Voices heard: LPC kicks off landmarking process for old school adored by Joan Baez

Save it, don’t raze it: Local leaders and residents are calling on the city to landmark this historic President Street building before it gets demolished and replaced with apartments.
Photo by Caroline Ourso

Their concerted effort paid off!

Preservationists cheered city officials on Tuesday after they took the first step towards saving a pair of ancient Carroll Gardens buildings that neighbors, pols, and activist-musician Joan Baez demanded not face the wrecking ball due to their shared history of serving educators and ministers.

Members of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to “calendar” a to-be-determined public hearing on the protection of an old schoolhouse-turned-church and its neighboring residential complex at 236 and 238 President Streets, where Baez’s grandfather once preached and lived, kicking off the sites’ formal landmarking process to the delight of locals who called on the agency to step in ahead of a developer’s suspected destruction of the former classrooms.

“These two beautiful buildings represent part of the rich cultural fabric of our beloved neighborhood,” said Jim Protos, who owns and lives in 238 President Street. “We are thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has heard the many supporters who have voiced their desire to preserve them.”

A commission rep said its decision to calendar the sites means the agency now can review all applications that Manhattan-based builder Avo Construction files for its makeover of the 1867 schoolhouse, known centuries ago as the Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten, before making any final decision to designate it or its neighbor as a landmark — including a request to bulldoze the structure, which Avo bigwigs have yet to file with the Department of Buildings.

The developer, whose rep did not respond to requests for comment, has not submitted any construction permits, city records show.

The commission’s vote followed a March rally where activists — equipped with a Baez-penned letter demanding the structures’ protection — called on the city to save the old kindergarten that later became Brooklyn’s first Spanish-language house of worship, the First Methodist Episcopal congregation, and its neighbor built in 1853, both of which sit blocks outside the protected Carroll Gardens Historic District established in 1973. The iconic folk singer’s impassioned plea to save the buildings went on to inspire others, including former Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman, who shared a ballad he wrote about the saga in the performer’s style on Brooklyn Paper Radio.

And the city preservationists ultimately agreed that the structures’ design and purpose warranted their closer consideration, according to a rep.

“Their interconnected history as an ensemble associated with education and social welfare also made them culturally significant to Carroll Gardens, and Brooklyn,” said a Landmarks Preservation Commission spokeswoman.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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