Hearing Held On Former Deaconess Home And Early Purpose-Built Kindergarten

Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten, at 236 President Street. Image credit: LPC.

Owner of one of two buildings associated with Methodist Church and the immigrant community of Carroll Gardens threatened litigation should Landmarks designate the property. On June 26, 2018, Landmarks held a joint hearing on the potential individual landmark designations of two buildings in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. The adjoining buildings are the 238 President Street House and the former Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten, at 236 President Street. The Italianate-style building at 238 President Street was built in 1853 as a one-family residence, and converted to a training center and residence for Methodist deaconesses in 1897. The two-story Beaux Arts building at 236 President Street is a rare early example of a purpose-built Kindergarten in the United States.

The 238 President Street building was one of the few single-family townhouses in the area serving as home to prosperous elites. The purpose built Kindergarten, designed by the firm Hough & Deuell in a French Renaissance style, was likely Brooklyn’s first such building, as the Kindergarten was still a novel idea in the United States in the late 19th century. Serving predominantly immigrant children, the Kindergarten ensured that its students gained instruction in English and sought to instill the values of democratic citizenship. The building included a visitors’ gallery, where, according to Landmarks Research Department, staff, guests could “see the kindergarten experiment in action.”

After the deaconesses vacated 238 President Street in 1938, the building became the home of Alberto Baez, a pioneering Methodist minister who led Spanish-language services in Brooklyn, and the grandfather of singer and activist Joan Baez. He held services in the adjoining building, whose Kindergarten use had relocated in 1915.

238 President Street. Image credit: LPC.

Both the conversion for deaconesses and the construction of the Kindergarten were commissioned by Elmira Christian and donated to the Methodist Episcopal Church. The name of the Kindergarten memorialized her husband, a Norwegian immigrant who had been a Sunday school superintendent at the First Place Methodist Episcopal Church prior to his sudden death in 1894.

Both structures are currently residential apartment buildings. Landmarks added the items to its calendar at its meeting on April 10, 2018.

Council member Brad Lander said the buildings were a “slam dunk” as individual landmarks, both for their aesthetic qualities and their roles in New York’s social history, and urged Landmarks to move swiftly to “preserve these two treasures.”  Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon said the buildings reflected the history of the City and the nation, and the immigrants that built the community.  A representative of Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez also testified in support, for the buildings’ “exceptional historical significance” and said they must be protected from the development pressures facing Carroll Gardens.

Kings County Supreme Court Judge Michael Pesce, who has long resided at 238 President Street, and has served landlord to its apartments’ residents, spoke in support of the “historically rich” and interconnected buildings. Pesce said that there were “no better two building connected in New York City,” no any more worthy designation. Philip Mindlin, a resident of 238 President, asked Landmarks to preserve the buildings’ “joint cultural history,” and said a 2009 rezoning of the area had left the structures vulnerable to redevelopment. Neighborhood resident Susie Plaistead drew an analogy to the ongoing World Cup, saying if neighborhoods were soccer teams, the 236 and 238 President Street were Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, being unmistakable, singular, and anchoring the community.  Resident Magda Cruz said the immigrant history embodied in the buildings “reinforce the value that immigrants provide to New York City,” in addition to their architectural significance.

Numerous other area residents attended the hearing to offer support for designation.

Lars Nilsen, speaking for the Norwegian Immigration Association, testified that Carroll Gardens had once been a predominantly Scandinavian community, and that Hans Christian, who had come to New York from Norway as a sailor, represented the immigrants that built the community, and should be memorialized. Sean Wallace, pastor at the nearby St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, also offered support for designation at the hearing.

Representatives of the Historic Districts Council and the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association testified in favor of designation, with the HDC’s Barbara Zay saying that designation would ensure that “these buildings continue to share that past, and now have a long future ahead of them.”

Abrams Fensterman’s Susan Mauro, attorney for the owners of 236 President Street, Trust U./W. of Giuseppe Gangemi, spoke against designation, saying that Landmarks had made errors of fact regarding the building’s’ historic and aesthetic value, and noted it had undergone alterations to the facade and seen the construction of new entry stairs and garage. Mauro claimed that since the building was not proposed as an interior landmark, its past use as a kindergarten was not relevant. She said Carroll Gardens was already adequately represented in landmark designation, and claimed community designation proponents were motivated by “selfish reasons.” She argued that designation would impinge on the owners’ property rights, and stated that the owners were prepared to litigate if Landmarks proceeded with designation.

The building is currently listed as being for sale with the Corcoran Group.

Commissioner John Gustafsson, as acting Chair, said the Commission had received a resolution from Brooklyn Community Board 6 in support of designation, as well as eleven letters from individuals. He said the Commission would vote on designation in July of 2018.


LPC: Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten, 236 President Street, Brooklyn (LP-2611); 238 President Street House, 238 President Street, Brooklyn (LP-2612) (June 26, 2018).

By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer for the Center for NYC Law.)


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