The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated four areas of Sunset Park as historic districts on Tuesday, after a decades-long fight by community members to preserve the neighborhood’s architectural — and blue-collar — roots.
“We feel that it’s not just architectural history that’s being preserved, but also the history of a working-class community,” said Lynn Massimo, project leader of the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee, which has spearheaded the landmarking effort since 2012.
The four historic districts — which together encompass about 20 blocks bounded by 44th Street in the north, 59th Street at the south, Fourth Avenue in the west and Seventh Avenue to the east — contain brownstones, co-op apartments, and row houses dating back to the 1890s. Sunset Park, once a home for Irish, German, and Scandinavian immigrants during the turn of the century, claims a wealth of Romanesque and Renaissance revival-style buildings, according to local historian Joe Svehlak.
“Sunset Park was originally designed as the middle-class version of Park Slope, but it became working-class,” said Svehlak, who has fought for the landmark designation since the 1980s. “The six blocks between 54th and 60th streets contain some of the oldest houses.”
But in recent years, the age-old buildings have been under siege as Brooklyn has undergone its own Renaissance revival. Residents complain that developers have destroyed the classic edifices and erected modern, multi-family buildings in their wake.
“Generations of Sunset Parkers have kept their row houses intact and looking historic,” Massimo said on Tuesday. “But that history is being erased by an increase in absentee investors destroying the row-house facades.”
The LPC’s decision marks a big win for local preservationists, many of whom have pushed for landmark designation for over 30 years. Under the historic district designation, homeowners are barred from making any changes to the houses’ exterior without LPC approval, and all changes must match the building’s architecture.
“We’ve held meetings with block associations, and community boards,” said Svehlak, who was present for the landmarking decision. Since 2013, the Sunset Park Landmark Committee has spoken to over 400 homeowners in the neighborhood and has collected over 3,000 signatures in support of historic demarcation, the committee’s website reports.
On Tuesday, applause erupted when the Landmarks commissioners voted unanimously to preserve the four Sunset Park districts. Members of the Sunset Park Landmarks Committee were particularly elated.
“[Sunset Park’s] history, which is not only architectural history but is also the history of a proud immigrant and working class community, deserves to be honored and preserved,” said Massimo.