‘Civil’ obedience! State designates Wallabout as a historic district

‘Civil’ obedience! State designates Wallabout as a historic district
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The historic beauty of a swath of Civil War-era homes in an isolated corner of Fort Greene has finally been recognized.

More than 200 properties located within five blocks of Wallabout bounded by Myrtle, Park Washington and Clermont avenues were added to the New York State Register of Historic Places this week — a pivotal step for building owners hoping to tap into public preservation grants that will help them refurbish and restore the 150-year-old structures many in the area cherish.

“[The Wallabout area] is one of the oldest communities in Brooklyn,” said resident Gary Hattem. “It’s a history and a story that we want to pass on to future generations.”

Hattem’s right to say that Wallabout has a lot of history: it’s filled with homes from early 19th-century Brooklyn as well as brownstone additions from borough legend Charles Pratt (the same Pratt who gave his name — and money — to found Pratt Institute a few blocks away). Many residences were built between 1830 and 1930.

Several Greek and Gothic Revival townhouses — replete with porch swings — can also be found along the quiet tree-lined streets that give Wallabout its charm.

The neighborhood’s addition to the state register may be a boon to those who own a historic home, but it does nothing to protect the area from out-of-scale construction — only city landmarking can do that.

If the city designates the area as a historic district, all new buildings must contribute to “a coherent streetscape [and] a distinct sense of place” — language that restricts the 10-story modern condo.

“[The landmarking] would great for the block — it means we won’t have any more of that,” longtime resident Bill Washington told us, pointing to a seven-story black and gray steel condo at 122 Vanderbilt Ave., which he considers a modern eyesore. “This block has come a long way in the last 30 years, and we want to keep it that way.”

The city has yet to make Wallabout a historic district, although a public hearing on it was held last fall and a decision is expected by the summer.

Until then, the state grant money should help the local economy.

“We see it as a job creator,” said Michael Blaise Backer, executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project. “This will be a huge opportunity for local laborers when these brick buildings and brownstones start getting restored.”

The Wallabout neighborhood was initially built to accommodate laborers who moved eastward to work at the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard, which has its own unique history.

But that piece of Brooklyn’s past may soon disappear. Despite a long fought battle to get the Army National Guard to preserve two 19th-century buildings on the Flushing Avenue side of the Navy Yard, the Army has backed away from its promise claiming that the buildings are too run down to repair.

A portion of Wallabout will become a new historic district, preserving Civil War-era homes like these on Vanderbilt Avenue.
Community Newspaper Group / Andy Campbell