Historic Kindergarten Building in Carroll Gardens Saved from Demolition

Historic Kindergarten Building in Carroll Gardens Saved from Demolition

Elected officials and community leaders are grateful to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission for listening to the community and protecting 236 & 238 President Street.

Brooklyn, NYC – Local elected officials and community leaders celebrated the preservation of two treasured buildings in Carroll Gardens today, including the first stand-alone kindergarten in Brooklyn, at 236 President Street, which was threatened with demolition.

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Meenaskshi Srinivisan heard the appeal of the community and proposed that the Commission vote to “calendar” both 236 and 238 President for designation as New York City Landmarks.

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 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.

This spring, community members learned that 236 President Street was in contract to be purchased by a developer with plans to demolish this historic building and replace it with a 7-story condominium (taller than any building on the block).

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, leaving the buildings at risk.

So the community swung into action. The neighbors at 238 President Street, who support landmark designation of their building, sounded the alarm bell and helped lead the way, along with the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. Local blog “Pardon Me for Asking” reported on the danger of demolition. A petition to designate the two buildings as landmarks garnered over 2,000 signatures. NYC Council Member Brad Lander, Representative Nydia Velazquez, NYS Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, and NYS Senator Brian Kavanagh appealed to the LPC, and organized a rally/press conference in support.

Today, the community learned their pleas were heard. NYC Landmarks Chair Srinivasan took a close look at the buildings, reviewed their history, and recommended to the LPC that the buildings be calendared for designation as NYC landmarks. While the formal process takes a while (and leads ultimately to a vote by the New York City Council), the building is protected in the meantime, so it can’t be demolished and replaced.

"This is great news! A historic treasure of the Carroll Gardens community is being saved,” said City Council Member Brad Lander. Thanks to neighborhood leaders, preservation activists, Joan Baez, and especially to the co-op owners at 238 President Street for leading the way in preserving this piece of our history. And big thanks to LPC Chair Srinivasan for hearing the voice of the community. As the saying goes (sort of), 'what we really need to save, was Brooklyn's first kindergarten.’” Lander pledged to continue to advocate for the expansion of the Carroll Gardens Historic District, especially in light of potential new development around the Gowanus Canal.

Jim Protos, an owner at 238 President Street, said: "These two beautiful buildings represent part of the rich cultural fabric of our beloved Carroll Gardens neighborhood, the Borough of Brooklyn, New York City and our great country, and we are thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has heard the many supporters who have voiced their desire to preserve them."

“We are thankful that LPC has acted quickly and has seen the merits in the architecture and history of these buildings and hope that this may lead toward expanding our existing landmarked district,” said Glenn Kelly, John Hatheway, and Maria Pagano of the Carroll Gardens Neighborhood Association. “We congratulate the resident owners of 238 President Street for their commitment to this effort and their persistence in researching and advocating for the recognition and protection of both buildings. We also thank the staff and leadership at the Historic District Council and of course our NYC Councilman Brad Lander and his staff for their invaluable support.”

“We’re incredibly thankful for the Landmarks Commission’s swift decision to listen to the community and officially consider these buildings as landmarks,” said Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council. “We believe that they are very deserving of landmark designation, and hope this is a start to extending protection to more vulnerable historic buildings in the neighborhood”.

Representative Nydia M. Velázquez said: “Designed as a nurturing place for schoolchildren and later serving as the first Spanish-speaking parish in Brooklyn, the home at 236 President Street and the adjacent home at 238 President Street carry a history that has been embraced by generations of Brooklynites. I am proud to have joined the community in advocating for these structures to receive landmark preservation designation, and I am heartened to see the Commission take the steps to make this a reality. In addition, the Commission should expand the Carroll Gardens Historic District so we can continue to preserve the rich and diverse history of the area.”

“Brooklynites spoke up -- and the Landmarks Preservation Commission listened,” State Senator Brian Kavanagh said. “Last month, I joined with my colleagues, community groups, and CB6 to urge an expedited review of these properties, and I’m glad to see the Commission has heeded our calls. We look forward to the hearing on Tuesday.”

“I’m thrilled that the Landmarks Preservation Commission has decided to review these two unique neighborhood structures as potential landmarks. 236 and 238 President Street both have distinct architecture and history that lends itself to the distinctiveness of the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, and provides a highly sought after sense of place and neighborhood character. Preserving these two buildings and designating them as landmarks is the right way to connect our city to its past,” said Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon.

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