At a public hearing Tuesday at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, all who spoke were unanimously in favor of landmarking two properties located at 236 President and 238 President Street in Carroll Gardens.
Well, almost everyone.
Susan Morrow, the attorney hired by the owners of 236 President, was the sole dissenting voice. She had “grave issues and concerns” about the proposed landmarking, claiming the commission had “erroneously” presented a number of factual errors, including the building’s origins as a kindergarten and the count of changes that had been made to the building over time.
The Hans S. Christian Memorial at 236 President Street was designed in 1897 by architects Hough & Deuell. It was commissioned by Elmira E. Christian, who sought to create a kindergarten in honor of her husband, who had passed away three years prior. In later years, the building was used as a church, until it was sold to the parents of the present owners in 1974.
From approximately 1950 to 1966, it was a Spanish-speaking Methodist Episcopal church led by the Reverend Alberto Baez, who is the grandfather of folk singer Joan Baez.
Although the former schoolhouse remains on the market, developer Avo Construction was reportedly in contract to purchase the home earlier this year, according to the blog Pardon Me For Asking. Since then, they seem to have pulled out of a potential deal and a new broker has the listing.
Part of the attraction to a developer, potentially, is that the property is extra wide, zoned R6A and has significant unused FAR. The upshot is that a new building (or an addition) can be constructed that is bigger — and multiple stories higher.
“We find it very interesting that the issue of this particular building as an LPC designation only came after the point that the house was put on the market by my clients,” she said. “We also understand that there has been feedback from neighbors, who are really only concerned that any demolition or reconstruction of the building will affect their second-story view.”
They have proof of the latter claim, she added, but did not elaborate. Instead, she reiterated that those who wanted to see the building designated were doing it for selfish reasons.
“My clients are fully prepared to litigate this issue — in court,” she said, closing her remarks. “We believe that any designation by the LPC of this building as a landmark would be arbitrary and capricious and subject to court review.”
Councilman Brad Lander, Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon and a rep for Representative Nydia Velázquez all spoke in favor of the designation.
The rest who provided testimony — 22 in favor, including residents of the pre-Civil War house at 238 President — highlighted the significant place the two buildings serve within the neighborhood. Grace Protos, who lives at 238 President Street, read a letter from one of her daughters, who recounted growing up in the building and watching out her window as people stopped and street to admire the building where she lived.
Others stressed the more negative impacts of not landmarking the two buildings.
“We don’t need the intense population density to increase,” said Gaston Musella, a 64-year resident of Carroll Gardens who compared the changing direction of Brooklyn to Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis.” “We’re not the Hamptons, we’re not Midtown. We’re a hybrid, something in between.”
[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]
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