On Tuesday, January 29, local residents and fans of historic preservation filled the Information Commons Lab at Brooklyn Public Library to hear architectural historian Francis Morrone explain how a 40-year legal dispute over land removed from the plans for Prospect Park led to the creation of Brooklyn's first modern apartment house district in Prospect Heights. While developers were busy building row houses in surrounding areas in the late nineteenth century, the area between Eastern Parkway and what is now Plaza Street, Butler Place, St. John's Place and Washington Avenue was left vacant until the early twentieth century. By then, nearby amenities like the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Public Library and Prospect Park, combined with the anticipated arrival of subway service on Eastern Parkway, created ideal conditions for stately, higher-density apartment houses to be marketed to a rising upper middle class. The buildings in the Prospect Heights Apartment House District were designed by some of the era's leading architects, like Sugarman & Berger, Charles B. Meyers, and Shampan & Shampan. Most were completed in the twenty years between 1909 and 1929, giving the district a unique and cohesive character.
"I would love for every child in Brooklyn to be able to see this presentation, to be able to see the history of the borough, to see what came before, to reinforce their desire in terms of their ability to shape their future moving forward," local City Council member and Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo told the assembled audience. "Architecture certainly grounds us into our identity. It's what's familiar, it's placemaking, it's our memories, and it's what we pass on from generation to generation. And this architecture is ultimately why so many people have flocked to Brooklyn, because it's just beautiful. It's extraordinary. It's iconic. And it's something we have to fight for, and it's something we have to preserve." She stated, "I'm committed to working with you all in terms of creating this historic district, and making sure this legacy lives on for generations to come."
The presentation also included a discussion by Gib Veconi of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council on the threats faced by the district's historic buildings due to excess development rights based on the current zoning. Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff explained the process of historic designation by the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission, and responsibilities of owners of designated buildings.