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Bedford Union Armory Renamed to Honor Brooklyn Activist and Politician Major Owens

Owens was instrumental in turning the union armory into a gathering and recreation space for the Crown Heights community
Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center. Photo: Google Maps.

Crown Heights' Bedford Union Armory will now be known as the Major R. Owens Health and Wellness Community Center, in a move that honors longstanding Brooklyn Congressmember Major Owens.

Owens served central Brooklyn in the House of Representatives for 24 years, leaving the post in 2007 to pave the way for current U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, Brooklyn Paper reports.

Congressmember Major Owens. Photo: Wikipedia.

Owens began his career as an activist for racial and social justice, and in the 1960s he worked as a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library. He entered politics in 1974 when he won the State Senate seat for the 17th District and he held the seat until he moved to national politics, succeeding Shirley Chisholm in the House of Representatives in 1982.

Owens championed the Americans with Disabilities Act and garnered national attention for his poetic personal style of politics.

After his retirement from politics, he advocated for the transformation of the Bedford Union Army into a community recreation space for Crown Heights. In 2017, four years after Owens death, the City Council approved the plan, converting the military space into a center for recreation and community use — although the plan was not without its critics. As part of the plan, some of the armory land will be converted into housing units by private developers, which caused major pushback in the community.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the City was proud to honor Major Owens' legacy with the renaming of the facility, saying Owens left Brooklyn better than he found it.

"Generations of New Yorkers will learn, grow, and play at this community center, and they will have a role model of strength and fairness as they do."

Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who voted in favor of the building's conversion, said the renaming was a symbol of the neighborhood's vibrant history, and the center would realize Owens' vision.

"The Major R. Owens Health and Community Wellness Center is a true symbol of the culture and legacy of this historic neighborhood," she said. "We fought unwaveringly to ensure that this community space would reflect the beauty and history of Crown Heights, and I am proud to be standing here seeing that Major Owens' vision is being brought to light."