Historic Districts Councils, in Brooklyn, Honors Grassroots Preservationists

By HAROLD EGELN Under a thousand sanctuary ceiling stars soaring sky-high overhead, the newly restored interior of Grace Church, with a rich history in Brooklyn Heights since 1847, was just the right place at the right time for hosting the citywide

Historic Districts Council’s 2014 15th Annual Grassroots Preservation Awards Party

historic districts council - victoria hofmo - susan pulaski - susan sizley
Victoria Hofmo, Susan Sizley, Susan Pulaski. Photo by Harold Egeln

held on Wednesday evening, June 4.

The Episcopal church, at 254 Hicks Street at Grace Court, has finished an extensive year-long multi-million-dollar sanctuary restoration project except for its musical organ area now being worked on, with a re-dedication celebration on June 8, four days after historical preservatists from Brooklyn and the city hailed preservation leaders with awards, accolades and applause. “Tonight we honor the people behind the buildings,” said Simeon Bankoff, HDC executive director. “And we hope to learn from them tonight.” The HDC is a not-for-profit, independent and non-partisen organization advocating community based preservation action for the city’s designated historical districts, landmarks, neighborhoods and buildings, and to uphold the city’s Landmarks Law. It started as a coalition in 1971 and was incorporated in 1985, and its website is www.hdc.org. Among many Brooklynites cheering him and the council in the church in the heart of the Brooklyn Heights Historic District (the city’s first in 1966) were Bay Ridge preservationist leaders Victoria Hofmo, a HDC Board of Directors member, Bay Ridge Conservancy founder and a 2006 award honoree, activist Susan Pulaski, President Emeritus of the Bay Ridge Historical Society, and Susan Sizley. In the Epsicopal church’s wonderous setting in the massively high colorful sancutary, designed as “a verdant earthly paradise (with) a celestial ceiling” as church literature noted, Restoration Committee Chair Thomas Pace welcomed the HDC and thanked it for choosing the Gothic Revival church designed by Richard Upjohn (1802-1878), a founder of the American Institute of Architects. Pace spoke in place of Leo J. Blackman, whose architectual firm helped the project. Blackman is the vice president of the NDC Board of Directors. The church pastor is The Reverend Stephen Muncie. THE AWARD HONOREES SALUTED First of those honored was Forest Hills resident Michael Perlman, 31, founder and chair of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council in 2006 which saved the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium from demolition and was converted to a concert venue. He said,

“Preservation is my civic duty and religious calling.” Perlman is also called “the Diner-Man” for his efforts in saving local diners. Next was the 730 Riverside Drive Tenants Association of the 102-year-old Beaumont Apartments of West Harlem that was a residence for singer Marion Anderson, author Ralph Ellison and U.S. Senator Jacob Javits. “We were very concerned about a beloved treasure in our neighborhood,” said Jenna Lucenta, an association leader. Also, the First Avenue Estate Coalition which organized a successful campaign to prevent demolition of two landmark model tenement buildings in Manhattan, of which HDC Board of Directors member Kerri Culhane said, “We are celebrating a true model of humane affordable housing.” And, Lola Finkelsetin and the Multi-Board Task Force on Midtown East of Manhattan Community Boards 1, 4, 5 and 6 were honored for their investigation and evaluation of the Midtown Re-Zoning Proposal of the Bloomberg Administration and preserve the area’s historically significant buildings. “They did it without screaming,” said HDC Board of Directors President Francoise Bollack about putting the brakes on the proposal for now. “They were level-headed, willing to work for as long as the task required. It’s a real model for us.” The Friend from the Media Award went to “The Lo-Down” Lower East Side Manhattan print magazine and its website for publicizing preservation. Ed Litvak, the website’s co-founder, noted preservation progress with “the founding of the Friends of the Lower East Side three years ago.” And the Friend in High Places award was presented to new Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a former City Council member representing Manhattan’s 6th Council District for 12 years, who worked to save the West Park Presbyterian Church on the West Side and helped the West End Ave Historic District. BAY RIDGE HISTORICAL NEIGHBORHOOD AND THE HDC BROOKLYN CONNECTION The HDC office is located at 232 East 11th Street in Manhattan’s East Village, sharing space with other preservation organizations such as the Neighborhood Preservation Center since 1999, after a renovation project restored the Ernest Flagg Rectory Building that houses them now. Ernest Flagg was an early 20th Century architect who also designed the Flagg Court affordable housing complex in Bay Ridge on Ridge Boulevard at 73rd Street opened in 1936. In April 2013, the HDC’s annual “Six To Celebrate” project honoring six historical New York City neighborhoods, added Bay Ridge with a ceremony and launch of a HDC booklet about Bay Ridge, held at HOM next to the Green Spa and Wellness Center on Third Avenue. The event was led by Hofmo and Pulaski, with HDC Preservation Associate Barbara Zay who worked with the Bay Ridge Conservancy on the recognition and booklet, and Council-member Vincent Gentile who has his Preservation Committee. “This booklet captures the soul of the neighborhood,” said Gentile, as quoted in a “Home Reporter” newspaper article of April 12, 2013. Gentile was the HDC’s Friends in High Places 2009 award honoree. Brooklyn Council-member Albert Vann was honored in 2012 and Council-member Stephen Levin in 2013. Among other past HDC Grassroots Preservation Awards honorees were the Senator Street 300 Block Association (2003) in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Heights Assocation (2004), Crown Heights North Association (2007), DUMBO Neighborhood Association (2008), The Green-Wood Cemetery, and Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project (2013). This year a major HDC focus project is its “Campaign to Preserve the Carneige Libraries” in the city, for libraries constructed around the turn of the 20th Century over 100 years ago funded by Andrew Carneige, noted HDC President Bollack, an architect. She said that the HDC is advocating to nominate the libraries for placement on NY State and National Regsisters as “significantly themed historic places.” There are 17 such libraries in Brooklyn alone, including the busy Fort Hamilton Brooklyn Public Library Branch in Bay Ridge, on Fourth Avenue at 95th Street, that has undergone a successful restoration and expansion projectin reent years. Among Brooklyn co-sponsors of the Grassroots Preservation Awards Party were the Bay Ridge Conservancy, Council-member Vincent Gentile’s Preservation Committee, Bedford Barrow Commerce Block Association, Brooklyn Heights Association, Brooklyn’s Other Museum (now working to save threatened 19th Century “Admiral’s Rows” buildings), Dumbo Neighborhood Alliance, Green-Wood Cemetery, Park Slope Civic Council, Vinegar Hill Neighborhood Association, and The Floyd Bennett Field Task Force.