Voices from the Neighborhood
Claudette Brady: Bedford Stuyvesant; Bedford Corners Historic District (proposed) Interviewed October 20, 2010 by Susan Hopper, HDC board member.
How did you get started with preservation? I live on Hancock Street near Girls High School and Boys High School, both landmarked. I understand the landmarking process. The north side of Bed Stuy was lost in the 1970’s when they tore down tons of brownstones and built projects. So people on our block wanted to landmark and that is how I got started. Crown Heights told us about Historic Districts Council in 2007.
How has the Historic Districts Council helped?HDC has helped in an all round advisory capacity, what strategies to use, what directions top go in. Everything they told us has been effective. HDC has been very responsive in terms of returning calls or coming out to meetings, and very helpful in editing letters to have the correct wording, whether to the Landmarks Preservation Commission or elected officials. We did a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) for the public and they reviewed it. Simeon Bankoff, executive director, and Frampton Tolbert, deputy director, came out to Saturday meetings and Frampton came to a meeting that was after hours just for our volunteer group. When we originally started to work with HDC we knew they would come out to meetings or public hearings, but they have also come out to give us advice about where to go next. I love their presentations, which are very solid and address the issues that people have, like the little old man who loved vinyl windows. There is nothing that we are not pleased about. I love them—love love love HDC!
HDC got us connected with the wider NYC preservation community.Frampton said to call others and we did. We wanted to do a postcard mailing similar to what Landmarks West does, and we called and they helped us. HDC has put me in touch with other organizations that can help us along even though we are competing for LPC’s attention. The preservation community has been unselfish!
What have you done with preservation and historic districting? In 2008 we held our first meeting with residents of the proposed Bedford Corners District. We have had nine community meetings since. The Community Board 3 Landmarks Committee held a meeting for residents of the expanded Stuyvesant Height Historic District in 2009, which had been calendared in 1993 but not designated. The Bedford Corners group also engaged all the elected officials in Bedford Stuyesant. All are in support of landmark designation and all sent letters to Chairman Robert B. Tierney. The Landmarks Preservation Commission re-surveyed Bedford Stuyvesant in the spring of 2010, a direct result of a postcard campaign by the residents as well as engagement by the elected officials and the community board. During the fall of 2010 Councilmember Albert Vann worked with us to arrange a meeting with LPC, which was attended by him, community advocates and representatives from the community board. At the meeting LPC agreed to move forward with the designation process using a phased approach starting with the Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District.
Where are you now [September 2011] with historic districting? LPC held the public hearing for the Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District on August 2,2011. The hearing was well attended and all testimony was in support of designation. Councilmember Vann and Assembly Member Annette Robinson testified in person and Borough President Marty Markowitz and Senator Velmanette Montgomery sent representatives.
Most of the residents testifying were older long term residents ranging in age from 50 to 91. A significant number of the people testifying were second- or third- generation Bed-Stuy residents, many of whom were born in the house they currently occupy. The testimony was heartfelt. The residents spoke about their homes as being an integral part of their lives. They talked about raising their families and the struggles they encountered in their efforts to preserve the building and family life during the hard times in Bedford Stuyvesant. At one point I was moved to tears by the testimonies and noticed that LPC commissioners were similarly affected, but kept their composure.
Our current goal is the designation of the Expanded Stuyvesant Heights Historic District and the calendaring of the Bedford Corners Historic District. In conjunction with the community board and HDC, we are also working to educate the residents of the proposed Stuyvesant East, Stuyvesant West and Stuyvesant North Historic Districts which are included in LPC’s phased approach. Long term we will expand our efforts engaging the residents in other areas of Bedford-Stuyvesant where there are several potential historic districts. During the 2010 survey LPC identified over 8,500 buildings they deemed landmark-worthy. The current proposed districts represent less than a quarter of these buildings.
Advice for other neighborhoods interested in an historic district? HDC would be the first place I would direct them. When we first started, they set guidelines for us. We were looking at landmarking only our blocks, and when we spoke to HDC they helped survey the neighborhood and our boundaries, using a map from LPC. Go to them to learn how to do this—they have guidelines and template for doing this. I bought HDC’s book! (Creating an Historic District: A Guide for Neighborhoods)
In 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve the expansion of the Bedford Stuyvesant/Stuyvesant Heights Historic District in Brooklyn by 825 buildings, tripling the size of the existing district.