Two blocks of brownstones in Bed-Stuy proposed as NYC historic district

May 22, 2024

Photos courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A two-block stretch of historic homes in Bed-Stuy could become New York City’s next historic district. The Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday voted to calendar the proposed Willoughby-Hart Historic District, which includes two blocks of intact 19th-century rowhouses between Marcy and Nostrand Avenues. Built primarily in the Neo-Grec style between the 1870s and 1890s, the 150-year-old homes are architecturally cohesive and reflect a period of Brooklyn’s transformation from farmland to residential, according to the commission.

According to the LPC research staff, the proposed district historically was part of the community known as Cripplebush, which was developed in the mid-17th century along the historic Cripplebush Road that connected the settlement of Bedford Corners to Newtown in Queens. After more roads were constructed in the early 19th century, the neighborhood grew, and by 1855, the area was known as the Eastern District. That area was later annexed into New York City, jumpstarting development and expansion.

This period of rapid development in this section of Bed-Stuy was further amplified by the expansion of streetcar lines and the completion of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The earliest residents within the proposed district were mostly middle-class German immigrants. By the early 20th century, the area had become home to a large population of Jewish immigrants from Russia. In the 1950s and 60s, Black families moved to the area and Bed-Stuy eventually became the largest Black community in the five boroughs.

A few notable residents of the district include legendary jazz drummer Maz Roach, who lived at 448 Willoughby Avenue for a short period, and Countess Alma Von Blucher, a philanthropist in the German community.

Members of the Advocates for Willoughby Hart group have been pushing for the area’s landmarking since the demolition of the Jacob Dangler House in July 2022. The former historic French Gothic Mansion has stood at the corner of Willoughby and Nostrand Avenues for 120 years and was demolished, despite a campaign to landmark the building led by residents and public officials.

The homes within the proposed historic district predominantly feature the Neo-Grec style, in addition to the Second Empire style, characterized by their intact mansard roofs, the commission noted.

Plus, a few homes on Hart Street exemplify the Romanesque Revival style, with the characteristic rusticated stone facades, and Queen Anne style, seen in “checkerboard patterning, intricate, carved detail, and imposing L-shaped stoops,” as reported by Brownstoner.

Advocates for Willoughby Hart has researched the proposed historic district, mobilized neighbors to the cause, hosted community meetings, and gathered over 1,000 signatures on a petition calling on the LPC to landmark the area, according to Brownstoner.

A group of homeowners opposed to the landmarking cite concerns over the cost of maintaining and renovating homes within the proposed district. An online petition against the historic district has gathered over 1,750 signatures.

To assure homeowners that the landmarking process would not be detrimental to their properties, LPC held three public meetings with owners to discuss the proposed district and explained ways in which homeowners could work alongside LPC if landmarking is approved.

“We have heard both support and opposition and have taken time for additional conversations with property owners and their representatives. We are aware that some permits for facade work and interior work have been filed and issued at the Department of Buildings, and we will continue to monitor that work and work with property owners,” Sarah Eccles, LPC researcher, told the commission.

Existing historic districts in Bed-Stuy include the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, the Bedford-Stuyvesant/ Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, and the Bedford Historic District.

The proposed new historic district will be reviewed in a public hearing, followed by a vote by the commission.

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