walter Johnson named the development Dyker Heights because it overlooked the Dyker Meadow and beach. The homes and plots were restricted in size. It had a clubhouse, a bowling alley, tennis courts, a dining room, etc.

HR: Who are some famous historical and cultural figures that have lived in Dyker Heights?

FVM: There are many famous individuals who have resided in Dyker Heights. For example, General Rene Edward De Russy, who oversaw the construction of Fort Hamilton Army Base was a resident of Dyker Heights. It was under his direction that the cornerstone for the fort was laid on June 11, 1825.

Because of its exclusivity, there are other important figures who resided in Dyker Heights. You can go on to the Dyker Heights Civic Association website for the complete history of Dyker Heights, which includes a film narrated by our association’s historian Dr. Christian Zaino. A present day celebrity that grew up in Dyker Heights is Rosanna Scotto.  

HR: Tell me about the Dyker Heights Civic Association that you chair.

When did it come into being? Do you have some background history about the organization and who it represents?

FVM: The Dyker Heights Civic Association was established in 1928 as a result of the increased development of Dyker Heights. Its first civic improvement was having a local dumping ground cleaned up during that same year. In the 1940s, the association was instrumental in having power cables placed underground along a stretch of Fort Hamilton Parkway. The association was ahead of its time. 

The association was instrumental in the building and opening of the Dyker Heights Library in 1972. It lobbied the city for decades and mobilized community support. Today, the Dyker Heights Civic Association continues to play an important role in the community including fighting illegal home conversions, working to make the Dyker lights enjoyable and safe for all, and highlighting the issues and concerns of Dyker Heights residents.

HR: Please tell me about the vibrant shopping areas and/or service-oriented businesses like dry cleaners, medical providers, insurance companies, etc. in Dyker Heights along 11th and 13th avenues.

FVM: The shopping areas along 11th and 13th avenues contain some great stores such as LaBella Marketplace, Sirico’s Caterers, a number of local pharmacies such as Pollina Pharmacy; Boulevard Books and Pinot’s Palette; bakeries such as Grandma’s and Tasty Pastry Shoppe; several medical providers such as Bay Ridge Imaging as well as a number of doctors of all types. Realtors, insurance companies, Torregrossa Funeral Home. There’s so much there!

HR: Dyker Heights is also known for being a family-centric community, correct?

FVM: Dyker Heights is definitely a family-centric community. It has great schools, parks and activities including sports leagues, martial arts programs and programs geared toward parents and children. It is basically a community of private homes with backyards and space for children to play. 

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