Dismayed by development tearing up 19th century homes all over Bushwick, residents are getting together to landmark what’s left of the neighborhood. A meeting will take place tonight to consider candidates for landmarking.
This is the group’s third meeting on historic preservation in the neighborhood, where development has reached a fever pitch since 2012, when the real estate market started to rebound from the crash. You’d be hard pressed to find a block in Bushwick untouched by alteration — whether from stucco’ing over wood frames or additions sprouting on top of bricks and brownstone or demolition of whole buildings.
A historic enclave settled by the Dutch in the 1600s, the history of Bushwick is written in its architecture, from wealthy brewer’s mansions on Bushwick Avenue to low-rise affordable housing built by community groups after the arson fires of the 1970s to blocks of gingerbread wood frames now covered in vinyl siding.
Bushwick has about 11 individual landmarks, including the early 19th century wood frame Reformed Church of South Bushwick at 855 Bushwick Avenue and the remarkably well preserved 1887 Neo-Grec and Queen Anne style wood frame Doering-Bohack House.
Obvious candidates for more preservation include the extraordinary 1888 Queen Anne row and corner building by Frank Keith Irving at 37-53 Linden Street and 1020 Bushwick Avenue and the recently restored Bushwick Leader’s High School for Academic Excellence by the Parfitt Brothers at 797 Bushwick Avenue.
The group, Bushwick Community Plan, is considering proposing two historic districts whose residents are fired up and eager to support the effort — key to designation:
We are currently focusing on two potential areas: Bushwick Avenue between Kossuth Place and Hancock St, including some side streets directly to the north and south, and the section of northeast Bushwick between Woodbine St and Halsey St, Wyckoff Ave and Knickerbocker Ave. In both of these areas, many residents and homeowners are concerned about maintaining the historic character in the face of development pressures.
But the uninterrupted vistas of largely intact 19th century streetscape the Landmark Preservation Commission likes to see are rare.
The movement is part of a larger effort to design a comprehensive plan for development in Bushwick in concert with local City Council members, Community Board 4, residents, and community organizations such as Make the Road. Such efforts have been successful in Crown Heights and Bed Stuy but less so in Gowanus, where local residents have complained a series of “Visioning” meetings convened by Councilmember Brad Lander were intended to create the appearance of support for a rezoning where there is none.
The meeting is scheduled to take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at 1349 Gates Avenue.
In 2011, a group of graduate students in Columbia University’s Historic Preservation department researched the history of many of the neighborhood’s buildings, a crucial step in the designation process. They published their research on a wiki called the Bushwiki. They proposed a historic district running along Bushwick Avenue and side streets from Kossuth to Cornelia and mapped its outlines.
Cataloging the many losses in Bushwick is a Herculean task. Recent demolitions include a standalone Arts & Crafts bungalow at 1411 Bushwick Avenue, a long-empty neo-Classical apartment house dating from 1919 at 889 Bushwick Avenue, and a number of mid-19th-century wood frame Italianates.
Another loss was an unsympathetic conversion of a notable church and school into rental apartments, which included the lopping off of the church’s spire, at 626 Bushwick Avenue in 2015.
The replacement of wood frame buildings on oversize lots to make way for apartment buildings is part of a larger trend all across the borough.
[Photos by Cate Corcoran unless noted otherwise]
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