Residents Overwhelmingly Support Proposed Sunset Park Historic Districts at LPC Hearing

A block in the proposed Central Sunset Park Historic District. Photo by Susan De Vries

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For many of the residents of Sunset Park, the proposal to designate four separate historic districts is more than just preserving their homes.

“We take great pride in being called a neighborhood,” said Cynthia Felix, who has lived in Sunset Park for her entire life. She talked about working in Manhattan, and the thrill of coming back to the neighborhood she has known all of her life, calling it “a little hometown slice of old New York City.”

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Map via NY Landmarks Preservation Commission

Under discussion were four proposed historic districts: Sunset Park North, Central Sunset Park, Sunset Park 50th Street and Sunset Park South, which were calendered, after years of work from local advocates, in January.

A vote will be scheduled for the near future, LPC Chair Sarah Carroll said at the end of the public hearing this morning. No public discussion between the commissioners took place.

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A church in the proposed Central Sunset Park Historic District

More than 40 residents and preservation advocates spoke passionately about the neighborhood at the public hearing. Many have lived in the same houses for multiple generations and spoke to the unique fabric of their community.

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A bow-fronted brownstone in the proposed Sunset Park 50th Street Historic District

Veronica McNamara said she moved to 36th Street, one of the areas under review, 60 years ago. Her testimony was emotional, talking about the renovations that her husband did on the house and the pride he felt in what he accomplished. There was Roselita, a longtime, Spanish-speaking resident who, with the help of another resident acting as translator, talked about her happiness at the potential landmarking and the memories she had as a child admiring the beauty of the local architecture.

“I’m happy to help maintain the structure of Brooklyn,” she said.

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A row in the proposed Sunset Park South Historic District

Among the four districts, approximately 514 buildings in total are part of the proposed areas. Many are small Renaissance Revival and Beaux-Arts-style brownstone, limestone and brick two-family row houses dating from the turn of the 20th century that were built for working class families. The proposed Sunset Park North Historic District, which faces the park for which the neighborhood is named, includes some of the earliest apartment co-operatives in New York City, modest dwellings built by associations of Finnish immigrants to house their working-class members.

In recent years, development and in some cases illegal conversions have resulted in what some residents have said they feel are inappropriate alterations to the neighborhood’s historic buildings, spurring the push for historic designation.

Winston Wang, a homeowner on 54th Street, was the only person who spoke against the designation. Representing a number of concerned residents, many of whom did not speak English well enough to provide testimony, he said that they were nervous about losing their right to develop, which sparked some under-the-breath hostility from members of the audience. Fuchong Liu, a resident of 56th Street, was in favor of the proposal but is worried about the gentrification that will follow.

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Part of the proposed Sunset Park North Historic District

But the testimonies continued to turn back toward not just preserving the local architecture but the history they contain. Ana Burgos talked about the house she was raised in on 47th Street, which her father purchased in 1975. He worked two jobs, she said, to be able to buy and fully restore the house. Even if he doesn’t live there, she did not want the house to disappear. She said, “I believe in development, but not to the point of destroying the past.”

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless otherwise noted]

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