Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back to Brooklyn

Hello Everyone:

Welcome To Sunset Park
Map of Sunset Park
First of all, we broke 700.  Hurray and thanks so much for your continued support.  Can we do 1,000? Let's make that our next goal.  Second, we'll spending some time this week talking about the urban planning aspects of the protests at Gezi Park in Istanbul, Turkey and what it all means.  It should  be an interesting topic.  Today, though we're going to the hipster mecca, Brooklyn. The borough that continues to hold the fascination and imagination of cool people, like yours truly, around the world.  Instead of moaning about the latest effort to gentrify some quaint little neighborhood, I'd like to spend time talking about the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee's (http://www.preservesunsetpark.org/) grassroots campaign to build community support for the preservation of its row houses from "out-of character" development.  On June 1, 2013, the SPLC began its third walking tour of the area on 43rd Street and 4th Avenue and concluded the excursion on 8th Avenue and 60th Street.

The Sunset Park community was primarily made up of modest three-story, two-family houses, originally designed for working class families during the late decades of the nineteenth century and to the first half of the twentieth century.  The rowhouses were designed in the neo-Greek, Romanesque, and Renaissance revival styles, partially attributed to the firm of Pohlman & Patrick.  Interestingly, these styles were quickly going out of popularity in Europe, where they originated, and being replaced by first experiments in modern architecture.  The rowhouses were built n a combination of brick, limestone, and brownstone.  If you've never encountered a brownstone building, you're in for a real treat.  The warmth and character of these buildings just oozes out of its pores, begging you to come closer and touch.
Sunset Park Rowhouses

In 1988, Sunset Park was added to the National Register of Historic Places (http://www.nps.gov/nr) for its architectural/engineering significance.  The neighborhood's periods of significance was 1925-1949, 1900-1924, 1875-1899.  Its historic function was commerce/trade, domestic, and landscape and a historic sub-function of business, multiple and single dwellings, and park.  Currently, Sunset Park retains its primary and secondary functions.  At the time of designation, the area was the largest historic district in Northeastern United States with 3,237 registered buildings and approximately bounded by 4th Avenue and 7the Avenue; 38th Street and 64th Street.  The landmarks committee was established in the spring of 2012.

Project Manager Lynn Massimo stated that she helped put together the 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."  Ms. Massimo has resided in Sunset Park since 2000 added that the group was started by a local neighbors who were witness to the houses being taken down.  The group felt that someone had to preserve the houses and it didn't seem like anyone was make an attempt at preservation and creating a historic district.

Attachment and sentiment, two of many reasons for local preservation.  Indeed, when you walk down the streets and stop to admire the rowhouses, you can't help but think about who lived there, when they lived there, and what were their experiences.  These were/are people's homes.  It is/was where happy and sad moments took places, the whole range of life cycle events.  Insensitive development would strip away these moments, or wouldn't they?  Let me stop here for a moment and digress.  Where do our memories of life cycle events reside?  In the place where they occurred or in hearts and minds.  A building is a physical object, which we attach sentimental significance to.  Memories, on the other hand, reside in conscious and subconscious.  While I'm certainly not advocating razing these beautiful buildings and putting yet another high-rise condominium development, what I am asking you to consider is the emotional attachments we have to a place.

Study Area Map of Proposed Historic District
Through research, the SPLC has identified a study area of approximately 800 houses on specific blocks worthy of designation.  The study area is a group of visually and architecturally cohesive blocks where the houses retain most of their original appearance and plan.  The blocks are not only visually and architecturally cohesive but also have enough homeowner support for submission to the New York Landmarks Preservation Committee for consideration.  Only the blocks where there is a contiguous architectural character would be considered for landmark status.  The SPLC is not insisting that the entire community be designated, rather, the SPLC will only submit blocks that have homeowner support for the process.  To garner support, the organization has conducted regular open meetings, door-to-door campaigns to build support, set up informational tables around the community to raise awareness,  and conducted walking tours.  The tours are led by Joseph Svenlak, a licensed New York City tour guide, urban historian, and former Sunset Park resident.  The tours highlight the blocks that are part of the study area as well as individual landmarks such as the former 68th Police Precinct Station House and Stable, designated in 1983 and the former Sunset Park Courthouse, designated in 2001.  The next walking tour is scheduled for June 22, 2013.  The Historic District Council will sponsor its own walking tour on July 13, 2013.

Former 68th Street Police Precinct House and Street

Former Sunset Park Courthhouse

Sunset Park is no doubt a lovely neighborhood in Brooklyn.  It is a thriving community with a great of pride in the place.  The grassroots campaign to get parts of the community designated a historic district highlights citizen participation in historic preservation.  Really, all historic preservation activities are citizen driven.  In this case, we have an example of the direction of historic preservation.  More and more  communities are beginning to realize the value of their resources.  My question to the SPLC is regarding the ethnic communities in Sunset Park.  There is strangely no mention of the historic contributions of the primarily Asian and European communities that have settled in the area.  It would be interesting to see how the SPLC intends to address this issue.

Sunset Park at sunset


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