Northern Brooklyn

City landmarking process begins for Sunset Park

Parts of the neighborhood are now under consideration as historic districts

January 22, 2019 By Lore Croghan Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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A Brooklyn neighborhood built for working-class immigrants is finally getting its due from the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

On Tuesday, commissioners voted unanimously to put four sections of Sunset Park onto the agency’s calendar to consider them for designation as historic districts.

Neighborhood activists have spent years campaigning for landmarking protection for Sunset Park blocks, where rows of brownstone, limestone and brick houses built between 1885 and 1912 are largely intact.

“We’re over the moon that the commission is considering four historic districts in Sunset Park,” Lynn Massimo of the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee told the Brooklyn Eagle via email. “It’s been a long time coming.”

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If the four areas do wind up winning historic-district status, developers will find it much more difficult to construct finger buildings in them. These modern multi-family properties, which have been springing up throughout Sunset Park, are taller than the rowhouses on either side of them and resemble a hand flipping the bird.

Property owners in city-designated historic districts cannot demolish buildings or alter their exteriors without the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s permission.

“On many blocks, generations of Sunset Parkers have kept their rowhouses intact and looking historic, but rampant redevelopment is erasing that history,” Massimo said. “That history, which is both the history of architecture and of a community, deserves to be honored and preserved.”

Barrel-vaulted rowhouses stand on Sixth Avenue near the corner of 47th Street in Sunset Park.

Working-class haven

Sunset Park’s proposed historic districts are located between Fourth and Seventh avenues and 44th and 59th streets. More than 500 buildings stand within their boundaries.

Starting in the 1880s, Sunset Park was developed as a residential neighborhood for the working class and middle class. Builders used elegant architectural styles found in rich people’s neighborhoods — such as neo-Grec, Romanesque Revival and neo-Renaissance.

They constructed relatively small houses, usually two stories tall or two stories on top of elevated basements.

The buildings look like single-family residences but were designed as two-family homes.

“This is very exciting for me,” Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairwoman Sarah Carroll said before the vote, which was held at the agency’s Manhattan headquarters. “Sunset Park is a very special place.”

Agency staffer Kate Lemos McHale said in a presentation about the proposed historic districts that they have “a distinct sense of place” thanks to “intact rows” of houses whose exteriors remain largely unchanged since their construction.

During her presentation, McHale thanked the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee for the work it has done to promote the neighborhood’s historic preservation.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing about the proposed historic districts — the date has not yet been set — and a public meeting at which commissioners will vote on the designation.

This handsome brownstone row is located on 50th Street in Sunset Park.

Preservation efforts started in the 1970s

According to “The Neighborhoods of Brooklyn,” a book edited by Kenneth Jackson and John Manbeck, immigrants from Poland, Norway and Finland made Sunset Park their home in the 1880s and 1890s.

In recent decades, Sunset Park has welcomed waves of Hispanic and Chinese immigrants.

In the 1970s, a group called the Sunset Park Restoration Committee started pro-preservationist work that culminated with the 1988 listing of much of the neighborhood on the National Register of Historic Places. But this type of designation does not protect properties from demolition or exterior alterations.

In 2012, the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee started doing architectural research and mustering area residents’ support for historic designation.

In 2014, the group formally requested that the Landmarks Preservation Commission consider calendaring part of the neighborhood for designation consideration.

Here’s a glimpse of 55th Street in Sunset Park.

This map shows the locations of Sunset Park’s four proposed historic districts. Image courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission


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