In an effort to stop any further demolition on their historic Bedford-Stuyvesant blocks, Willoughby Avenue and Hart Street residents have come together to call on the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate a historic district in their neighborhood.
The Willoughby Nostrand Marcy Block Association and Justice for 441 Willoughby (a group formed after the Dangler mansion’s demolition) released a petition over the weekend saying “Willoughby Ave and Hart St between Nostrand and Marcy Aves stand alone as the two remaining blocks of exclusively brownstones. They should be landmarked and should be protected.”
“Throughout the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, brownstones and tree-Wilined streets are being destroyed to make way for anonymous glass new luxury buildings, whose skyrocketing rents displace neighbors and further contribute to the neighborhood’s gentrification,” the petition reads.
The petition says the proposal is for landmarking the numbers 441-511 Willoughby Avenue on the north side of the street, 444-510 on the south side of the street (including the Red Gate Garden to the east), as well as 1-75 Hart Street on the north side of the street, and 2-76 Hart St on the south side of the street. It says the blocks are made up of contiguous brownstones, all constructed in the late 19th century.
“Many brownstones in this pocket of Brooklyn have been passed down through family lineage, raising many generations of New Yorkers,” the petition reads. “It is this familiarity with this place and dedication to continuing the spirit of community here, in addition to its exemplary position alongside the rest of “brownstone Brooklyn,” that contribute to this area’s significant sense of place, making it perfect for landmarking.”
Lauren Cawdrey, the VP of the block association, told Brownstoner the motivation for submitting the RFP to the LPC is to keep the blocks intact and prevent future destruction, “because people moving in have zero regard for architectural history.”
“If you look around, if you look at Pulaski or Vernon or even down further on Willoughby, there’s nothing stopping anyone from buying two brownstones next door to each other, which is already the case, and ripping them down,” she said.
Cawdrey said recently people had been buying up properties on Willoughby Avenue and not pulling permits for work, then threatening local residents who call 311. “When people come in and they do cheap, illegal, dangerous construction we have nothing stopping that other than calling 311, which is moderately effective. But then you see, in the case of the Dangler building, the developers get a slap on the wrist, you get the violation settled privately. There is no recourse here.”
She said the neighborhood felt that LPC owed “us some crumbs” after the sudden demolition of the Dangler mansion in 2022, which locals had been fighting to protect. “This crumb is going to be protecting these last blocks, in this entire area of northern Bed Stuy they’re the last two blocks that are intact…it’s a consolation prize, we’ve just been screwed on every angle.”
Cawdrey said the Historic Districts Council had held information sessions for local residents on what landmarking would mean for them as property owners, and although there are some hesitations, people are approaching it with an open mind.
The group is preparing a request for evaluation, or RFP, and intends to submit it to the landmarking agency on Friday, January 13, alongside the petition. The group is “haunting LPC” after the mansion’s demo, Cawdrey added.
The request will then be evaluated by the commission. If the agency feels the proposal has merit, the next step would be calendaring it, followed by a hearing and a vote. LPC evaluates the architectural, historic and cultural merit of the proposed district or property. Development, gentrification and affordable housing are outside the agency’s purview; at least one LPC decision concerning affordable housing, in Crown Heights, was later voided by a judge.
This story first ran in Brooklyn Paper’s sister site Brownstoner.