Sunday, July 19, 2009

A video about the Prospect Heights Historic District, and a politic omission

A video from the Municipal Art Society (MAS) offers an effective sketch of the efforts--prompted by teardowns of historic buildings and the looming Atlantic Yards project--to create the Prospect Heights Historic District, which has been approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and is expected to be approved by the City Council. 

Prospect Heights: The Making of a Historic District from MAS on Vimeo.

Among those quoted is City Council Member Letitia James, who points to the results of investors who have come in and built out-of-scale buildings, which in this case is about six stories.

Tour guide and lecturer Francis Morrone offers his distinctive voice: "Prospect Heights is part of the vast Brownstone Belt of Brooklyn... What's remarkable about this is that there is this intact 19th century scale. There are very few places in cities anywhere in the world where this exists."

LPC Chairman Robert Tierney: "Prospect Heights is a natural historic district. There's no question that the quality of the streetscapes speak to a district that cries out for saving."

Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council (PHNDC): "When we first moved to Prospect Heights, no one could possibly conceive of the demolition of historic buildings to build new, cookie-cutter apartment buildings. But, as the market changed, we saw that there actually was the potential to lose these historic buildings... The second issue was the potential impact of the Atlantic Yards project. There was a great deal of concern that the size and scale of the Atlantic Yards project would potentially lead to additional out of character development."

That led the PHNDC, with the help of MAS, to survey the neighborhood, and to create the city's largest historic district since 1990. 

The AY omission

While the potential impact of Atlantic Yards certain gets a mention, omitted is the effort to save the now-demolished Ward Bakery, in the southeast block of the AY site.

And, as Tracy Collins's map below points out, the district will wrap neatly around that southeast block, designated for interim surface parking--a fate, I suspect, highly unlikely for the borders of other historic districts. And, of course, that block could have been preserved, as Forest City Enterprises has done in other cities.



2 comments:

  1. PHNDC argued against the destruction of the Ward Bakery, and I helped organize a BrooklynSpeaks rally against its demolition in April 2007. However, the initiative to designate a historic district in Prospect Heights and the campaign to save Ward Bakery can't be linked for two reasons:

    1) The decision not to designate Ward Bakery had already been made by the time PHNDC and MAS had submitted the Request for Evaluation of a Prospect Heights Historic District to LPC in the spring of 2007.

    2) Even if that decision had not been made, the criteria for buildings included in the proposed historic district likely would not have been able to encompass Ward Bakery (as has been pointed out by Francis Morrone.

    The loss of the Ward Bakery for what promises to be nothing more than vacant land or a surface parking lot for decades to come is a tragedy for Prospect Heights. The neighborhood has nevertheless succeeded in preserving nearly 850 historic buildings in spite of that tragedy, and our success in that regard should not be considered diminished because of the loss of Ward to the ill-fated Atlantic Yards project--a loss which many of us fought hard to prevent.

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  2. Thanks to Gib Veconi for adding some context. I should have clarified the timing.

    Even if the Ward Bakery could not have been included, its omission--and LPC chairman Robert Tierney's discomfort at even discussing the building--is part of the larger story of the historic district, even if it could not have been included.

    The point is: landmarking is inevitably a political context. The Bloomberg administration didn't want the Ward Bakery to be considered.

    That doesn't diminish the achievement. It just adds some context.

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