Bed-Stuy/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District Designated, Capping Decades-Long Process

Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District. Image Credit: LPC.

Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District. Image Credit: LPC.

Landmarks staff recommended removal of two properties from the district, but Commission voted to designate the district as proposed. On April 16, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District in Brooklyn. The district is generally bounded by Halsey and Macon Streets to the north, Fulton Street to the South, Malcolm X Boulevard to the east, and Tompkins Avenue to the west. The new district surrounds the 1971-designated Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, and is comprised of approximately 825 buildings.

The residential area was developed primarily within the period between 1880 and 1920, though some mid-19th-century wood-frame houses still stand in the district.  The area is largely characterized by speculatively built rowhouses, in the Queen Anne, neo-Grec, Romanesque Revival and Renaissance Revival styles. The 1890s also saw the construction of several four- and five-story apartment buildings known as “French flats.” Significant institutional buildings in the district include the Bethany Baptist Church and the former Sumner Avenue Baptist Church.

The community was initially populated by people of New England origins, as well as German and Irish immigrants. By the First World War, African Americans had become a significant demographic in the neighborhood, drawn by the high-quality housing and lack of discriminatory purchasing policies. In the 1920s and 1930s the area grew in importance as a focal point of Black cultural life in the City, and served as a residential alternative to Harlem.

Landmarks initially considered the proposed district in the early 1990s and held a hearing in 1993. At the August 2, 2011 hearing, wide support for designation was voiced by elected officials, preservation groups, and community residents.

Before the vote, Landmarks Research Department director Mary Beth Betts stated that the department recommended the removal of two lots from the designation as proposed. The two lots consist of a one-story no-style commercial structure and a vacant lot, both on the periphery of the district near the intersection of Malcolm X Boulevard and Chauncey Street. Chair Robert B. Tierney called the amendment to the district’s boundaries a “sensible, tiny tweaking.” Landmarks Counsel Mark Silberman stated that the excisions would be “consistent with past practice,” but the omissions faced objection from some Commissioners. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea was concerned about maintaining “cohesive boundaries,” and ensuring that any future development at the sites was appropriate to the district. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter agreed with the staff recommendations, and argued that Landmarks’ oversight should be “limited to contributing buildings.”

Commissioners were united in their appreciation for the district’s architectural, cultural, and historic merit, and voted unanimously for designation. Commissioner Joan Gerner praised the “wealth of architectural styles” in the “gorgeous” area, while Commissioner Perlmutter said it was “obvious” that the Stuyvesant Heights district should be expanded to include the proposed buildings. Commissioner Michael Goldblum stated that the “vehemence and strength and unity and intensity” of the community response supporting designation made a great impression on him, and he believed that “the City should respect that and honor that.” Commissioners Michael Devonshire, Gerner and Goldblum all opposed the removal of the disputed lots from the designation.

Chair Tierney noted that 32 people had testified at the 2011 hearing in strong support, and commended the residents’ “justifiable pride” in their community. He led the vote, which included all the proposed lots, concluding a “20-year process.” The vote was met with applause and cheers from assembled community members and preservationists.

LPC: Bedford Stuyvesant/Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, Brooklyn (LP-2496) (April 16, 2013).

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