Flatbush residents hope to save historic character by landmarking their block
“We cannot allow our community’s history to be erased.”
Flatbush residents are trying to get their block landmarked to prevent development that would alter its historic character.
The 300 East 25th Street Block Association recently submitted a request for evaluation to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in hopes of winning historic-district designation for East 25th Street between Avenue D and Clarendon Road, which is populated by 110-year-old limestone and brownstone rowhouses.
“The amount of development in our community is outrageous,” block association President Julia Charles told the Brooklyn Eagle. “Quite frankly, we’re feeling encroached upon.”
Forty residents of the block have put their names on a list indicating their support for the landmarking effort.
There are 56 Neo-Renaissance rowhouses on the block, all of them two-story buildings with cellars. They have a harmonious, unified look because one developer — the Henry Meyer Building Co. — constructed them all.
City Council member Farah Louis has thrown her support behind the effort.
“It is imperative that we take the precautionary steps to ensure that these homes are kept out of the reach of potential developers and will continue to stand for future generations,” she said in a letter to Landmarks Preservation Commission Chairperson Sarah Carroll. “We cannot allow our community’s history to be erased.”
Louis’s letter of support for the creation of the East 25th Street Historic District is significant. When organizations try to get buildings or neighborhoods landmarked, the local councilmember’s backing is essential.
If the association, which was established in 1985, succeeds in its landmarking efforts, the East 25th Street block will become the first historic district in Flatbush where the buildings are rowhouses.
The neighborhood’s other landmarked areas — such as the Prospect Park South Historic District and the Ditmas Park Historic District — are populated by suburban-style, stand-alone Victorian houses with lawns, and often driveways and garages.
The East 25th Street houses’ exteriors have a “high degree of architectural integrity” thanks to the block’s residents, “who are tremendous stewards of their buildings and gardens,” Kelly Carroll, the Historic Districts Council’s director of advocacy and community outreach, told the Eagle.
The 300 East 25th Street Block Association sought Carroll’s assistance after deciding several months ago to apply for historic-district status.
“This block helps puncture the image that people have of all the brownstones and rowhouses in Brooklyn being north of Prospect Park,” Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff told the Eagle. “Blocks like this demonstrate why this urban form was so prevalent, as it allowed for the development of higher-density affordable, modern housing which was spacious, attractive and welcoming.”
Landmarks Preservation Commission spokesperson Zodet Negron told the Eagle the agency is reviewing the request.
The block association initially wanted to seek historic-district designation for a larger area, which included rowhouses on East 26th Street between Clarendon Road and Avenue D. These homes were also constructed by the Henry Meyer Building Co. and are similar to the ones on East 25th Street.
But the city Buildings Department has approved an application for a permit to turn one of the rowhouses, 316 East 26th St., into a four-story, six-family building. It’s a two-family home that’s two stories tall and has a cellar. This will lessen the cohesiveness of the row of houses it’s in and make the block a weaker candidate for landmarking.
The owner who plans to redevelop 316 East 26th St. bought the property for $490,000 in a 2017 estate sale, city Finance Department records indicate.
The proposed East 25th Street Historic District has an unusual distinction: Its residents are very accomplished gardeners. They’ve won Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual Greenest Block in Brooklyn competition four times since 2004 and garnered numerous second- and third-place awards.
Their gardens reflect “the intense competitive spirit of many Brooklyn communities that participate in the contest — particularly those of immigrant, West Indian gardening traditions,” BBG President Scot Medbury said in a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“Although our contest judges do not consider architecture in their judging criteria, 300 East 25th St.’s unique character and cohesive sense of place are simply undeniable,” Medbury wrote. He praised the residents’ use of window boxes, entryway planters and front gardens to enhance their block’s “harmonious architectural features.”
In March, six of the block’s gardeners, including Charles, gave a group keynote address at a Brooklyn Botanic Garden conference called Making Brooklyn Bloom.
Many residents of the block have lived there for decades. Charles arrived after Superstorm Sandy.
She closed on her East 25th Street home purchase on Aug. 13, 2013 — a date she said is “more celebratory than my own birthday.”
She and her family were displaced from their residence in Arverne on the Rockaway Peninsula after the October 2012 superstorm. “Our home was deemed uninhabitable,” she said.
A nor’easter that blew in a few days after the storm caved in part of their roof. “When I came in … and saw it snowing in my son’s bedroom, that was it,” Charles said.
She and her family moved into a rental apartment in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens and looked all over Brooklyn for a home to buy.
They were initially drawn to the block where they now live by a fake ad about a house that wasn’t really for sale. The block appealed to them.
“Culturally speaking, it was nothing we were strangers to,” said Charles. “The colors of the plants were vibrant. The music was vibrant. It kind of spoke to us as a place where we would want to live.”
On a return visit she and her husband made to the block, a resident told them about a house there that actually was for sale. That’s where they live now.
Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.
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