It looks likely the 32 brick and brownstone houses that line Linden Street could form Bushwick’s first historic district, after neighbors overwhelmingly tested it in support of designation at a Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing today.
Of the nine public speakers at the hearing, eight spokes in support of the proposal and the commission also received five letters backing the move.
“I’m just here to say yes, please, thank you, and more, because Bushwick needs even more landmarking and we are so appreciative of this move,” Bushwick Avenue resident and Bushwick Historic Preservation Association member Laura Paris said at the meeting. “We’re just so delighted that Bushwick is finally getting its day in the sun. And yes, we believe that these buildings are of great historic importance, and also that landmarking larger parts of Bushwick is absolutely essential to maintain Bushwick’s character and maintain its beauty.”
Longstanding Linden Street resident Deborah Hicks, who has lived in the house her parents bought since 1957, said when she was a child passers by would walk slowly past “the red classics” and admire them “as if our homes were on the front pages of the House & Gardens.”
She told the commissioners she and one other neighbor who had lived there since the same year were “the last eye witnesses to growth, to abandonment, to restoration, to reimagining, to hold onto hope and to hold onto memories dearest to us.”
“We do not wish to be viewed as stuck in time resisting the new, we just do not want our past, our endeavors, and our endurance and persistence to fade like the colors of leaves do at the fall transition to winter. We residents of Linden Street in Bushwick just want to remain relevant, unforgotten, and included in the timestamp of historic districts.”
LPC researcher Marianne Hurley told those at the meeting that the “remarkably intact group” of row houses, built between 1885 and 1901 by several Brooklyn architects, represented a “highly successful integration of late 19th century styles” including Queen Anne, Neo-Grec and Renaissance Revival.
“The proposed district exhibits a highly intact architectural quality and it presents a strong historic character that distinguishes it [it] within the broader Bushwick area,” she added.
The district would cover areas on both sides of Linden Street, including 10 Queen Anne-style brick row houses with extraordinary terra-cotta decoration that run from 37 to 53 Linden Street and start at the corner of Bushwick Avenue. They were commissioned in 1888 by a prominent lawyer and one of the founders of the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, Samuel M. Meeker, Hurley said. Meeker, and later his family, developed much of the section of Linden Street that is being considered.
“Remarkably, this section of Linden Street has remained intact over the years, resulting in a consistent historic streetscape. And its residents reflect the diversity of the Bushwick neighborhood today,” Hurley told commissioners.
Preservationist and NYU adjunct instructor Kelly Carroll, who works as an advisor to the Bushwick Historic Preservation Association, called on the commissioners to expand the area being considered to include the two apartment buildings on the south side of Linden Street.
“These two apartment dwellings are different to their row house neighbors, and they share both a classical architectural vocabulary and traditional building materials of brick and stone,” Carroll said. “As evidenced by the new apartment buildings along Bushwick Avenue and elsewhere in the community, stylistic nods no longer occur in Bushwick. Considering New York City’s most historic districts reflect built environments spanning decades, a push into the 20th century to include these two buildings has precedent, and is a simple research lift as it is only two structures.”
Local resident Dina Alfano also backed that request, and she quoted LPC commissioner Michael Goldblum’s (remarks at a previous hearing) saying that by splitting blocks in designs, the commission loses its ability to improve cohesiveness on designated blocks. She said already the 20-story tower rising on the corner of Linden Street and Broadway is evidence of that.
Alan Gamboa, another Linden Street resident, said overall he supports landmarking the block, but shared his concerns around the designation limiting the greening of buildings, especially in regard to solar panels. “I would strongly urge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to do away with any restrictions on solar panels or green infrastructure in the face of the climate crisis, which is not coming but is already here now,” he said.
However, not everyone at the hearing was in support of the move, with Open New York member Erik Nilsen testing against the designation. Nilsen told commissioners that given the city’s housing shortage and the neighborhood’s high rents, along with its proximity to public transport, “I find it unconscionable that during this housing crisis that we would cordon off sections of the neighborhood to development especially so close to mass transit .”
“I myself being a native New Yorker only became a homeowner in its neighborhood because of the construction of these so-called featureless new buildings, particularly new condo construction, and I would not want to prevent other people from the same opportunity that I had. ”
Meanwhile, Christopher Rodriguez used the hearing as a chance to elevate another landmarking fight happening in the Bronx. He said the proposed Linden Street district “certainly merits landmark status,” but added “something that also merits consideration, but this commission has been overlooked, is the German Methodist church located at 790 Elton Avenue in the Bronx, built in 1878. This commission’s failure to act has allowed a developer to erase part of it right before our very eyes, despite requests,” he said.
Lucy Levine of the Historic Districts Council and Jeremy Woodoff of the Victorian Society of New York also tested in support of Linden Street’s designation. The addresses of the proposed district include 15 to 53 Linden Street on the odd-numbered side of the street and, on the evenly numbered side, 16 to 34 Linden Street.
LPC chair Sarah Carroll closed the meeting by addressing Gamboa’s fears around solar panels, saying often they are approved at staff level and if any installation plans do not fit the LPC’s rule they came before the commission, which “as a body has really wholeheartedly embraced the idea of solar panels and found ways to install and approve solar panels that don’t detract from the significant architectural features of the building or the district.”
Carroll said the LPC would bring the proposed designation back in the “very near future” for a public meeting and to hold a vote.