Friday, April 11, 2008


As I walk around brownstone Brooklyn, I can't help but notice all of those signs that designate certain neighborhoods as historic districts. But, why not mine.

My turn of the century brownstone is just blocks away from these districts and yet, no one has gotten around to declaring my street, a historic block or neighborhood.

Hey, it's not that I'm looking to brag or just have the notoriety of the distinction, but such a claim would prevent fat cat developers from putting up another ugly, too-tall apartment building in a relatively low-rise community of early 1900's brownstones.

My landlord has been very active in this area, attending community board meetings and lobbying local officials to come to their senses. Every few months it seems another gargantuan structure begins to rear its ugly, too tall, too modern head.

More than 40 years ago, the city of New York, passed a law that allows neighborhoods to protect their historic buildings and the texture of their neighborhoods. It's what should have protected the old Penn station and what did protect Grand Central Terminal. But, the process of achieving this protection is lengthy and cumbersome, as if city officials think preserving historic districts is a bad thing. The city's Historic District Council is New York's biggest advocate for preserving these architectural gems. Take a gander at the council's explanation of what a historic designations actually means:


The New York City Landmarks Law of 1965 established the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) and authorized them to designate individual buildings, historic districts, interior landmarks and scenic landmarks of historical, cultural and architectural significance. For almost forty years, neighborhoods have sought historic district designation from the LPC because it protects their beloved buildings from demolition and insensitive change. Indeed, a property owner cannot alter the exterior of designated building without first getting permission from the LPC.

The Landmarks Law defines a Historic District as an area that has a “special character or special historic or aesthetic interest,” represents “one or more periods of styles of architecture typical of one or more eras in the history of the city,” and constitutes “a distinct section of the city.” Without a doubt, many neighborhoods throughout New York City fit this description, and obviously the LPC cannot designate each and every neighborhood. Thus advocating for your neighborhood to be designated a New York City historic district is a long, sometimes arduous, complicated, and, when it is finally successful, immensely satisfying task.

Okay, so I can't paint the facade of my brownstone blue, I can't use aluminum siding and I can't add odd looking turrets to the house. This is all good. Don't ya think.

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