Take a February stroll through landmark-worthy Central Park Slope
Part one of a two-part tour
Eye on Real Estate: A neighborhood organization is trying to secure landmark status for a historic section of Park Slope that’s home to the largest collection of non-landmarked historic buildings in New York City.
The Park Slope Civic Council’s Historic District Committee plans to ask the city Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate an area of Park Slope, termed “the Center Slope,” as a historic district, or perhaps multiple historic districts. The area has a heavy concentration of Victorian-era architecture and played an important role in the Revolutionary War.
An advocacy organization known as the Historic Districts Council will assist in these efforts.
The HDC recently put the area on its new Six to Celebrate list of New York City neighborhoods that merit preservation attention. Winning this annual award means the Park Slope Civic Council will receive help from the HDC with strategic planning, advocacy, outreach, programs and building public awareness throughout the course of 2020.
HDC is good at getting the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s staff to do surveys of neighborhoods, which are crucial preludes to their being designated historic districts.
The civic council and HDC are focusing their landmarking campaign on the portion of the Center Slope that starts just east of Fifth Avenue and extends from Union Street to 7th Street. It ends at the border of the existing Park Slope Historic District, which for the most part is just east of Seventh Avenue.
Architectural eye candy
This part of the Center Slope is a wonderful place for a winter walk.
Begin on Union Street, on the block between Fifth and Sixth avenues, and weave through the area from north to south.
You’ll get an eyeful of brownstones in numerous architectural styles, small apartment houses that preservationists refer to as flats buildings, interesting shops and restaurants and stunning churches.
During my stroll around the area, there were so many beautiful buildings to photograph that I only covered part of the terrain. Even so, I took too many pictures to fit into a single story, so I’m going to publish some of my snapshots next week.
Stephen Siller’s firehouse
I should point out the famous Park Slope Food Coop is located at 782 Union St. And next door, at 788 Union St., there’s the handsome firehouse that is the home to FDNY Squad Co. 1.
A dozen members of the squad perished in rescue efforts at the World Trade Center on 9/11. One of them was firefighter Stephen Siller.
You know his story. When he was on his way from Brooklyn to the World Trade Center that terrible morning, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed. So he ran through it with 60 pounds of firefighter’s gear strapped to his back.
Every year on the last Sunday in September, the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk is held to honor those who died on 9/11. The money that’s raised supports the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s programs, including those that assist first responders and catastrophically injured service members.
Outside Squad Co. 1’s firehouse, there’s a 9/11 commemorative wood sculpture called “Out of the Rubble.” Nyal Thomas Jr. and Rick Boswell carved the artwork from a single tree.
‘Radical change in virtually every community’
Walk down Seventh Avenue and turn onto President Street with me while I continue my narrative about the Center Slope landmarking campaign.
Peter Bray, who chairs the Park Slope Civic Council’s Historic District Committee, said in an interview that his group feels a sense of urgency about landmarking the Center Slope because of development pressures.
“The city, starting back in the Bloomberg Administration, has been hellbent on doing upzonings, and we’ve experienced a radical change in virtually every community,” Bray said. “Neighborhoods that had a stable physical fabric for generations have been transformed practically overnight. And those same pressures exist in Park Slope.”
Rezoning in 2004 increased allowable density on Fifth Avenue and Seventh Avenue — and of course, on Fourth Avenue, where there has been a massive wave of development, he said.
The de Blasio Administration brought forth the Zoning for Quality and Affordability program, which encourages development, in 2016.
Also, as is true in many New York City neighborhoods, there are well-heeled Park Slope homeowners with “a significant amount of appetite for expanding 19th-century buildings by putting a story on top and building rear-yard additions. And those are having an enormous impact on the integrity of neighborhoods, particularly in Brownstone Brooklyn,” he said.
“And so it’s not that all those changes will be completely stopped by expanding the historic district in Park Slope. But there will be the fact that those changes can be reviewed and regulated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission,” Bray added.
St. Francis Xavier Church
On the corner of President Street and Sixth Avenue, there’s a beautiful house made of elaborately patterned brick with stone trim. It’s St. Francis Xavier Church’s rectory, which was designed by architect Charles Werner and built in 1889, research material from the Park Slope Civic Council indicates.
When you look past the rectory, you get a good view of the church building, which is situated on the corner of Carroll Street and Sixth Avenue.
Highly regarded architect Thomas F. Houghton designed the granite Gothic Revival-style house of worship, which was dedicated in 1904.
It has a soaring spire and a terrific tympanum — that’s the area above the church door — decorated with sculpted figures, including St. Francis Xavier, who is baptizing the faithful and preaching. He was one of the first members of the Jesuits.
St. Francis Xavier Parish was founded in 1886.
The parish website has a virtual tour of the church with photos of its stunning interior.
‘A spotlight on Center Slope’
The Historic District Committee expects its Center Slope landmarking campaign will take several years to bear fruit.
“We’re very hopeful that with the current set of leadership at the LPC, they will be receptive to working with us on Center Slope some time in the near future,” Bray said.
The group Bray heads was motivated to seek the Historic Districts Council’s help because “we want to shine a spotlight on the Center Slope,” Bray said. “We want to create some momentum that hopefully will get the LPC’s attention.”
Also, the Historic Districts Council will help the Park Slope group do community outreach.
The Park Slope Civic Council’s Historic District Committee has already talked to Center Slope building owners and obtained several hundred letters of support from them. It has also done extensive research in buildings department archives.
If the LPC’s staffers do decide to focus on the Center Slope area that Bray’s committee is championing for historic district designation, he wouldn’t expect them to work on such an extensive area in one shot. They’d be more likely to break the job into two phases, Bray said.
In the past, the staffers have taken the position that the preservation agency has limited resources, and “they can’t devote all those resources to one particular neighborhood and they have to spread their attention around to all five boroughs,” Bray said.
The LPC’s response
I asked the LPC for comment about the civic group’s plan to campaign for historic district status for the Center Slope.
A spokesperson responded with this statement: “Over the years, LPC has designated three historic districts in Park Slope resulting in the protection of 2,855 buildings and sites. We continue to study the surrounding areas in the context of our priorities in all five boroughs.”
The Park Slope Civic Council was instrumental in getting the original Park Slope Historic District designated in 1973. It encompasses an area close to Prospect Park.
The group also worked to get additions made to the district. Extension I, which is in South Slope, was designated in 2012. Extension II, which includes part of northern Park Slope, was designated in 2016.
Old First Reformed Church
The last building that gets a shout out in this story is the Old First Reformed Church, an Indiana limestone, neo-Gothic house of worship on the corner of Seventh Avenue and Carroll Street.
Distinguished architect George L. Morse designed the church, which was dedicated in 1891.
There’s lots of info on Old First’s website about stunning interior restoration work that’s been done, and further work that’s planned.
The church was established in 1654 by Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch Colonial director general of New Amsterdam.
Eye on Real Estate is veteran reporter Lore Croghan’s weekly column on Brooklyn’s built environment. Whether it’s old as Abraham Lincoln or so new it hasn’t topped out yet, if a building is eye-catching, Eye will show it to you.
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