By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thirty years ago, Sunset Park Restoration, a group of preservationists, successfully got the community recognized by the federal government as an historic district. Technically, the designation from the National Register of Historic Places covered 3,237 buildings in the neighborhood, mostly row houses and brownstones built between 1890 and 1910, making Sunset Park the largest such historic district in New York State.
But now, the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee, a group that has taken the baton from Sunset Park Restoration founders Bob and Alice Walsh, is seeking city landmark status for several clusters of private homes and members said they have a great deal of support within the community for their effort.
Sunset Park currently has several landmarked structures, including the gate house of Greenwood Cemetery, the former Weir-McGovern greenhouse at the cemetery, the old 68th Precinct building, the Sunset Park Recreation/Play Center (located near the public pool) and a firehouse on 39th Street. The recreation center and pool, which were built as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Roosevelt Administration, are perhaps the best known landmarks in Sunset Park. According to the Parks Department’s website, they opened in 1936.
The new effort by the landmarks committee centers on getting landmark status for private homes.
The landmarks committee issued a statement about its efforts. “We mapped out 22 blocks that are architecturally worthy of landmarking. Next, we canvassed door to door on 15 of those blocks (approximately 660 houses) and spoke with the homeowners. Although not all homeowners were reachable, we spoke to over 400 of them. We found six opposed and 403 in support,” the statement read.
An additional 251 homeowners were unreachable despite repeated attempts, committee members said.
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has the authority to designate areas where the buildings represent a certain period or style of architecture that speaks to the city’s history as landmarks. The purpose of landmarking is to protect existing building exteriors and prevent out-of-scale and historically insensitive redevelopment, according to the landmarks committee.
The fact that more than 3,000 buildings are listed on the federal registry won’t protect those structures, committee members said. The buildings designated on the registry include many structures located between Fourth and Seventh Avenues, from 38th Street to 64th Street.
In a statement on its website, the committee outlined its concerns for the future of neighborhood houses. “The National Register of Historic Places is a list of places worthy of preservation. But being on the register doesn’t protect our neighborhood—it doesn’t prevent alterations to a building’s façade or demolition of buildings. Only New York City historic district with landmark designation will preserve the look and feel of our neighborhood,” the statement read.
In another development, the committee recently received recognition for its work to preserve the history of the Sunset Park community from the Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID).
“We wanted to recognize The Landmarks Committee for not only their goal to preserve the history of our community but for the model by which they have been working. That model is one that embraces rather than excludes, and believes the best way to counter critics is to provide an almost infinite amount of accurate information,” BID Executive Director Renee Giordano said.
Lynn Massimo, representing the Landmarks Committee, accepted a 25-year-old commemorative plate depicting a series of brownstones on a typical Sunset Park tree-lined block, in recognition of the group’s work. The 24 karat gold-edged plate is one of only a handful still in existence, Giordano said.
The Sunset Park BID represents over 500 stores along Sunset Park’s “Main Street,” Fifth Avenue, from 38th Street to 64th Street. The President of the BID, Delvis Valdes, who is also a member of Community Board Seven, spoke at a recent community board meeting to praise the efforts of The Landmarks Committee. During that meeting, the members of the community board voted unanimously to officially support the efforts of the landmarks committee with a letter of support.