Fred Baer: Fiske Terrace—Midwood Park Historic District
Voices from the Neighborhood
Interviewed September 15, 2010 by Susan Hopper, HDC board member
How did you get started with historic preservation? I have lived in our neighborhood of Victorian homes, for 30 years. At the time we did this, I was president of Fiske Terrace Neighborhood Association. We have two neighborhoods and two neighborhood associations, and both had submitted proposals to the Landmarks Commission. LPC took their time and we were waiting; it was a long process. As president, I saw it languishing. We had submitted a lot of information, letters, postcards; we had gotten Brooklyn Borough President Mary Markowitz’s support. But things were not moving. I had managed projects in the customer service area, but I knew nothing about historic preservation, and then, around 2005-6, I heard about the Historic Districts Council.
How has the Historic Districts Council helped? We got Frampton Tolbert, deputy director, to come out and talk to us, someone who knew what to do, the steps, and pitfalls. We took such advantage of his expertise. We got to Yvette Clark on the City Council, and I got into heads of councilmembers. We were concerned about out of scale building replacing old houses being torn down. We went into higher gear. Frampton came to our meetings, Yvette’s staff pushed LPC to act on our joint applications, we held a community meeting where Frampton explained things, and we had banners, signs, and enthusiasm. It was a tremendous success; we had our public hearing and had HDC on our side all the time.
We took for granted that we had to get all elected officials on board. We went to the borough president and to New York State Assembly members, and made sure they sent letters. But Frampton said the landmarks process involves the City Council, so it was most important to get our City Council members on board. We had focused on people we knew the best, but Frampton told us that if councilmembers didn’t support us, it would be difficult for LPC to. Instead of going in different directions, we could laser in on the folks that mattered the most—we wound up being calendared and designated in 2008!
Frampton gave us tips on testifying at the hearing. The commission does not expect everyone to be an expert in preservation. What is important is to get lots of people there who would say they support this. We are just folks, not used to public speaking, but we (there were 58 of us) were able to convince people. We stood up and gave our name and how long we had lived in the neighborhood and why we wanted to preserve it –over and over and over again. A commissioner described it as a love fest! We had overwhelming neighborhood support, thanks to that guidance from Frampton. We are at where we want to be—we have reached the successful conclusion of a long journey—to preserve our neighborhood. The effort took about a decade. We owe a great deal to HDC in helping us get there, especially Frampton. Simeon Bankoff, executive director, was also very helpful—he actually came to our public hearing. Another staff person gave the HDC testimony and Simeon gave his own testimony for himself—Simeon’s dad lives behind me.
HDC gave us other useful advice. Once we were formally designated and it went to the City Council, we made an appointment with Jessica Lapin, then chair of the landmarks committee. Three of us went up to see her, and we gave her Victorian Flatbush 101 on why it was really important for the City Council to affirm the LPC designation. We went to the City Council meeting and it sailed through!
HDC did something else really good—they did a candidates’ forum to raise awareness of historic preservation. I helped write the questions. We had a race for City Council in our district, and HDC assembled the candidates, who came to the local school and answered questions such as what are you going to do about historic preservation in our neighborhoods, what are you going to do to preserve their character? We got to see that most of the candidates knew nothing about preservation with one exception, and some even tried to change the subject. The whole thing was pretty depressing. The guy who got elected knew the former councilmember, who was very supportive, and eventually he joined us and gave a nice presentation at the LPC’s public hearing. We had educated him about the process as regards our neighborhood, why it was important for the neighborhood to be protected. We spent all this time with him because HDC advised that City Council people have to be on board.
Advice for other neighborhoods interested in an historic district? Actually, I have talked to another neighborhood, another part of Victorian Flatbush. I have gone to a couple of their meetings and told them HDC knows how this is done, and it is important to call them in and work with them. They will make sure you will not waste your time and will focus on the right effort to get you to your goal. Ditmas Park West and others called HDC, and our historic districts were done all at once.
Updates: For information about the Fiske Terrace—Midwood Park Historic District, see: http://www.hdc.org/neighborhoodatriskmidwoodfiske.htm