Talk about a busy day. Following a meeting at the New School yesterday morning, for what many members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission called their hardest decision ever—voting on the demolition of Albert Ledner’s National Maritime Union in favor of a hospital—the commissioners then had to hustle downtown for a full day of work. Fortunately for them, this included the first hearing on the proposed Prospect Heights Historic District and the designation of two considerable landmarks—decidedly happier occasions than overseeing the demise of one of the city’s most unique buildings.
Unlike the highly divided vote on St. Vincent’s, and the divisive hearings that preceded it, all 27 speakers were in favor of designating Prospect Heights. “Brooklyn will breath a sigh of relief if Prospect Heights can be designated,” Christabel Gough, secretary for the Society of the Architecture of the City, said in her testimony, adding that the neighborhood was “due for Manhattanization, if present trends continue, and the city does not act soon.”
Indeed, development, and particularly the Atlantic Yards project to the proposed district’s north, were seen as the primary threats to Prospect Height’s preservation. Some speakers even pointed out that a small section of the neighborhood that falls within the Atlantic Yards footprint had been left out of the proposal. (Asked for comment, a commission spokesperson had not yet responded at the time of this story’s publication.)
With about 870 properties in the district, it would become the second largest in the borough and largest designated in 18 years. In its designation report, the commission lauds the neighborhood for its distinctive, cohesive mix of masonry rowhouses, many rendered in brownstone, that incorporate Neo-Classical, Renaissance Revival, and Romanesque Revival styles.
Letitia James, the local council representative, said the neighborhood had been under development pressure for more than a decade, and so it was time for the commission to act. “This area has already suffered from the demolition of historic buildings and out-of-scale construction,” she said. “The loss of more of our past, this fabric of our historic neighborhoods, will be prevented with this historic designation.”
Marty Markowitz, the borough president and Atlantic Yards booster agreed with James, a usual adversary. “The better Prospect Heights does, the better it is for all of Brooklyn,” he declared. Other supporters included the local community board, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Crown Heights North Association, Vanderbilt Avenue Merchants District, Municipal Arts Society, Historic Districts Council, and more than a dozen residents.
The commission also designated two individual landmarks, the St. Stephen’s Church in Murray Hill and the former F.W. Devoe & Company factory in Greenwich Village. The church, completed in 1854 in the Romanesque Revival style by architect James Renwick Jr., is located at 151 East 28th Street and was once the largest Roman Catholic church in the city, boasting 28,000 parishioners. “St. Stephen’s restrained, elegant, design belies the powerful influence its congregation and pastors wielded in the closing decades of the 19th century,” commission chair Robert Tierney said.
Founded in 1754, F.W. Devoe and Company, a producer of oil- and varnish-based paints, built its five-story factory at 110-112 Horatio Street in 1883-1883. “Like so many other factory buildings the commission has designated, the Devoe factory vividly recalls New York City’s industrial past,” Tierney said. Because the number of factory buildings remaining in the Far West Village has dwindled in recent years, the commission was especially interested in preserving this terra cotta gem.