Residents of a quaint portion of Vanderbilt Avenue in Fort Greene breathed a sigh of relief this week when the city designated the block an historic district — protected from the threat of flashy new condos like the one built there four years ago.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the Wallabout Historic District on Tuesday, preserving the strip from Myrtle Avenue to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway that includes more than 50 wood houses alongside Greek and Gothic Revival townhouses — many of which were built between 1849 and 1855 and owned by ship captains.
The designation comes four years after neighbors where shocked to see a steel monolith built on the block, replacing a quaint house and garage.
“We all had a heart attack when the condo came in,” said Louise Lear Greene, who bought her home in 1972, when most of the buildings on the street where in bad shape. “Now we won’t have to worry.”
The city’s move comes months after the state added Wallabout to its Register of Historic Places, allowing owners to seek public grants for preserving their homes. The state’s designation, however, did nothing to protect the block from out-of-scale construction.
As an historic district, Wallabout buildings are protected from demolition and significant changes. But building owners must get city approval to make alterations of any kind to the structures — whether they want to replace windows or change wrought-iron fences, said Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Commission.
But to most owners, that’s a small price to pay to keep the block beautiful.
“It was apparent that if we didn’t have protection of Landmarks, the area would be at risk for redevelopment,” said Gary Hattem, co-chairman of the Historic Walkabout Association. “These small buildings represent a part of Brooklyn’s history, and we want to reserve it for future generations.”