Locals Fight to Landmark East New York, Crown Heights South as Rezoning, Development Loom

Crown Heights South home. Photo by Corcoran

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Residents and preservationists are pushing for landmarking in two previously unprotected neighborhoods, Crown Heights South and East New York.

Crown Heights South, famous for being the worldwide headquarters of the Lubavitcher movement, and East New York, which Mayor de Blasio has targeted for a massive rezoning, have made the Historic Districts Council‘s 2016 Six to Celebrate, a list of citywide places deserving — but not yet boasting — landmark designation.

Defined by its quaint, 20th century row houses and elegant apartment buildings, Crown Heights South includes such historic gems as the long-empty Bedford-Union Armory, which is slated to be transformed into residential space, including affordable units and a swimming pool.

“The area is under a great deal of development pressure,” Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff told Brownstoner of the HDC’s decision to list Crown Heights South on its list of preservation-worthy neighborhoods.

Bankoff continued, “The zoning [in Crown Heights South] is too high, there are real concerns about the armory — the plan that is going through will have incredibly deleterious affects on the neighborhood — and there are streetscapes that are under risk, wonderful streetscapes of row houses that are at extreme risk of inappropriate alteration if not outright demolition.”

Crown Heights South

A Brooklyn Eagle ad for Crown Heights South, 1909

The area’s architecture has been featured in many a historical article by Brownstoner contributor Suzanne Spellen (aka Montrose Morris). Spellen expressed support of the inclusion of the neighborhood on the HDC’s list, saying the area is “long overdue for landmarking.”

While an attempt was made to landmark the area in 1978 (for which the proposal is available online), nothing came of it.

The Crown Heights South Association, formed in September, is spearheading landmarking efforts in the area which, despite containing the type of architecture that is typically eligible for historic district designation, has consistently lacked landmarking support from its Lubavitcher community — a sect of Jewish Hasidism with the highest concentration of followers in Crown Heights and Kfar Chabad, in Israel.

According to Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, past chair of the area’s Community Board 9 for 34 years, the Lubavitcher dissent arises from their large families and resultant need to constantly expand their houses. “There will be a lot of vehemence against it,” Goldstein told Brownstoner in a phone interview, saying landmarking would “stunt the Jewish community because…if they landmark they can’t expand.”

The Crown Heights South Association, formed in September, proposes to start by landmarking an area bounded by Washington to Nostrand and Empire Boulevard to Eastern Parkway, to be called the Armory District, CHSA President and 14-year resident of the area Evelyn Tully Costa told Brownstoner.

Crown Heights South

Automobile Row. Photo by Eric Altschul for PropertyShark

The area includes the St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf, as well as various neo-Renaissance, Colonial Revival, and Mediterranean row houses.

In East New York, the local champions of preservation are also a recently created group. Preserving East New York formed with a goal of advocating “for planning that includes the protection, restoration, and reuse of some of the area’s treasured buildings,” according to the HDC’s Six to Celebrate announcement.

According to Bankoff, the choice to include East New York comes from Preserving East New York’s newness, as well as concern Mayor de Blasio’s rezoning plans may overlook some of the neighborhood’s historic resources. Should the rezoning pass, many of the area’s historic resources, “are under severe risk of demolition for new development,” Bankoff said in an email. “We hope that by making East New York one of our Six to Celebrate, more attention will be focused on improving the East New York which currently exists, as opposed to simply paving it over.”

Crown Heights South

91 Pennsylvania Avenue in East New York. Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

The formation of Preserving East New York may have been galvanized by the threatened destruction of one of the area’s most notable buildings last year, the former East New York Savings Bank at 91 Pennsylvania Avenue. The four-story Renaissance Revival building was built in 1889 and is thought to have been designed by one of New York City’s most important architects, Richard Upjohn, Jr.

After Brownstoner wrote about plans to raze it, a handful of locals held a protest in freezing conditions and reached out to the owner to try to save it. As of February, demolition had started on the interior.

The HDC is a nonprofit, pro-preservation group. It offers help to the landmarking efforts on its Six to Celebrate list. Getting on the list can help a community realize its preservation aims.

Last year, a section of Crown Heights North made the wish-list for landmarks preservation and was unanimously approved in March. Same with the Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District and the Bedford Historic District, both in Bedford Stuyvesant.

205-pennsylvania-avenue-031115

The 1935 Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church at 205 Pennsylvania Avenue is in the proposed East New York rezoning area. Photo by Cate Corcoran

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