Expanding the Historic District is an On-Going Priority
The Original Park Slope Historic District
The creation of the Park Slope Historic District in July 1973 was the result of concerted advocacy and community organizing by the Park Slope Civic Council. Following years of bank redlining and disinvestment in the neighborhood’s housing stock, the recognition of Park Slope’s architectural and historical significance accorded by landmarking contributed greatly to Park Slope’s revival. Our historic district was among the City’s earliest such designations by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), which itself came into being in 1965 after the destruction of the heralded Pennsylvania Station.
The 1,800 buildings within the Park Slope Historic District were largely found on blocks closest to Prospect Park. The LPC’s designation report described the area as being “of relatively uniform height, punctuated by church spires, providing a living illustration of the 19th century characterization of Brooklyn as a ‘city of homes and churches.’ Park Slope retains an aura of the past to an extent which is remarkable in New York [and] it is the long blockfronts of two – and three-story row houses …. which gives the District its unusually harmonious character.”
For nearly 20 years, Park Slope remained largely unchanged in scale and character, but as the city’s fortunes increased in the 1990s, change also came to Park Slope. Development pressures were reflected in the alterations and even demolitions of buildings that had stood untouched for more than a hundred years.
Initial Expansion Efforts
In the late 90s, the Park Slope Civic Council began asking the LPC to expand the historic district. The blocks on the south end of the neighborhood and below 7th Avenue were equal in character and architectural detail to those within the 1973 district; however, the LPC refused to act as City administrations yielded to the political and financial pressures of the real estate community.
In the early years of the new century, the Civic Council began a major push that has brought further protection to Park Slope’s architectural legacy. It required recruiting volunteers to a Historic District Expansion Committee that met regularly to develop and implement a campaign with three aims: to alert the community to the growing development threat, to document the support of homeowners and tenants to expanding the historic district, and most critically, to secure the backing of our local elected official. After a sustained effort, it finally enabled the Civic Council to get into the inner sanctum of the LPC to meet with senior LPC officials.
A Master Plan for Expansion
These discussions prompted the Civic Council to develop a master plan delineating how the historic district could grow in phases that would address the LPC’s limited resources, which stymied the possibility of designating one enormous extension. The plan prioritized previously overlooked portions of the neighborhood as well as areas most at risk of alterations and demolition. Of the five phases within the plan, the first targeted the South Slope above 7th Avenue while the second focused on parrying the threat to the North Slope from speculative development spawned by the Atlantic Yards Project (now Pacific Yards).
The Civic Council’s Trustees unanimously approved the master plan, which was further refined through discussion with the LPC, which imposed an unofficial limit on the number of buildings that could be included in any expansion to approximately 400-500 buildings.
Initial Expansion Efforts Reach Fruition
The first tangible success of the Civic Council’s renewed push came in April 2012 with the designation of the Park Slope Historic District Extension. It encompassed nearly 600 buildings in the South Slope between 7th and 15th Streets and between 7th and 8th Avenues. Of great importance, it also included both sides of 7th Avenue between 7th and 15th Streets, which set a precedent for protecting the entirely of Park Slope’s historic “Main Street.” It also encompassed the western half of Bartel Pritchard Square, which the LPC characterized as a formal portal into Park Slope. As a consequence, the Pavilion Theater was saved from demolition a few years later by a developer seeking to build luxury condos on the site. Today, Park Slope has the popular Nitehawk Theater as an amenity due to this initial extension of the historic district
The Historic District Expansion Committee immediately launched a concerted drive to protect the North Slope. That effort was rewarded by the designation of the Park Slope Historic District Extension II in April 2016, which protects about 300 buildings in the area just south of Flatbush Avenue. The area included many of the neighborhood’s oldest rowhouses, dating from the years surrounding the Civil War.
The Civic Council Continued Efforts Towards Expansion
The Civic Council’s efforts are presently focused on securing the designation of the third and fourth expansion phases of the Civic Council’s master plan. There are more than 1,500 buildings in the Center Slope between Union and 7th Streets and between 5th Avenue and 7th Avenue that were characterized by a former Executive Director of the LPC as Park Slope’s most cohesive and architecturally strongest blocks, which makes their eventual designation likely.
However, despite this initial encouragement, the LPC has placed further expansions within Park Slope on the backburner as it pursues “other priorities,” which includes designations in other boroughs and in neighborhoods that have not been recognized in the past. During this period, many in the preservation community attributed the slowdown in designations undertaken by the LPC to the de Blasio Administrations appointment of an LPC chair whose prior tenure as the head of the Board of Standards and Appeals signified a distinct lack of enthusiasm to the LPC’s preservation mission. Fortunately, a new person has succeeded to be the LPC chair with decades of preservation experience, and the apace of designations has since increased.
Despite being in a lull period due to the admonition that Park Slope must “wait its turn,” the Civic Council has not been sidelined from its expansion efforts. During the Gowanus rezoning process, the Civic Council joined forces with other preservation and neighborhood groups to advocate for landmark protection of Gowanus’ unique industrial character. In 2019, the LPC designated five individual buildings, which represented a small portion of the Gowanus Landmarking Coalition’s priority list of 18 buildings. The Coalition continues to promote the protection of more of these buildings.
The Civic Council’s expansion goals took an important step forward in January 2020 with the selection of the Center Slope by the Historic District Council, a citywide preservation advocacy organization, as one of its 2020 Six to Celebrate Neighborhoods. HDC is providing the Civic Council with technical assistance, grant funds, and most importantly, a bully pulpit to strengthen our case with the LPC to advance the protection of the 1,500 buildings in the Center Slope. The designation of a new district in the Center Slope would unite the two separated halves of the 7th Avenue commercial corridor, which presently protects the blocks from Flatbush Avenue to Union Street and from 7th to 15th Streets, one of our major objectives. However, due to the size of the Center Slope, its protection will require at least two phases.
Since HDC established the Six to Celebrate Program in 2011, it has helped to create 8 New York City Historic Districts and 36 Individual Landmarks, four National Register districts, and three National Register properties. We are grateful to HDC for its collaboration and support in our upcoming expansion efforts.
Further Expansion Plans
The Civic Council’s Master Plan includes a fifth phase, which would provide protect the blocks south of 7th Street between 5th and 7th Avenues. These blocks contain hundreds of buildings that merit inclusion in a historic district and landmarking enjoys considerable support among its residents. The Civic Council is committed to the full achievement of the master plan and will continue to advocate forcefully with the new wave of political leadership for increased landmarking protection.
Anyone interested in joining our efforts can e-mail the committee at email@example.com.