Local Preservationist Group Builds Support for Neighborhood Designation

SPLC Logo SMGrassroots campaign takes to the streets to build community support to preserve rowhouses from out-of-character development. On Saturday, June 1, 2013, the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee (SPLC) sponsored its third walking tour of Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The tour, which begins on 43rd Street and 4th Avenue and concludes on 8th Avenue and 60th Street, is one of the committee’s ways to gain support for the creation of a historic district in Sunset Park by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Sunset Park is mainly composed of modest three-story, two-family structures, originally built for working class families during the 1890s to the 1910s. These rowhouses include neo-Grec, Romanesque Revival, and Renaissance Revival styles, and the structures are a combination of brick, brownstone, and limestone.

The Sunset Park community was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. At the time, the area was the largest historic district in the northeast with 3,237 registered buildings, bordered roughly by 4th Avenue and 7th Avenue, and 38th Street and 64th Street. The National Registry is a list of places worthy of preservation but does not prevent alterations to a building’s facade or demolition.

The Sunset Park Landmarks Committee was established in the spring of 2012. Project Manager Lynn Massimo said that she helped form this committee because “the rowhouses in Sunset Park are beautiful, they make the streets feel special, and they embody a sense of place. Insensitive changes to the rowhouses take away from that.” Massimo, who has been a Sunset Park resident since 2000, went on to add that the group was started by a few local neighbors because houses were being destroyed right before their eyes. “Someone has to preserve the rowhouses and it didn’t seem like anyone else was running a preservation effort to create a historic district. That’s why we started the SPLC – because someone had to,” said Massimo.

SP Study Area

Map of proposed areas for landmark designation consideration. Image Credit: SPLC.

Through building research, the SPLC has identified a study area of about 800 houses worthy of designation on selected blocks that still have most of their original exterior architectural character intact, and are mostly contiguous. Only blocks where most of the buildings have been largely unaltered would be considered for designation. The SPLC is not calling for the entire Sunset Park community to be designated. The SPLC will only submit area blocks for consideration to Landmarks that have homeowner support and has begun door-to-door canvassing. To gain wide spread community support, SPLC has regular open meetings, walking tours, and informational tables set up around the neighborhood.

The walking tours are led by Joseph Svehlak, a licensed NYC tour guide, an urban historian, and a former Sunset Park resident. The tour spotlights blocks that are part of the committee’s study area, as well as several individual landmarks in the community such as the former 68th Police Precinct Station House and Stable designated in 1983, and the former Sunset Park Courthouse designated in 2001. Svehlak, who was part of the Sunset Park Restoration Committee in the 1970s, believes Sunset Park has a very strong chance of being awarded designation. “There is a good active community, and the present Landmarks Commission is looking at areas outside of Manhattan.” The next walking tour is scheduled for June 22.

The Historic Districts Council, which honored Sunset Park as one of its 2013 Six to Celebrate, will sponsor its own walking tour on July 13. In addition to HDC’s support, local Council Member Sarah Gonzalez is supportive of designation. Council Member Gonzalez, who helped lead a 125-block rezoning effort in Sunset Park in 2009, believes there has been an unfortunate proliferation of out-of-scale, out-of-context development. Council Member Gonzalez has pledged to work with the SPLC and HDC to help preserve the community. Jeremy Laufer, district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 7, stated that the community board is very interested in the work done by the SPLC and believes the full board will vote shortly to encourage further study of the potential Sunset Park designation.

The Sunset Park Landmarks Committee has yet to officially discuss designation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

For more information about upcoming walking tours, and to reserve a spot, please click here.

Sunset Park Landmarks Committee: Walking Tours (2013).

By: Brian Kaszuba (Brian is the CityLand Editor and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2004)

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