Carroll Gardens

Carroll Gardens’ Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten gets landmarked

September 18, 2018 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The two historic buildings on this antique box, 236 President St. (at right) and 238 President St. (at left), have been designated as city landmarks. The box was used to collect money for charity. Eagle file photos by Lore Croghan

The Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten need not fear the wrecking ball.

It has been landmarked.

A concerted campaign by preservationists, politicians and Carroll Gardens residents has paid off for the two-story, buff-colored brick building at 236 President St.

Brooklyn’s first purpose-built free kindergarten, designed by architecture firm Hough & Deuell and constructed in 1897, was in danger of being torn down and replaced with condos.

Not anymore.

On Tuesday, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to designate both this property and the Anglo-Italianate brick mansion at 238 President St. as individual landmarks.

After the voting, which took place at the preservation agency’s Lower Manhattan headquarters, the Landmarks Preservation Commission issued a statement from Vice Chairman Fred Bland.

“These two properties are distinguished by their architecture and share a great history of education and social reform in Brooklyn,” Bland said.

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Avo Construction, the developer that had planned to construct a six-story condo building on the property, decided not to close on its purchase of 236 President St. several months ago while the landmarking advocacy campaign was ongoing.

After that deal fell through, the building owners put it back up for sale.

If the commissioners had voted against landmarking the former kindergarten, the property would have become a prime development site up for grabs.

City landmarks are protected by law from demolition. Owners can’t tear them down or alter their facades without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s permission.

Several elected officials issued congratulatory statements about the landmark designation of 236 and 238 President St. Among them was City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Carroll Gardens), who had worked closely with neighborhood residents to save the kindergarten from demolition.

“I’m deeply grateful to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for listening to the appeal of our community,” Lander said.

 

A Tribute to a Norwegian Immigrant  

The commissioners landmarked the former kindergarten even though Susan Mauro, a lawyer representing the property’s owners, had threatened litigation if they did so when she testified at a hearing in June.

Mauro did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment about the landmarking vote.

According to city Finance Department records, the owner is a trust created according to an agreement in the will of Giuseppe Gangemi.

Beaux Arts-style 236 President St. remains a rare example of stand-alone kindergarten buildings, a Landmarks Preservation Commission staffer said in a presentation about 236 and 238 President St. prior to the commissioners’ vote.  

The former kindergarten has a colorful back story.

Elmira Christian had it designed and purpose-built at a time when free kindergartens were coming into vogue among progressives as instruments for bettering the lives of the poor.

She built the school as a tribute to her late husband, who died unexpectedly on the way home from a prayer meeting at First Place Methodist Episcopal Church.

Hans S. Christian, a Norwegian immigrant, was a founder of the church, its board president and a one-time Sunday school teacher.

The Christians were long-time residents of President Street, the Landmarks Preservation Commission staffer said.

A Chapel Where Joan Baez’ Grandpa was the Minister

For many years, 236 and 238 President St. were part of the same lot. The latter building was constructed in the 1850s as a house for economist, merchant and real estate investor Edward Kellogg. Later it became the Brooklyn Deaconess Home of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the First Spanish Methodist Church used the kindergarten building as a chapel.

Its minister, the Rev. Alberto Baez, and his family lived at 238 President St.

Singer and social activist Joan Baez is his granddaughter.

By the way, earlier this year, Joan Baez wrote a letter of support for the landmarking of 236 and 238 President St.

Since the 1970s, the former kindergarten has been a private home, and 238 President St. is now a co-op building.

 

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