Voices from the Neighborhood
With Susan Hopper, HDC Board Member
Date of interview: 8-30-2013
Name: Linda Mariano
Email/Tel: [email protected] 718-935-0446
Neighborhood/Group/Year of participation: Gowanus/FROGG (Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus); 2011 Six to Celebrate Participant
Why did you apply to Six to Celebrate?
I had previously been contacted by the Historic Districts Council to help survey candidates in the 39th Election District. At that time, I was archiving information about Gowanus and also exploring landmarking and National Register listing. We are advocating for the reclamation of the industrial sector for adaptive reuse by new light- and high-tech industries. Our goals are to protect and preserve our industrial heritage and its architecture, and to create new and much needed jobs. So when HDC contacted me, I mentioned the work to Frampton [Tolbert, HDC’s Deputy Director] and he suggested applying to Six to Celebrate.
What have been your group’s biggest accomplishments to date?
Our group is the Friends and Relatives of Greater Gowanus (FROGG), a community group with 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. We are big in what we have accomplished! Every year we get a little bigger. We have about 40 on list serve, and an average of 12 at monthly meetings. One of FROGG’s biggest accomplishments was to advocate for the Gowanus Canal to become a Federal Superfund Site, and we got it done!
Another success was when we fought a battle at the Board of Standards and Appeals against a developer who wanted to tear down a century-old carriage house and build a condo. I gathered support to fight the application, and in 2004 it was denied. The building is now an event space that serves many boroughs. On a smaller scale, FROGG has given tours for NYU and Columbia, Pratt, and Brooklyn Polytechnic, and recently were judges for projects by planning students from NYU. We have also given tours for FEMA’s cultural and historic division.
How has HDC’s Six to Celebrate program helped you to address your goals?
It gave me the courage to address our goals and find my own way. Frampton has been a guiding force, making suggestions on how to proceed. He encouraged me to get grants for an architectural historian to conduct a survey for the National Register listing, and we raised $45,000 that way. Because of Six to Celebrate, we received many donations from neighbors including some who worked in Gowanus. Support also came from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Lilly Auchincloss Foundation, Citizens Committee for New York City, New Yorkers for Better Neighborhoods, the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Preservation League of New York State. Marvelous! Through HDC, we have had coverage for our projects in newspapers and blogs, and on the HDC website. We are always getting calls.
Simeon Bankoff [HDC’s Executive Director], and HDC staff are providing help with the property owners list for the National Register work. Nadezhda Williams [HDC’s Director of Preservation and Research] was very supportive, coming forward with information about preservation. HDC wrote letters of recommendation for our grant applications, helped designed a walking tour of Gowanus, and created an illustrated neighborhood guide. Gregory Dietrich, the architectural historian who conducted the survey, has been a mentor and practical visionary for our project. He and I gave a tour for staff from the NYS Office of Historic Preservation. On Frampton’s recommendation, I contacted Erin Tobin of the NYS Preservation League and gave her a tour. At the celebration for the nomination to the National Register, she presented FROGG with a check from the League. Erin said the project was so strong it could stand as model for the rest of New York State!
What are your next steps?
We are working toward a National Register listing of the Gowanus industrial corridor and expect a review in the spring of 2014. Our survey of the area should strengthen the justification for preservation, including wetlands restoration. We hope this project will emphasize that industry, particularly non-polluting, is alive and well in Gowanus.
Finally, why has living in an historic neighborhood been important to you?
I live in an old row house that was a wreck when we found it! It had no windows, no doors, no plumbing, was bashed in, and there had been a fire. Area banks wouldn’t take a chance on Gowanus, but a bank in Queens gave us a home improvement loan, and we did almost everything ourselves. If I had known Gowanus was a toxic waterway in the beginning, I would have had second thoughts. But I have come to love this neighborhood because of what it was, and what it could be. It could be protected if people do the right thing!
For more information about FROGG visit: www.froggbrooklyn.org