Overwhelming Support for designation for Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park

Status symbol’ for us – Overwhelming support for landmark designation
By Helen Klein

One person called it a veritable love-fest.

At a hearing held by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) earlier this month, speaker after speaker rhapsodized about the possibility of conferring historic district status on Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park, two neighborhoods within Victorian Flatbush.

While two area residents spoke in opposition to the designation, in LPC’s conference room at 1 Centre Street, their voices were overshadowed by enthusiasm for landmarking the homes within the two communities, which date back to the early part of the 20th century. A total of 54 people testified in favor of landmark designation for the communities.

Borough President Marty Markowitz, the first to testify on behalf of granting the two neighborhoods landmark status, said that he favored designation because, “I want to make sure that this and future generations are able to enjoy the quality-of-life in these architecturally significant neighborhoods.”

The protection of such oases, he added, is a way to, “Ensure that as Brooklyn grows, it does so in a way that balances preserving the character of our most beautiful, historic areas as we plan for Brooklyn’s bright future.

“Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park are the kinds of neighborhoods that get oohs and ahs from visitors from outside New York City and residents from our outer boroughs who can’t believe that such a beautiful, suburban residential enclave exists right in the middle of American’s biggest and most cosmopolitan city,” Markowitz went on.

In remaining largely intact a century after they were built, the homes of Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park are true survivors that should be honored, suggested many of the speakers.

“Walking around and being in awe of where you live is pretty special,” stressed Barbara Parisi, the president of the Midwood Park Association.

“Brooklyn’s original suburb in the city needs to be preserved,” urged Joel Berson, a former president of the Fiske Terrace Association. “Too much of our rapidly evolving city has been lost. Let’s hold onto what has survived so far.”

“It has always been amazing to me,” added Midwood Park resident Agnes Gautier, “that over 100 years, the current and prior owners have preserved the integrity of the neighborhood.”

“Once you own a home that’s part of a continuum, a time line that’s 100 years old, you’re part of history,” suggested Paula Paterniti, the co-president of the Fiske Terrace Association. “There have been all these people who came before you, there’s you, and hopefully, there will be all these people to follow you. I think that it’s our responsibility to preserve, protect and defend something so beautiful, and something so rare.”

“We have been given a gift of being able to live in homes that are a marriage of art and function,” noted Andrea Wicke. “They elevate the city of New York by being maintained and protected.”

“The 100-year-old homes in the area are irreplaceable,” emphasized City Councilmember Mathieu Eugene. “If you demolish or significantly alter them, they are gone forever and, with them, a very important part of the history of the borough of Brooklyn.”

In fact, as many of the homeowners noted, theirs is only the third or fourth family to live in their homes. “We are not a history of houses, but a history of families,” stressed Fiske Terrace resident Gail Hammerman, who said hers was the third family in her 102-year-old home. “This is out extended family sitting here today. We want to maintain the integrity of our community. We want to maintain our community the way it is.”

Given the pressures of development all around, that would conceivably be difficult without landmark designation, said many of the speakers. “If the area is not designated a historic district,” noted John Beranbaum, “I feel the pressures of development will change this historic district.”

Charlotte Greenberg agreed. “There have been some unfortunate changes in the neighborhood from people not interested in preserving it,” she told the commission. “I’m afraid if we don’t get the designation, the negative changes will continue to happen.”

The area’s homeowners are willing to accept the additional burden imposed by landmark designation, remarked Fred Baer, a former president of the Fiske Terrace Association. “We understand that more is expected of us, and we accept it because it is a very small price to pay for the protection that historic district status will give our neighborhood,” he told the commission members.

“Regardless of how many records are set in real estate,” opined Robert Buck, it never really occurred to use that we could live in a better place.”

Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC), testified in favor of designating the two neighborhoods on his own behalf.

Noting that his father and extended family have lived in the area for over a quarter of a century, Bankoff stressed, “The neighborhoods of Midwood Park and Fiske Terrace are the kinds of places that would seem to be poster children for what a prototypical residential historic district looks like in the rest of the country.

“The gracious porches, the gabled roofs, the jigsaw details, the various treatments of the wood shingling, all create the kind of pleasingly eclectic visual harmony one expects from a historic district in some New England town,” Bankoff went on. “That this occurs in Brooklyn, bordered by that most urban of arrangements, the New York City subway, inserts an interesting juxtaposition which helps inform and broaden the greater picture of our city.”

Nonetheless, resident Pat Feeney spoke out against landmarking the neighborhoods. Her concern was, “The taking away of personal rights. I think it will give a large financial burden to some of the older residents. I love the neighborhood, the trees, the malls, the historic houses, but I’m really opposed to this.”

Steve Harkavy agreed. Contending that, “A man’s home is his castle,” Harkavy said that those who don’t like changes to some of the area’s venerable homes should simply avert their eyes. “If someone opts to replace stained glass windows with energy efficient windows, it’s his right,” Harkavy asserted.

One resident, however, said that he had wrestled with the issue of personal rights and come out on the side of preservation. Noted Jonathan Wexler, “I had a hard time dealing with the issue but on balance I think that the pros far outweigh the cons.”

Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park are part of Victorian Flatbush, an area of spacious old homes on large, tree-shaded lots. The houses that line the streets are characterized by broad open porches and feature such period details as stained glass windows and turrets.

Besides the traditional Queen Anne houses that characterize much of Victorian Flatbush, there are several bungalows in the neighborhoods, as well as examples of Tudor-style, half-timbered houses with stucco façades.

Because they were conceived of as middle-class developments in the early years of the 20th century, the neighborhoods reflect both “uniformity of design” and “considerable variety among the houses,” according to a brief description of the neighborhoods prepared by LPC.

One hundred years later, the homes nestled in the cul-de-sac communities bounded by the Brighton line, the Long Island Railroad cut, Ocean Avenue and Foster Avenue retain many of their original features.

“Both developments display a variety of design and ornament created by using a limited number
of variants within a design vocabulary,” noted Frampton Tolbert, testifying at the hearing for the HDC, which supports landmark designation for the neighborhoods.

©Courier-Life Publications 2007

Posted Under: Brooklyn, Flatbush, HDC, LPC

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