The Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District, with the splendid Greek Revival Borough Hall and North Plaza at its focus, is both figuratively and functionally the urban center of Brooklyn. It is located at the civic, business, education and transportation hub of the borough. It is also the interface of the vibrant neighborhoods of Metrotech, Fulton/Downtown, Court Street and Brooklyn Heights. Although each of these neighborhoods maintains its own particular and unique identity, they all share the new district as a historic core, and a distinctly Brooklyn’s “Town Square.”
Having survived decline in early mid-19th century, the ravages of radical urban renewal, and the doldrums of the 1970s, this historic district is an area now well on its way to a successful return to cohesion and vitality. Like many urban areas, it has enjoyed and benefited from the expansive economies of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Also, like so many inner city districts now returning to robustness, it is rich with a varied, significant and potentially endangered architectural context. The assemblage of important, large-scale, early 20th century skyscrapers along Court Street, each with its own exuberant historical style — including the spectacular Court Chambers Building at 75 Livingston Street and coupled with the solid classical backdrop of the Municipal Building — frame and embrace Borough Hall and the Court and Montague Street corridors with a richness and scale befitting the official and commercial heart of Brooklyn. The skyscrapers’ substantial presence and architectural beauty embody a brick-and-mortar celebration of the historic vitality of Brooklyn and, when taken as a whole, play a significant role in defining the singular quality of this area.
The designation of the Court Street skyscrapers for these qualities, and for their contribution to the integrity of the greater Borough Hall District, is a timely step in recollecting, acknowledging and preserving Brooklyn’s urban richness. Just as landmarking rejuvenated the now-thriving Ladies Mile District, we believe that the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District will safeguard and support the present and future renaissance of this unique neighborhood.
Philip Magnuson is the chair of the Brooklyn Heights Association Landmark Preservation Committee.