East New York

Preservation advocates call for landmarking in East New York’s rezoning area

January 20, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
East New York has numerous historic buildings, such as landmarked New Lots Reformed Church, which was built in the 1820s. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan

Eye on Real Estate: East New York is a Historic Districts Council “Six to Celebrate” winner

Preservation advocate Zulmilena Then wants New Yorkers to know something important about East New York.

The neighborhood she grew up in has numerous historic buildings worthy of landmark protection, and they’re in danger because of a big rush to buy property there.

“There are amazing buildings — you just have to look,” Then told the Brooklyn Eagle in an interview on the eve of her 29th birthday.

“When I show people photos, they’re shocked. ‘That’s in East New York?’ they ask me,” explained Then, the founder of Preserving East New York (PENY), an advocacy group established to preserve landmark-worthy buildings in East New York and Cypress Hills.

The group’s consistent advocacy recently caught the attention of the Historic Districts Council (HDC), which named East New York a 2016 “Six to Celebrate” neighborhood. This is an annual list of historic city neighborhoods that merit preservation attention.

Winning the award means Preserving East New York will get HDC’s assistance for a year.

The 2016 list includes one other Brooklyn winner — Crown Heights South.

Then fears that the planned rezoning of parts of East New York and Cypress Hills has sparked real-estate speculation. This poses a serious threat to affordable housing and the neighborhoods’ historic buildings and “the rich cultural identity and needs of East New York and Cypress Hills,” she said.

Currently, just three properties in East New York and Cypress Hills are city landmarks. And all three of them are located outside the proposed rezoning area.

By the way, they are 1820s-vintage New Lots Reformed Church at 630 New Lots Ave., P.S. 108 at 200 Linwood St. and P.S. 65K at 158 Richmond St.

This is an important year for Preserving East New York because the group will be presenting its Request for Evaluation asking the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate buildings in the rezoning area as individual landmarks.

HDC’s “Six to Celebrate” program will provide assistance to PENY in this effort.

“About 30 properties in the rezoning area are potential candidates for proposal as landmarks,” Then said.

The diverse mix of possible landmarking candidates includes the 1880s-vintage former 75th Police Precinct Station House at 484 Liberty Ave., which belongs to People’s First Baptist Church, and the 1870s-vintage former New Lots Town Hall at 109-111 Bradford St., which is now used as housing. See related story for additional info about historic buildings in the area.

Distressed by the demolition of East New York Savings Bank

In 2015, Then decided to launch Preserving East New York because of the demolition of the late 19th-Century Renaissance Revival-style East New York Savings Bank at 91 Pennsylvania Ave.

“This hit me hard,” said Then, who works as a junior architect at Michael Ivanhoe McCaw Architect, P.C. in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “I was very upset and I felt helpless.”

The news of the planned demolition led residents and community members to stage a public protest. Though the protest did not save the historic building, it indicated to her that the community cared about protecting its historical resources.  

“The need to strongly represent the community’s interest in preservation and to prevent future tragedies against other landmark-worthy buildings made me decide to take action and create Preserving East New York,” she said.

See facebook.com/peny.bk and preservingeny.org for more info about Preserving East New York.

East New York Savings Bank is gone now. Bulldozers are digging up the dirt at the bare-earth site where developer Jonas Rudofsky is constructing a seven-story medical building.

Rudofsky had purchased the historic property through an LLC for $5,500,500 in 2005, city Finance Department records indicate.