Carroll Gardens Rallies to Save Historic Kindergarten Building from Demolition

Carroll Gardens Rallies to Save Historic Kindergarten Building from Demolition

Brooklyn, NYC – A group of local elected officials, community leaders, residents, and preservation advocates rallied today and called on the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate 236 and 238 President Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn as New York City landmarks. The buildings are both historic treasures from the 19th century, and 236 President (the first freestanding kindergarden in Brooklyn) is at immediate risk of being demolished and replaced with an out-of-context 7-story condo building.

More than 2,000 people have signed the petition to preserve these historic treasures.

The former Hans S. Christian Memorial Kindergarten building, located at 236 President Street, was built in 1897 and operated by the Brooklyn Free Kindergarten Society. It was the first building in Brooklyn that was designated specifically for use as a kindergarten (which was not provided in public schools at the time). The handsome two-story structure later housed the First Methodist Episcopal congregation, the first Spanish-speaking parish in Brooklyn, and converted to residences (a fuller history of the building is available here). The building is now in contract to be purchased by a developer who reportedly plans to demolish this historic building, and replace it with a 7-story condominium (taller than any building on the block).

The neighboring building, 238 President Street, is an Italianate mansion built 45 years earlier, in 1853. It features a trellised gate and front garden, a grand stoop with cast-iron balusters, iron pilasters alongside the original entry door, a decorative pediment, and florid cast-iron moldings. On the trellis, one can see reference to the Methodist Episcopal mission, one of several religious and social institutions that occupied the property. It is currently a 4-unit co-op. The co-op owners support landmark designation. More history on both buildings is available here.

Unfortunately, the Carroll Gardens Historic District (designated in 1973) is one of the smallest in the city, including only 134 contributing buildings, and does not extend to 236 & 238 President Street. For many years, residents have called on the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to expand the existing Carroll Gardens Historic District and broaden the area covered by preservation protections.

NYC Council Member Brad Lander, Representative Nydia Velazquez, and NYS Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon sent a letter to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission on March 2, 2018, expressing their support for designation of 236 and 238 President Street, as well as expansion of the Carroll Gardens Historic District. The Historic Districts Council sent a letter expressing its support on February 15.

“We have an urgent opportunity to save a Carroll Gardens treasure,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “If we don’t act now, it will very likely be lost forever. Our community is not against development. We have been working closely with City Planning on a potential rezoning for Gowanus, just a few steps away. But we must balance growth with preservation of treasures like 236 & 238 President Street that make our neighborhoods special. I’m especially grateful to the owners & residents of 238 President Street, whose support for landmarking their own building shows true love of this neighborhood, and to the community leaders and advocates who have been leading this effort for years.”

“These two structures provide a unique and highly sought after sense of place and neighborhood character, and they should be designated as landmarks. The distinct architecture and history of the two buildings lends itself to the uniqueness of the Carroll Gardens community. Preserving these two buildings and expanding the Carroll Gardens Historic District is the right way to connect our city to its past while moving forward on the same ideals of improving educational opportunities for the children of New York. I’m glad to stand with Council Member Lander, Representative Velazquez, and the Carroll Gardens community to preserve these unique neighborhood structures,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

“We’re honoring the community by spotlighting its history,” said Jim & Grace Protos, co-op owners at 238 President Street. “What’s at stake is the character of Carroll Gardens.” At the press conference, Grace read a letter from Joan Baez, whose grandfather immigrated to the neighborhood from Mexico, lived in 238 President Street, and was the minister of one of the first Spanish-language Methodist Churches in Brooklyn, which met at 236 President Street.

"These handsome buildings are not only charming but also an important part of the neighborhood's history of welcoming immigrants and newcomers,” said Simeon Bankoff, the Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council. “They serve as a visual connection with the Brooklyn of a hundred years ago and must be preserved to continue to house, serve and educate future generations of New Yorkers"

The Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association said “we have been interested in the expansion of our Landmark District for more than 10 years.  We have been pursuing this goal with the NYC Landmark Preservation Commission for much of that time and hope to make progress in the near future.  In the meantime, we are facing development pressures which will forever alter the historic importance and architectural beauty of our neighborhood.  Our 2008 rezoning, while adding some protection to most of the neighborhood, also created a few places where development potential was increased.  236 President street is one of those places.  We are hopeful that LPC will act quickly to determine whether its history and unusual architecture is significant enough to merit protection. We recognize that this will not prevent development but will hopefully preserve the facade and create a better development for the owners, developers and the community.”

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