Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.
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[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
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Oral history interview conducted by Wendell Rice
February 09, 2008
Call number: 2008.030.21
Oral History Interview with Thomas Keller
The New York-area real estate developer Thomas B. Keller, born in 1931 in Toledo, Ohio, left home at age fourteen to join the United States Army. Upon release from the Army in 1948, Keller moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he began working for the city government on a home improvement project. Hired by Restoration in 1967, the year of its incorporation, Keller quickly advanced to hold the vice presidency of Restoration's for-profit subsidiary corporation, and assumed responsibility for the construction of Restoration's 300,000-square-foot corporate headquarters -- which comprised the Restoration offices along with a Pathmark Supermarket, the Billie Holiday Theatre, and 800 units of affordable housing. In his fifty-year career, Keller gained prominence as a respected general contractor, construction manager, and real estate development consultant notable for breaking racial barriers in the New York City construction industry. After leaving Restoration, Keller founded the Brisa Builders Corporation. He died in 2015.
In this interview, Thomas Keller speaks with his colleague and friend, Wendell Rice. Keller recounts his early start with Restoration, which he joined in the year of its incorporation. Keller describes the thirty-year evolution of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, which was heavily influenced by Restoration's social, cultural, and economic interventions. Keller lists people he considers indispensable leaders in the founding and direction of Restoration and the Bedford-Stuyvesant community as a whole. At the interview's end, Keller envisions his hopes for the neighborhood's future, including increased home ownership, well-worn pathways to higher education -- including college and vocational training -- and support for young entrepreneurs. Interview conducted by Wendell Rice.
Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS) and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration) partnered on the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation oral history project in 2007-2008 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Restoration's founding as the first community development corporation (CDC) in the United States. Nearly sixty interviews were conducted with founding Board members, supporters, activists, artists, tenants, and other community members. Audio clips from these oral history interviews were included in the exhibit "Reflections on Community Development: Stories from Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation" (BHS 2008, Restoration 2009).
CitationKeller, Thomas, Oral history interview conducted by Wendell Rice, February 09, 2008, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation oral histories, 2008.030.21; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. Center for Art and Culture
- Billie Holiday Theatre
- Keller, Thomas
- Thomas, Franklin A.
- Community development corporations
- Economic development
- Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidBedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation oral histories