Local residents and landmark activists testified for and against designation for a block-long, 19th-century residential enclave. On January 15, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the potential designation of the Harrison Street Historic District in Stapleton, Staten Island. The district primarily lies along Harrison Street, between Quinn and Brownell Streets, and also includes the corner of Brownell and Tompkins Streets.
The proposed district encompasses 43 one and two-family residential properties and the former First Presbyterian Church. The origin of the neighborhood dates to 1835 and the area’s development took place in the period between the 1840s and the early 1900s. The area’s frame and masonry structures display a variety of styles, including Greek Revival, Colonial Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, and Neo-Grec. The neighborhood’s origins lie in Stapleton’s era as a significant transportation and business hub and as one of the most populous towns on Staten Island.
The quiet neighborhood, partially located on a cul-de-sac, is also known as “The Nook.” Particularly architecturally distinguished buildings in the proposed district include the Dutch Colonial former First Presbyterian Church, now the Mount Sinai United Christian Church, at 2 Tompkins Street. Also located within the proposed district is the three-story Second Empire house, with Germanic elements, built for businessman and inventor Henry Warth in 1880, at 53 Harrison Street.
Over 20 people testified at the public hearing. Most neighborhood residents testified at the hearing in support of the designation. Homeowner Deborah Lampman expressed her belief that landmark designation would serve to revitalize the neighborhood as well as the larger Stapleton community. Property owner Edward Blomberg testified that it was important for future generations that the neighborhood “remains intact the way it is.” Another resident expressed concerns that lots would be subdivided and overbuilt if not protected by Landmarks.
Frampton Tolbert, of the Victorian Society New York, called the proposed district “a wonderful encyclopedia of Victorian-era design.” Barnett Shepherd, former director of the Staten Island Historical Society, noted that only one of the original buildings on the block had been destroyed. He also stated that the district was significant in that most of the buildings had been built by Staten Island architects for local residents, rather than by outside speculators. A representative of the Preservation League of Staten Island also spoke in support of designation. Simeon Bankoff, of the Historic Districts Council, also spoke in favor of designation. The Harrison Street Historic District is one of HDC’s “Six to Celebrate” preservation priorities for 2013. (See CityLand’s past coverage here).
Other speakers expressed trepidation or opposition to the potential designation. Richard Acevedo, a resident who works in construction, argued that landmarking would mean that “it’s going to cost a lot of money to do anything in our homes.” Another resident, Raymond Pose, said he had struggled with the issue, but ultimately determined that the financial burden would drive residents from the “blue collar neighborhood.” He said Harrison Street would lose “the diversity of people” that gave the community its character. Pose also stated that there should have been more outreach to the community and residents should have been polled one by one.
Commissioner Libby Ryan, who chaired the hearing, stated that the record would remain open for 30 days to allow others the opportunity to submit written testimony before closing the hearing.