Crown Heights

Crown Heights South landmarking drive will amp up this fall

Eye on Real Estate

August 10, 2016 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Crown Heights South Association will propose city landmark designation for an area called the Armory District, named in honor of the Bedford Union Armory, shown here. Eagle photos by Lore Croghan
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Respect and protect the architectural heritage of Crown Heights South.

If the neighborhood’s new preservation group decides to adopt a motto, this would surely be a suitable one.

The Crown Heights South Association, which neighborhood resident Evelyn Tully Costa launched last year, is going to propose that the city Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designate the western section of the neighborhood as a historic district.

Job One in this endeavor is to garner fellow residents’ support for landmarking.

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“Our task this year is to make people fall in love with their own neighborhood again,” the Crown Heights South Association founder and chairwoman told Eye on Real Estate during a recent sit-down with her and one of the association’s advisory board members, Richard Walkes.

“We want to make our neighbors understand how landmarking will benefit them,” she said.

The area, which would be called the Armory District in honor of the Bedford Union Armory, is bounded by Washington Avenue, Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue. Initially, Empire Boulevard was to be the southern boundary, but that’s being reconsidered.

Tully Costa, a designer and former radio journalist who has owned a house on Union Street since 2002, said the group’s focus for the next two to three years will be on the Armory District proposal.

After that, the civic association will turn its attention to seeking historic district status for part of eastern Crown Heights South — an area that LPC researchers studied extensively in 1978.

It’s bounded by Nostrand Avenue, Union Street, Troy Avenue and Carroll Street — and includes a stunning stretch of President Street called Doctor’s Row that’s lined with stately mansions on lovely lawns.  

The Crown Heights South Association will also work to get parts of the neighborhood included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Protection against ‘gentrification on steroids’

One thing that prompted Tully Costa to create the preservation-oriented Crown Heights South Association was a construction project behind her home.

A developer is enlarging a 1920s-vintage three-family home. The expansion will turn 1027 President St. into an eight-unit apartment building that will be four stories tall — plus it will have a penthouse, city Buildings Department records indicate. The houses on both sides of 1027 President St. are two stories tall.

The developer, an LLC with Mendel Gold as sole member, bought the property for $1.375 million in August 2014, city Finance Department records indicate. The seller of the house had purchased it for $900,000 in May 2014, Finance Department records show.

“I always loved preservation and environmental conservation,” Tully Costa said.

“When I moved to the neighborhood, it was quiet and middle-class with no rampant Williamsburg-type development. I always said to my neighbors, ‘We should landmark this neighborhood because “gentrification on steroids” is going to bowl us over.’

“Landmarking is a way to preserve and protect our neighborhood for homeowners and renters.”

Another thing that made Tully Costa decide to launch the civic association was the demolition of two rowhouses on St. Johns Place in nearby Prospect Heights and their replacement with a tall, skinny building.

‘Like tearing down Penn Station all over again’

She was upset when the Landmarks Preservation Commission decided last year not to grant individual landmark status to the former Green Point Savings Bank at 856 Washington Ave. in nearby Prospect Heights.

Soon afterwards, workers started demolishing the 1920s-vintage neo-Classical bank building, which had a stunning, multi-story arched window above its front entrance.

“I felt like they were tearing down Penn Station all over again,” she said.

A 14-story apartment tower will be built on the site.

An armory, a movie theatre, a brewery, all historic

The part of Crown Heights South that will be proposed for landmarking as the Armory District has leafy blocks with handsome homes and apartment houses constructed mostly between 1900 and 1930 — plus several big, distinctive buildings, including these:

* The vacant Bedford Union Armory at 1579 Bedford Ave. is a century-old Art Nouveau-style building that looks like a castle. Last December, the city Economic Development Corp. announced it had long-term leased the property to developers who intend to build a metal-clad addition on it.

* Across the street from the armory stands the former Simons Motor Sales Co. building at 1590 Bedford Ave., which looks like a smaller castle. It was constructed in the 1920s.

It is currently used by the Department of Subways Station Operations, which is part of New York City Transit.

* Loews Kameo Theatre, constructed in the 1920s, is located at 530 Eastern Parkway. It is now used as the Philadelphian Sabbath Cathedral.    

* Beaux Arts-style 260 Eastern Parkway was built in the 1920s as Bishop McDonnell Memorial High School for Girls. It is now St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf.

* An eye-catching factory complex built more than a century ago at 960 Franklin Ave. was Consumers Park Brewery. It is now used by Morris J. Golombeck, Inc. Importers of Spices.

Now-demolished Ebbets Field, where the Brooklyn Dodgers played until their much-mourned departure in the late 1950s, was located near the brewery.  

Community outreach and petition drives

This fall, Tully Costa will launch the Crown Heights South Association’s website, which will serve as a tool for educating residents about the benefits of landmarking and attracting new members, volunteers and donations.

The group will do thorough outreach in the neighborhood. It plans petition drives.

Education is crucial.

“Look at the rich history of this neighborhood,” said Walkes, the advisory board member.

“But there are residents who have no idea of the historic value of their homes.”

The organization, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, started holding meetings last fall.

The group is receiving assistance from the Historic Districts Council (HDC), which made Crown Heights South a 2016 “Six to Celebrate” neighborhood, meaning it merits preservation.

HDC staffers have attended association meetings and answered questions about the technical aspects of landmarking. HDC’s executive director, Simeon Bankoff, appeared at a Crown Heights South Association town hall meeting. HDC hosted walking tours of the neighborhood led by Suzanne Spellen, an architectural history expert and writer for

Spellen is a member of the Crown Heights South Association’s advisory board.

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