Half of Greenpoint’s famed architecture was not included in the 1991 Historic District designation.
About 225 buildings on Java Street, India Street, North Franklin Street, North Manhattan Avenue and part of 41 blocks were left to the whim of future developers and homeowners.
The 1991 Historical District included Kent Street to Calyer Street, between Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street, including the Pencil Building, but excluding Oak Street.
It was in part created due to a strong citizen group, which died out after its members retired and moved out of the neighborhood.
“You have to have a lot of citizens to push,” said Paul Rubenfarb, a Williamsburg native who worked on the Red Hook Historical District and lobbied against the opening of Ikea back in 2005.
Now he is working to create advocacy for a Greenpoint Historical District with the help of Irene Klemntowicz, who created the first citizen group.
The new citizen group will work with Community Board 1's Land Use and Landmarks Subcommittee Chair, Heather Roslund, for a potential expansion of the current district.
“The historic relevance has to be present for it to be plausible,” she said at a recent June 14th Community Board 1 meeting.
Incidentally, Christopher Olechowski, chairman of CB1, was also involved in pushing for the first historical district.
“If you have the community board behind you that means a lot,” said Rubenfarb.
The hard part is not sending in the application, but gathering people to meet with the LPC and “getting together a group of articulate and motivated individuals,” said Rubenfarb. Then there is also that length of time a historic district takes to get approved. “Everything drags on while some character could be ruining blocks,” he said.
The idea is to follow other New York historical districts that have succeeded in creating public pressure to save “architectural gems.”
Greenpoint residents often describe their area as the last blocks with true old Brooklyn charm. “It has classical architecture, more than any other neighborhood,” Rubenfarb said. It’s one of the two oldest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the first being Williamsburg.
Many of the buildings represent old Victorian architecture, and date back to before and after the Civil War, between 1834 and 1890.
The fear is that Greenpoint may go the same route as other Brooklyn neighborhoods - such as Williamsburg - that have lost major historical areas.
The reason, Rubernfarb said, why Greenpoint has survived this many years is thanks in part to the Polish community. “There’s a real atmosphere of Brooklyn,” he said.
“You don’t have abandoned buildings like in Williamsburg,” which he says is one reason developers came in quicker to that area.
Buildings are demolished often without any warning to the community. And if there are a serious number of updated buildings, it is no longer considered historic.
“They are not in a historic district so they are vulnerable to demolition and mutilation,” Rubenfarb said, noting that he has already seen much loss on Manhattan Avenue.
Those who wish to join the Greenpoint Historical District citizen group are urged to attend the next Land Use/ Landmark committee meeting on June 29 in the CB1 district office, 435 Graham Avenue (corner of Frost Street) in Williamsburg.
Java Street between Manhattan Avenue and Franklin Street is one area to be included in a proposed expansion of the Greenpoint Historic District.