Why this Blog Exists

To make the case for expanding the Park Slope Historic District

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Montauk Club Palimpsest

Recently some of the photographs taken circa 1970 during the push to establish the original Park Slope Historic District (designated July 17, 1973) have come into our hands, and one of our committee members scanned some of them.

The cars look different; trees grow; businesses come and go. Generations come and go! But the buildings, happily, remain largely the same.

Below we see 103-105 Lincoln Place, just above 6th Avenue, photographed circa 1970 during the first Historic District campaign, and again in 2008 during our current campaign. (We photographed all of Park Slope in 2008 to facilitate the LPC's research, and to help make the case that the undesignated portions are just as historic as the designated portions.)

103-105 Lincoln Place, circa 1970

103-105 Lincoln Place, Park Slope Historic District, 2008

Just about the only difference is the large tree that has grown up in the intervening years.

The view below, of the east side of 8th Avenue, looks much the same now. One can make out the Montauk Club and #1 Plaza Street West in the distance:

8th Avenue, east side, looking north toward Lincoln Place, circa 1970

Below is an interesting view of 7th Avenue between Lincoln Place and Berkeley Place. The corner building on right today houses the Santa Fe Grill. The projecting storefront on the left was the "Shamrock Bar" circa 1970:

7th Avenue, west side, Lincoln Place to Berkeley Place, circa 1970

60 7th Avenue, Park Slope Historic District, 2008

The street light seems to be a relatively recent addition to this corner.

The photograph below shows the north side of Lincoln Place between 8th Avenue and Plaza Street West; the Montauk Club is on the left:

Montauk Club, Park Slope, circa 1970

The lion (or is it a griffin?), holding a shield embossed with the club's initials, was apparently an original feature of the decorative fence. Our memories of this corner date to 1990, but we recall no lion ever having been there. Was the lion stolen? Taken away for safekeeping?

We walked past the corner recently to see if there were any sign or palimpsest of the lion's presence. Indeed, this corner's fence post differs from all the others -- it alone lacks the small pedestal on which the lion once stood. All the other posts have at least the pedestal.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

McDonaldization in Park Slope

Perhaps the one building in Park Slope we most love to hate is the Rite Aid on the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and 10th Street:

5th Avenue & 10th Street, Park Slope

We've described before how this building annihilates the unique "sense of place" for which Park Slope is famous worldwide. The building looks like it could be anywhere; it certainly has absolutely nothing to do with Park Slope. It is not just "non-contextual"; it actively debases the entire corner on which it sits.

The feeling that this building could "be anywhere" was brought home to us this past spring, while we were driving our daughter around New England to visit colleges. We unfortunately had to drive through a number of suburban strip-style commercial areas, and quite to our surprise, we passed this very same Rite Aid building several times! The building is the same everywhere, right down to the ridiculous diamond-shaped portholes:

Suddenly it hit us: these buildings are designed in some distant corporate boardroom to embody the store's "brand", and then plonked down anywhere regardless of context. Park Slope, New Jersey, Las Vegas, whatever... it's all the same, a perfect, seamless "market" of "consumers" out there... These "buildings" are basically like fast-food restaurants, machines designed to extract money from their "market" as efficiently as possible.

Back home, we checked Google Images, and sure enough, the very same building popped up all over the country:

Of course, we as "consumers" are somewhat complicit in this state of affairs. According to sociologist George Ritzer, author of The McDonaldization of Society, on some level we really want uniformity, sameness, non-differentiation; we want to walk into a McDonald's or a Rite Aid anywhere in the world and know exactly how the hamburgers are going to taste and that the shampoo is always in aisle 4.

But the unfortunate side effect is that the world itself becomes increasingly flat, the same everywhere, undifferentiated: what Ritzer terms the "McDonaldization" of society.

Fortunately here in Park Slope we still have a wealth of wonderful 19th-century mixed-use buildings housing locally-owned and -operated businesses that do so much to create the Slope's unique "sense of place" and to resist the rising tide of "McDonaldization" that has engulfed nearly the entire rest of the world.

7th Avenue and Garfield Place - unprotected

Truly Park Slope is a "treasure hidden in plain sight", as the Sufis might say.

We highly recommend Ritzer's book, which can be ordered through Park Slope's own Community Bookstore:

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Park Slope Historic District Expansion Project Update

So where does the project to expand the Park Slope Historic District currently stand?

One of the biggest issues in defining Historic Districts involves boundaries. What to include? What to exclude? Where to draw the lines? There are many factors to weigh, including historic significance, "sense of place", and character. Another big factor is the limited resources of the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC); they have to consider the entire city and we acknowledge that there are a great many deserving neighborhoods outside of Park Slope. One suspects that all of these factors conspired to produce the irregular boundaries of our current Historic District which was designated in 1973:

Park Slope Historic District

However, the current boundaries seem totally arbitrary to us. Nearly all of Park Slope has an incredibly strong "sense of place" that seems highly worth preserving, at least to our untrained eye. Park Slope's historic character is one of the main reasons we are all here in the first place, and we feel we must do everything in our power to preserve it for future generations.

Thus it was that our Committee first approached the LPC two years ago to reactivate the Park Slope Civic Council's "Request For Evaluation", first filed in about 2000, to consider expanding the Park Slope Historic District.

For our first "Study Area", we suggested to the LPC that they consider, basically, all of Park Slope that is currently undesignated. By Park Slope we mean Flatbush Avenue to 15th Street, Prospect Park West to 4th Avenue. By "undesignated" we mean everything that is not in the current Historic District. More precisely, our Study Area stopped 100' east of 4th Avenue; we felt it was useless to consider the properties facing 4th Avenue itself since they were all likely to be bulldozed quickly due to the recent upzoning. So here is a map of our 2007 "Proposal" to the LPC:

Park Slope Historic District Expansion - Study Area

This area includes about 4,900 properties. The LPC's response? Our Study Area was too large. It would take years and years to study this area! So, we went back to the drawing boards, to try to come up with something more "realistic".

Earlier this year, we went back to the LPC with a phased approach that included about 1,600 properties in "Phase 1", as shown below:

Park Slope Historic District Expansion - Study Area - phase 1

Phase 1 would have expanded the Historic District in both the South and North Slope, and would also have protected 7th Avenue, which we consider one of our highest priorities: it is the commercial "heart" of Park Slope; it has many magnificent, intact mixed-use late 19th-century buildings. In the North Slope, this "Phase 1" would have stopped 100' east of 5th Avenue.

At any rate, the LPC's reaction to our "Phase 1" was the same as to our initial proposal: way too large!

Therefore, we went back to the drawing boards yet again, and came back to them again in June with "Phase 1a", which reduced the Study Area to about 800 buildings. Basically what is included now is 7th Avenue, both sides, and the blocks between 7th & 8th Avenues in the South Slope:

Park Slope Historic District Expansion - Study Area - Phase 1a

And, miraculously, the LPC said "yes"; i.e. they agreed to "look at" this area and come back to us in the fall for further negotiations!

So is our "phase 1a" a formal proposal? No way! Obviously, these lines are just guidelines for the LPC; we do not think every building in this area is landmark-worthy, and we do not expect the LPC's proposal to look anything like this. They may even say that they find none of this area to be worthy of inclusion in the Historic District, although we would find that highly surprising. However, they have apparently agreed to at least consider this area and to come back to the community later with their findings, so this alone represents a "landmark" accomplishment!

Whatever form the first Study Area takes, however, be assured that we are in this process for the long haul; we intend to maintain the struggle to preserve Park Slope until the LPC protects a great deal more of our deserving neighborhood.

Besides working to define the boundaries of the initial Study Area, we have been conducting our own historic research, hosting meetings, and compiling expressions of support for an expanded Historic District in the form of postcards and petitions. We will highlight these diverse efforts in subsequent posts.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

In Memoriam: Louis Bonert

We conclude our review of the work of prolific Park Slope builder Louis Bonert with a glimpse into his personal life.

Bonert maintained a country residence in Sayville, Long Island. In 1908 his 25-year-old daughter Lucille was driving a car that was struck by a Long Island Rail Road train at an unguarded Sayville crossing, and was permanently injured. Lucille sued the LIRR and was awarded $10,000 in damages in 1910:

Louis Bonert, toward the end of his life, and having done so much to create the built environment of Park Slope, actually moved into one of his own buildings, a fine townhouse at 625 Second Street in the park block:

625-627 2nd Street, Park Slope Historic District

Bonert built this house, designed by architects Eisenla and Carlson, in 1908, as part of a longer row. This house was Bonert's residence at the time of his death, at 74, on May 15, 1916:

New York Times, May 17, 1916, p. 11 ("Died")
Park Congregational Church
- unprotected

The building, whose history we hope to recount in a later post, dates to 1870 and is now hemmed in closely by buildings on both sides.

It was Louis Bonert, careful readers will recall, who sold the land on which another Lutheran church, St. Matthews English, now stands at 6th Avenue and 2nd Street in Park Slope:

St. Matthews English Lutheran Church - unprotected

Louis Bonert died intestate, a situation that unfortunately precipitated a legal battle between his widow, Louisa, and his daughter Lucille, who was appointed "administratrix" of the estate. Although Bonert was deemed a wealthy man in life, apparently his estate was reduced to virtually nothing by the claims of creditors, taxes, and administrative fees, prompting Bonert's widow Louisa to mount a lawsuit against her own daughter Lucille:

But let us draw the curtain on this unfortunate family squabble. We prefer to remember Bonert as the man who build so many fine buildings in Park Slope.

We recall our Greek philosophy professor, quoting Alfred North Whitehead, saying that all Western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato. In the same way, It can almost be said that the development of Park Slope, at least along 6th Avenue and side streets in the central Slope, is a series of "footnotes to Louis Bonert".