Sunset Park residents fight to preserve historic rowhouses
Developers pose a threat to Sunset Park homes built more than a century ago for immigrants, according to preservation advocates.
About 30 activists and neighborhood residents testified at a hearing on Tuesday on four sections of Sunset Park the city Landmarks Preservation Commission is considering designating as historic districts.
“We’re losing our history,” resident Richard Faraino said at the hearing. “We’re losing our aesthetics.”
The rowhouses that line the blocks in question were constructed between 1885 and 1912.
They were built as two-family homes to make them affordable for working-class Brooklynites. Though smaller than houses built in affluent areas, Sunset Park’s rowhouses are the same fancy architectural styles: Neo-Grec, Romanesque Revival and neo-Renaissance.
In 2014, after doing lengthy architectural research and canvassing residents to gauge their level of support for landmarking, the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee asked the LPC to put Sunset Park on its calendar to consider part of it for historic district designation.
It wasn’t until January that commissioners weighed the request — then voted unanimously to calendar the four possible historic districts with a combined total of 500-plus buildings.
The districts, which are not contiguous, are located between 44th and 59th streets and Fourth and Seventh avenues.
“We’re here today because we worked really hard — but also because the Landmarks Preservation Commission recognizes the threat Sunset Park is under,” Lynn Massimo of the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee said at the hearing.
“The LPC sees, as we do, how the architectural changes are taking away the sense of place,” she said.
More than 3,000 Sunset Park residents have signed a petition in favor of landmarking and more than 400 homeowners have written letters of support, Massimo said.
“Fabric of the future” vs. “right to develop”
City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca testified at the hearing. He said residents’ struggle to win landmark protection for their homes is a fight to “preserve the fabric of the future of Sunset Park.”
In written testimony, Sunset Park Business Improvement District Executive Director David Estrada said the neighborhood is “at the front line of wildly speculative real estate development that has accelerated the loss of unique, beautiful and irreplaceable buildings.”
One pro-landmarking neighborhood resident said when his grandparents purchased the house that’s now his, it had an outhouse in the backyard and was equipped with gaslights and a coal boiler.
Sunset Park’s “beauty is undeniable,” said another pro-landmarking resident, Cynthia Felix.
Lisa Alpert of Green-Wood Cemetery testified in support of the historic districts’ designation.
Several people suggested that additional blocks in the neighborhood should also be considered for landmarking.
A small number of people expressed their opposition to historic-district designation.
One man said he was against landmarking, and so were several Sunset Park property owners at the hearing who didn’t speak English. Landmarking would be a “big restriction” on their “right to develop” or to sell their properties to developers, he said. He explained that’s why they’d purchased Sunset Park homes in the first place.
Landmarks Chairperson Sarah Carroll said the LPC will schedule a vote on the four historic districts’ designation in the very near future.
Follow Brooklyn Eagle reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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