Century-Old Doctors’ Row in Bay Ridge May Become Historic District

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An elegant limestone row that has stood in Bay Ridge for a century could be designated a historic district by the city, thanks to efforts of the block association and the Historic Districts Council.

Doctors’ Row, a barrel-fronted section of the 400 block of Bay Ridge Parkway between 4th and 5th avenues, is currently being reviewed for historic district status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. If granted, Doctors’ Row would see its structures protected from demolition, a key to keeping intact one of the neighborhood’s most distinctive blocks.

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“Historic district status will preserve the facades of the buildings and the aesthetic beauty of the buildings and streetscape. In most cases it prevents demolition of buildings and things like the faces and stucco being ripped off, ironwork being removed and original doors being removed,” explained Kelly Carroll, director of advocacy and community outreach for HDC, a nonprofit advocate for historic preservation.

“We see a lot of this happening in Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, where architectural features are shaved off and inappropriate features are applied. These rows derive beauty from their continuity so if one house is destroyed it really obscures the whole look and feel of a place,” she continued.

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A 1907 ad for the new development. Image via Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The distinctive, Neo-Renaissance row houses were constructed between 1899 and 1910 by a single company, the Bay Ridge Development Company, giving the homes a homogenous look, according to the HDC. The uniformity of the row stands out, as many blocks in Bay Ridge vary greatly in their architectural style and were not constructed by the same company.

Besides their signature look, the homes of Doctors’ Row also represent an exciting time in Bay Ridge’s history: Bay Ridge’s evolution from a suburban neighborhood to an urban one, complete with transportation advancements, such as the 3rd, 4th and 5th avenue trolley lines.

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Interestingly enough, early real estate ads for Doctors’ Row touted the block’s proximity to the 4th Avenue subway line to make the homes more enticing, despite the fact that the line did not open until 1916. Many of the homes on Bay Ridge Parkway are representative of early transit-related speculative development in Bay Ridge, HDC notes.

“This has been an elegant, well-kept block ever since I can remember,” said Bay Ridge Parkway 400 Block Association member Linda Assini, a resident of Doctors’ Row who credits the block association’s relentless efforts with kickstarting the effort to obtain historic district status for the block.

Assini has owned her home since the 1980s, but rented it out while she lived on Long Island. When she returned to the block, she found its beauty had begun to fade.

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“I moved back a few years ago and was taken aback at how the block was starting to lose its luster and elegance,” recalled Assini. “It was not as well kept. There was a lot of trash. The trees were needy and the houses were beat up. Our architectural heritage was being torn up. People were coming and willy-nilly removing cornices and irreplaceable stonework just because.”

It was this realization that eventually led Assini and the block association to contact LPC in an attempt to get the block designated. With the help of the HDC, the block association submitted a request for evaluation of the block to the LPC early this month. On August 21, the commission responded to the request with a letter stating it had “reviewed the material” and “determined that [Doctors’ Row] may merit designation, but requires further study within the contexts of the commission’s priority.”

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“The block association has been unified behind this push. What I like about our block association is that we also welcome people who rent on the street. We want them in the association,” said Assini. “Everyone takes an equal role.”

Local Councilmember Vincent Gentile has also stood behind the block receiving historic status.

“[It] will benefit both local residents commuting to their homes and tourists exploring Brooklyn’s history,” said Gentile. “[The street] maintains a distinct ‘sense of place’ and a coherent streetscape identifiable by the naked eye. It’s about time the commission recognized Bay Ridge’s special nature.”

A version of this story originally ran in the Brooklyn Reporter. You can read it here.

[Photos by Helen Klein]

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