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Carved 'Story Stone' to Reveal Rich History of Abandoned Crown Heights Road

 Michael Cetera, left, and artist Kenichi Hiratsuka inspect the boulder they hope to turn into a community art project celebrating the history of Clove Road in Crown Heights. At right, Hiratsuka's model of the "story stone" he hopes to create shows the pictogram-like design for the boulder.
Michael Cetera, left, and artist Kenichi Hiratsuka inspect the boulder they hope to turn into a community art project celebrating the history of Clove Road in Crown Heights. At right, Hiratsuka's model of the "story stone" he hopes to create shows the pictogram-like design for the boulder.
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Michael Cetera

CROWN HEIGHTS — Today, Clove Road in Crown Heights is an underused one-way street behind a grocery store parking lot, filled with empty shopping carts, litter and loose gravel.

But when Brooklyn was young, the street was a Native American “trail to Canarsie,” according to a local architect and community board member, Michael Cetera, who has studied the road’s history. Later, he said, it served as a key location in the Revolutionary War and became one of the first paved roads in the borough. In fact, cobblestones still cover a few yards of Clove Road, peeking out from under cracked asphalt.

“This road is packed with history,” he said. “It’s been abandoned for years.”

Cetera is working to commemorate Clove Road’s history with a large monument placed at the start of the two-block-long road at Montgomery Street. There, artist Kenichi Hiratsuka plans to carve the street’s story into a gigantic, 7-foot-tall boulder, inlaid with pictograms.

“He’s going to give us the story of that road from the beginning of time to now,” Cetera told Community Board 9 last week before the board approved the plan for the art project. “It’ll tell the story of the Native Americans, it will tell the story of the glaciers … it will show how the streams ran through the hill and made the streets.”

Hiratsuka is a Japan-born sculptor who first gained fame in the United States in the 1980s for illegally carving designs into sidewalks around the city, starting in Brooklyn, he said. But for decades, he’s worked on “story stones”  huge rocks carved in 25 countries that tell the history of a place in an uninterrupted, chiseled groove.

“Everything I do, I carve one continuous line that never cross each other. It’s almost like carving a tattoo on the stone,” he said.

He and Cetera met about a year ago through a mutual friend and immediately hit it off, brainstorming about how to bring a story stone to Clove Road, he said.

“I love to make public sculptures,” he said. “My first sidewalk was in Brooklyn and I thought, ‘Why don’t I get in touch with this great opportunity to carve the history of Brooklyn?’”

Hiratsuka already has his boulder picked out for the project, an onion-shaped stone from his favorite Massachusetts quarry that’s taller (and wider) than he is. He plans to create the story stone over the course of about three months on location at Clove Road.

“He’s going to carve the stone on the site, so that the children in the neighborhood can actually watch him doing it,” Cetera told the community board.

But the project has not gotten the green light quite yet. Cetera said the plan for the stone needs to be approved by the city’s Design Commission, something he hopes will happen before the end of the year. Then, the stone will be transported to Brooklyn, a process that will cost about $3,000, which Cetera said he will cover. There is no cost for Hiratsuka’s work, he said, who is working on the project pro-bono.

“He’s doing it out of his heart,” he said.