Interviewed September 28, 2010 by Susan Hopper, HDC board member
How did you get started with preservation? I am in publications and book design and have lived in the neighborhood since 1961. We had formed the Douglaston Little Neck Historical Society in 1989. In the middle 1990’s, we wanted something to assist our neighborhood with serious overdevelopment—houses that were not appropriate to our community. We were looking into landmark designation, and we were directed to Historic District Council., They were true advocates.
How has the Historic Districts Council helped? They met with us several times, helped us develop application materials, testified for us at hearings in 1997 and again in 2004 for another district. HDC was instrumental in developing guidelines for our district. The Landmarks Preservation Commission was more familiar with brownstones and less familiar with houses with grounds around them where the backs of buildings are important, so HDC testified again in 2001 and guidelines for our kinds of houses were developed and circulated. HDC has been helpful in every sense. We first applied for historic district designation for both Douglaston and Littleneck, but LPC advised us to focus. Nadezhda Williams, director of preservation and research, is knowledgeable and helps in many ways. We worked together to develop testimony for LPC.
What have been the biggest changes in your neighborhood as a result of your preservation efforts?
The changes have been mercifully few under designation. It is an eclectic area, but most housing was constructed with sense of topography, adjacent houses, and the streets. Designation came in the nick of time, as many inappropriate buildings were put up, whole blocks destroyed, no lawns, no trees—people building who were not interested in what is appropriate. Now new buildings and alterations within the district are scrutinized by LPC.
We are currently trying to invite members of LPC to visit our community to see how alterations and new buildings within the district look. Councilman Tony Avella, now a state senator, and State Senator Frank Padavan wrote letters and were very helpful,, and we now have Councilman Dan Halloran who expresses the same kind of concern.
Currently, we are trying to save a former nursery in Little Neck that has been ground down to just the main building. We want to preserve it as an individual landmark. It is difficult for LPC to look after a district as large as this.
Advice for other neighborhoods interested in an historic district? People at HDC are very experienced and well intentioned in their advocacy. Start there so you know how to go about the process and continue working with them. HDC will do flip flops to get a district designated!
Updates: To learn about neighborhood preservation efforts in Douglaston and Little Neck see: http://www.dlnhs.org/